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A Call to Action: Generating Strategies that Promote Nurturing, Justice, and Equitable Environments in Baltimore

A Call to Action: Generating Strategies that Promote Nurturing, Justice, and Equitable Environments in Baltimore

By Richard Lofton, Jr.

In the 19th century, Daniel Coker, William Lively, William Watkins, and Father James Hector Nicholas Jourbert de la Muraille and the Oblate Sisters of Providence provided nurturing educational environments for Black Maryland residents through Sabbath and Day Schools that aimed to acknowledge and support the “whole person” (Gardner, 1976). At that time, African Americans faced the cruelty of slavery, restrictive state and city ordinances, and exclusion from employment and public schooling. Amid this oppression, by 1859 an estimated 2,665 students attended these self-sustaining schools. These schools provided an environment that fostered a commitment to education, developed a powerful teaching force, and invested in community uplift. As a result, more than half of Black Maryland residents identified as literate to some extent (Fields, 1984). More than 200 years later, evidence reveals an ongoing need for action to acknowledge and support the “whole person.” Far too often, African American children, youth, and families experience punitive environments instead of nurturing homes, schools, and communities that enable them to thrive. This symposium is thus a call to action: to break down silos, identify challenges, and generate solutions. This document summarizes information compiled to begin a collaborative discussion to disrupt punitive approaches, further promote nurturing and equitable schools, and enact justice in workplaces, homes, and communities.

One challenge is the concentrated poverty that many students and families in Baltimore experience. Racially restrictive covenants of the early 1900s, redlining and blockbusting from 1930-70s, White flight in the 1970s through 90s, subprime lending in 2000-2010, and current disinvestment in African American communities have produced environments where many of our children experience higher levels of crime, violence, underground economies, liquor stores, fast food restaurants, abandoned buildings, lead poisoning, and poor transportation. Social science research has established that concentrated poverty in Baltimore is the result of government policies and practices that excluded African Americans. We cannot blame students and their families for intergenerational injustices they confront. This is an opportunity for agency directors, school district administrators, the philanthropic community, politicians, non-profit organizations, and community members to strategize on policies and practices that can provide justice and economic stability for students and families. As Bryan Stevenson states, “the opposite of poverty is justice.” Many Baltimore students and their families live in communities where they need justice.

Baltimore City Public Schools must address the concentrated poverty that many students encounter in their homes and communities. Schools are expected to be the great equalizer, but often do not receive enough funding, resources, personnel, and interagency support to provide the intensity of services needed to assure students’ educational and overall wellbeing. Research conducted and compiled by Baltimore’s Promise shows that this situation has led to an opportunity and support gap. While graduation rates continue to increase, Baltimore City’s average math, reading, and English Language Arts scores are considerably lower than those of other Maryland students. Research from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on Baltimore City Schools indicates that 34.9% of students report being in a physical fight on school property; 12.3% report being threatened or injured with a weapon on school property; and 14.7% report being bullied on school property. Further, 12.2% of students report that they did not attend school because they felt unsafe at school or on their way to or from school. Clearly, much work remains in order to develop and implement strategies to empower schools and communities and provide nurturing and equitable environments for all of our children, students, teachers, and administrators.

African American youth make up 90% of juvenile arrests in Baltimore, though they represent only 64% of the city’s youth (Children’s Law and Policy, 2019). One third of Maryland residents in state prison is from Baltimore City. African American girls represent 65% of female juvenile center placements in Maryland, but comprise only 33% of girls in the state (Baltimore Sun, 2017). Incarceration rates are highly concentrated in poor black communities (Justice Policy Institute, 2015). Communities with high incarceration rates also experience higher rates of unemployment, reliance on public assistance, school absenteeism, vacant and abandoned housing, and addiction challenges compared to the city as a whole. They also have lower rates of life expectancy, educational attainment, and median income than other parts of Baltimore. This suggests that both concentrated poverty and highly incarcerated communities produce multiple obstacles that students and their families navigate daily. Not only are African American youth disproportionately arrested; they are also more likely to live in communities where adults are in prison. Michelle Alexander (2011) calls the mass incarceration in Black communities the “New Jim Crow.” The research below shows that too many young people and their families are haunted by a caste-like system that prevents them from fully thriving in our city. We must engage in a transparent dialogue to develop effective strategies that disrupt these patterns.

Punitive environments and the relationships they foster take a toll on students’ mental health. Forty-one per cent of female students and 22.8% of males report feeling sad or hopeless. Moreover, 9.9% of male youth and 9.4% of females report having been forced to have sexual intercourse. Thirty-nine per cent of LGBT youth report seriously considering or attempting suicide. Also, 80% of our youth are not getting eight hours of sleep nightly. It is common to ask youth to develop their resiliency to overcome these hurdles. In contrast, this symposium asks adults to provide environments and relationships that support young people’s resiliency so they can thrive.

Producing pathways to career and economic success is another challenge. A study analyzing Baltimore City patterns of employment commissioned by the Associated Black Charities found that African American employment tends to be concentrated in lower-wage/lower skills occupations (Li & Clinch, 2018). Most African Americans work in retail trade, transportation and warehousing, health care, social assistance, or administrative and waste management services. Less than 30% work in management, business, science, and arts occupations. Blacks in Baltimore City earn about half of what White workers earn (median income of $38,688 vs. $76,992 for White workers). The unemployment rate is also alarming. Black males’ unemployment rate is 17.2%, compared to 4.4% for White men. Students needed non-discriminatory pathways for career and college readiness that provide awareness, support, and employment options to reach their goals. African Americans and those of other marginalized identities need non-punitive and less hostile workforce environments.

Cognizant of these disturbing patterns, we unite to engage in a collaborative conversation to create effective pathways to success for all Baltimoreans. The compiled research indicates a need for action to provide nurturing, equitable environments that produce justice, structural change, and support for youth, families, and communities to thrive. We acknowledge the work done towards these goals every day by nonprofits, local grassroots organizations, school district personnel, researchers, and community members. Let us celebrate and invest in the great work underway in these communities, while removing systemic barriers that hinder the thriving of the “whole person.” Let us seize this time to break down silos, pursuing the tradition of Daniel Coker, William Lively, William Watkins, and Father James Hector Nicholas Jourbert de la Muraille and the Oblate Sisters of Providence.

Download A Call to Action: Generating Strategies that Promote
Nurturing, Justice, and Equitable Environments in Baltimore

Symposium Session #1
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