By Eliseba Osore, Truancy Court Program Social Worker and Katie Davis, Truancy Court Program Attorney
The events of the past few weeks in Baltimore have shined a spotlight on the struggles of many Baltimore residents. While some were surprised by the revelations following Freddie Gray’s death, those of us who work with youth in the Baltimore City Public Schools were not. The students who participate in the Truancy Court Program (TCP) operated by the University of Baltimore School of Law Sayra and Neil Meyerhoff Center for Families, Children and the Courts are deeply familiar with the challenges of growing up in Baltimore City. Many of the children with whom we work were directly involved in or affected by the protests and riots. Some of the TCP students knew Freddie Gray and his family; others were involved in the protests that turned violent. All of the children missed a day of school when the entire Baltimore City Public School system closed during the riots. Many missed additional days because they were afraid to go outside, or they simply could not get to school because of severely limited bus service.
On a broader scale, virtually all of our TCP students have been profoundly affected by the factors that led to the unrest in the first place – poverty, oppression, lack of housing and employment, and educational challenges, to name a few. One week after the riots, our staff spoke with TCP students at Reginald F. Lewis High School about their thoughts, feelings, and opinions on what has been happening in Baltimore. This is what we heard:
They are scared. One young man almost broke out in tears as he recounted the times when he, his friends, and his family members were harassed and hurt by the Baltimore City police. He spoke about the gnawing uncertainty of not knowing whether he would be the next victim of police brutality for simply walking to the store or going to play basketball.
They are angry. They do not understand why the police, even a few police officers, can “get away” with ignoring people in distress, including those whom they arrest. The students believe that society will always view them negatively simply because of their skin color. One young man talked about how his mother has told him all his life that he was born with two strikes against him–being black and being male. Another student could not understand why it took so long to charge the police officers in the Freddie Gray case, when he could get booked immediately – “just like that.”
They are brilliant. They know and understand these issues better than many adults. They watch what goes on in their schools and in their communities, and they know that our systems are unfair. They want them to change. They know that education is important and, for many of them, it is their only chance to escape from their surroundings.
They need the help of adults: They feel disenfranchised and unheard. They asked us to do the following:
2) DON’T GIVE UP ON US WHEN WE SLIP AND MAKE MISTAKES
3) MAKE OPPORTUNITIES FOR US
4) BE CONSISTENT, DO WHAT YOU SAY YOU ARE GOING TO DO AND CHECK IN ON US REGULARLY
The TCP has pledged to try to do all of these things. We hope that others will as well.