Skirting promises of a better life
Rising with the sun, I pedal my bike from the outskirts of Federal Hill through the grand tourist seaport of Inner Harbor to East Baltimore – a neighborhood marked by urban blight. I’m going to school. And my education starts with riding through the rugged housing projects just minutes away from the city’s crown jewel of development. I’m getting schooled in what disinvestment looks like in Baltimore City.
Baltimore City is the “toughest place” for children to escape poverty, according to a study published by Harvard University.
“We’ve got to own that. And we’ve got to do something about that,” ACLU Attorney Barbara Samuels said during the inaugural Community Conversation Series at New Shiloh Baptist Church in West Baltimore on Oct. 1.
Recently cited by Baltimore Councilmember Nick Mosby and University of Baltimore Professor Elizabeth Nix, Harvard’s “Equality of Opportunity Project” examined income mobility, in the largest U.S. counties. These speakers pointed to “disinvestment,” the act of withdrawing invested funds from neighborhoods, as a way to describe the undercurrent of unrest made visible by the Black Lives Matter movement in April after the death in police custody of 25-year-old Freddie Gray.
Samuels, the managing attorney of the Baltimore chapter of the Maryland ACLU’s Fair Housing Project, called this ceiling on the aspirations of young people a “recipe for instability.”
For Mosby, the District 7 (West Baltimore) councilman, “seriously considering” a run for mayor, the answer to poverty and, by extension, crime vests in “providing real opportunities.”
“The way out of poverty is education,” he said during a panel hosted by the University of Baltimore in September. Mosby is a product of Baltimore City Public Schools.
My entry point into the city’s public school system is unique in distinct ways. I’m working as a law clerk in the Truancy Court Program at Elmer A. Henderson: A Johns Hopkins Partnership School. It’s a program that attempts to identify the root causes of truancy and provide families with the resources to address those causes. The school, known simply as “Henderson-Hopkins,” is the first new school built in East Baltimore in more than 20 years.
Part of a nonprofit’s urban renewal project, the school’s $43 million facility is visually striking and impressive. Its modern design is an “anomaly in a section of town where boarded-up row homes remain a common sight,” as one journalist described in Johns Hopkins’ monthly magazine, The Gazette in 2014.
But, even at the Mecca of Baltimore City’s public elementary schools, the challenges facing impoverished children are staggering. In a school where more than 92 percent of students receive Free and Reduced Meals, the most recent heartbreak seems to revolve around skirts.
Rhymes by a TCP Law Clerk
Kayla Faria, a student in my nonfiction seminar, posted this rap on our blog UB Legal Nonfiction. https://t.co/na6AfLqo1v
— Garrett Epps (@Profepps) November 4, 2015
Featured on the UB Legal Nonfiction and Law & Humanities blogs, “TCP Slam” highlights the early-intervention approach of the University of Baltimore’s Truancy Court Program, the roles of the different “players,” and some of the challenges children and families face in Baltimore City. Click play to hear the slam:
It points out issues like the school-to-prison pipeline, bullying, lack of individualized education program accommodations, and violations of the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, while tossing in pop culture references to Breaking Bad, David Bowie, Bratmobile and the Clue mystery board game. I may have definitely written it in-between doodling in my commercial law class.