When Baltimore schools reopened after a day of protests and violence, NPR visited a West Baltimore middle/high school, Green Street Academy, that’s trying to help students “make sense of it all” — and stay calm.
William Richardson, a former teacher and dean of students who now works for Juvenile Services, talked to eighth-grade boys in the school cafeteria.
“Why have white people been killing us since slavery, and they’re still killing us?” one student asks.
“All these police officers are killing black dudes for no reason,” says a boy named Montrel.
“If a cop asks what we’re doing, and we’re not doing anything, do we have to answer?” another wonders.
Adults in the room tell the boys to protest peacefully, “write emails to politicians, encourage their parents to shop at black-owned businesses and to above all, be positive,” reports Shereen Marisol Meraji.
“Positive is not always the answer,” a student replies.
Get your education, a teacher says. Move up out of here. “The students don’t seem satisfied,” writes Meraji.
After lunch, Principal Crystal Harden-Lindsey visited an American Government class where a student, James Arrington, is talking about what he wants the government to do to help the kids of Baltimore.
James says young people need access to more activities, recreation centers and safe places to go after school. He wants more responsible adults in the community to count on; Boys and Girls Clubs, Big Brothers and Big Sisters to step in.
He says kids act out because they don’t have anyone to show them how to do better.
Harden-Lindsey asks whether bad choices are the responsibility of the kids who make them, or of adults who’ve let them down.
“I think it’s 50/50,” another student says, “’cause it’s the obstacles and the decisions you make on your own.”
Harden-Lindsey wants to focus on the “50” that’s within the control of the young people themselves.
“A lot of what you say, I can definitely understand in terms of being hopeless, of being angry,” Harden-Lindsey says.
“Yes, we have a lot of things that go against us,” says the principal, “but we’re also very resilient.”