More on responding as a faculty member
"Batimore Uprisings / #OneBaltimore" -- letter to my Messina students
Marie McSweeney Anderson, York Road Initiative/Messina mentor, sent afternoon of May 1, 2015
I can’t believe it’s the end of the semester already. I had great plans to send you all Nerds and Smarties to get you through this week, since “you are what you eat,” of course. But then, my mind was blown, my heart was broken, and pieces of the city that I know and love were quite literally shattered on Monday night. Watching people (not “thugs” or “animals” or “idiots” like our political figures or others may have named them), my fellow citizens of Baltimore, looting businesses, setting things on fire, and harassing police was absolutely gut‐wrenching. I sat in front of my TV for 5 hours straight, unable to look away as Baltimore burned. But I wasn’t angry at the people who were uprising, I was angry at the system that created their actions.
I can only imagine the calls you were getting from your parents and the fear you might have felt getting alerts from Campus Police. I ask you to dig deep, and imagine how it must have felt to be a resident in West Baltimore that evening with cars burning, tear gas, and police invading your neighborhood. And I’ll ask you to dig even deeper, and challenge you to try to understand the anger, the hurt, the pain and the feelings of frustration with being unheard and having your future systematically disinvested in of the young people looting and causing destruction.
Tuesday was a new day in Baltimore, one that made me proud. Thousands of residents joined together to clean up neighborhoods and protest peacefully. On Tuesday morning, along with neighboring residents and Loyola students, I helped clean up outside businesses along York Road. In the afternoon, we staged a peaceful stand in and march from the corner of Woodbourne Avenue and York Road to Northern Parkway. We held signs saying “One Baltimore,” “Peace & Love,” and “Black Lives Matter.” We even got a shout out in MTV News covering the event. On Wednesday, thousands of residents came together in the streets to sing, dance, march, pray, and demand justice. Baltimore is a resilient city. The negative actions of a few will not be overshadowed by the love, community, and hope of the many. Today, now, I realize that my anxiety had physically manifested. Watching the press conference with our State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby just an hour ago where 6 officers were charged, I exhaled a sigh of relief, my muscles untensed.
Our city will celebrate justice this weekend. I will remember where I was at this moment for the rest of my life. All are innocent until proven guilty. However, listening to how the Freddie Gray died, I think back to what we’re expected to do as humans – treat others as we would like to be treated. I think of myself in the situation of police officers, watching a young man go from hurt, to unresponsive, to dead in my care. What would I have done in that situation? What we they thinking? We might never know. People are still angry at the system and fearful that justice will not be served, but today, the majority of Baltimore citizens are celebrating because our city was the FIRST to charge any officer(s) in the death of a Black citizen in custody. I know it may be hard to deal with the feelings of confusion over why this is happening, where it’s coming from and what your role is as a student at a Baltimore university. I don’t know the answer to all these questions, but I can help by giving you a few pieces that I found particularly enlightening or inspiring as I began learning about our country and city’s history in relation to race and especially related to this experience.
If you have any questions, concerns, or comments to share, I’m here for you. Or just to talk, learn, share, etc. This is one of the most important experiences in Baltimore’s history and you were here to experience it. I want to be able to help you process and reflect of your experiences as you leave here next week and go home for the summer. Remember our theme “stories we tell” and how important it is to share Truth and not perpetuate lies, rumors or ignorance – what is the story YOU will tell to your friends and family when you get home? I challenge you to reflect on this as our semester comes to a close and perpetuate the peace, positivity and love for Baltimore that has been embodied this past few days.