By Louis Williams, Nevan Edwards, Marie Mokuba and Deontrey Yeargin
J.D. Merrill, is a former Baltimore City Public School teacher who has been upheld as the candidate for state Senate our city needs to revitalize the Baltimore City Public Schools system.
His campaign has been saturated with narratives of supportive Black Students whom he taught during his three years (from 2013 to 2016) at Baltimore City College High School. When this narrative is inspected more closely, it becomes clear that J.D.’s vision of education reform will not benefit Black students in Baltimore City.
It would be irresponsible as former students of City College to allow the false narratives of J.D’s altruism to persist. In light of this, we write you this open letter as Baltimore City College Alumni who have witnessed J.D. Merrill’s actions.
First and foremost, we should acknowledge the antagonistic relationship he has had with a Black student-led organization at Baltimore City College by the name of City Bloc. City Bloc is self-defined as a “political grassroots collective of students against social injustice in Baltimore.” Below is a story from Anise Tates, one of the previous leaders of the organization, about an incident from 2015 that speaks to J.D.’s seemingly insincere relationship to Black political activism:
“Our parent organization used to be BMore Bloc… BMore Bloc spoke ALOT about holding Martin O’Malley [Merrill’s father-in-law] accountable for mass incarceration. His stats were absolutely ridiculous. He would have an enormous amount of arrests in the city which meant that Black people were being arrested more than once. When O’Malley was scheduled to rally, BMore Bloc told us that we were gonna disrupt the rally and City Bloc was down. That’s when Merrill really started getting on us because by that time he was engaged to O’Malley’s daughter.
`How would it look for him if an organization from the school he worked at disrupted his father-in-law’s rally?’ All the while he was trying to get into office. He was for our cause until it inconvenienced him and for that reason I never believed he was truly with or understood what City Bloc stood for.”
J.D’s relationship with student activism at City College is a relationship that only allows for the expression of Black voices so long as they operate in context to his larger political aims.
It is worth noting that he has played an integral role in increasing the recruitment of White private school students at City College. In September of 2016, members of City Bloc, which includes a former student named Henry Bethell, discovered that some freshmen coming from private middle schools were exempt from the admission requirements that all other students were held to, such as composite scores and standardized testing marks. The exempted students claimed that J.D. was the primary contact that kept consistent communication with their families during their abbreviated admission process.
Upon this discovery City Bloc decided to request documents from J.D., under the Maryland Public Information Act, that would verify his involvement in the overt gentrification of the predominantly Black student body. After being given the run around for some time, students had to meet with Principal Harcum in order to receive the data that revealed an abnormal spike in the percentage of White students in the freshman classes of 2014 and 2015. Both were years in which J.D. was involved with the school’s admission efforts.
His version of school improvement has, inadvertently, multiplied the hurdles Black students have to jump over in order to access the rigorous academic courses that they already have limited access to. J.D. has been championed as the candidate that will bring much needed improvement to the deplorable conditions of Baltimore City Schools. Even if his lack of experience in the political arena wasn’t a major issue, we should still be skeptical of his priorities when making decisions on behalf of students. Furthermore, it calls into question for whom J.D. plans to be accountable to in his tenure in office because his actions have clearly illustrated that he doesn’t have the best interests of Black Folks in mind.
The opinions expressed in this letter are those of:
Louis Williams, Nevan Edwards, Marie Mokuba, and Deontrey Yeargin, who all graduated from Baltimore City College High School in 2017. Williams is currently a student at North Carolina, A&T State University, Edwards is a student at Wake Forest University, Mokuba attends Goucher College and Yeargin attends the University of Louisville.