By Tashi McQueen,
AFRO Political Writer,

On May 19, Gov. Wes Moore addressed Coppin State University (CSU) graduates, their families and Baltimore City as a whole as he delivered a stirring commencement speech.

Moore discussed the importance of Baltimore’s prosperity and negated the rhetoric that Baltimore is “nefarious” and “undisciplined.”

“Today, you have before you a community that needs your service: Baltimore City. Some people do not know or understand this city, but constantly have it in their mouths,” said Moore at the graduation. “Some want to profit financially or politically by making people scared of Baltimore. People who have worked to make Baltimore a descriptor of something nefarious, undisciplined, and dark. People who want to highlight our inadequacies instead of elevating our ingenuity.”

Former AFRO reporter and editor Sean Yoes discusses the “villain” narrative that Baltimore has acquired throughout the decades, despite contributing internationally known activists, such as Frederick Douglass and Thurgood Marshall. Harmful references to Baltimore as the “heroine capital of America” in the 1970s and the repetitive images of Charm City ablaze during the 2015 riots in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray have tarnished the reputation of the city.

“Now is the time for us to band together and unleash the full potential of this city and I want you to know that you have a partner in the State House. For this to be Maryland’s decade, it needs to be Baltimore’s time,” said Moore.

Baltimore community leader, Zulieka Baysmore, responded to Moore’s speech.

“I get what he’s saying,” said Baysmore in a phone interview. “We are in a new political election cycle. Various people and parties will come after Moore– and they are steadfast, focusing on the problems.”

Baysmore said she felt like Moore could better explicitly outline policies when addressing the public, especially in Baltimore, which she believes will help him stay in office.

“I want him to take every opportunity he has to let the public know where his focus is, his plans, and what approach he wants to use,” continued Baysmore. “I believe it will give people more insight into the work he wants to do over the next four years and encourage people to see a better Baltimore overall.”

According to information released by CSU officials, more than 450 graduates took part in the 2023 spring commencement ceremony. Moore encouraged them to serve their communities and do it with fortitude.

“You are about to enter the future with a degree from one of the greatest universities in our state and one of the greatest HBCUs in America,” said Moore. “I dare you to do things differently, because ‘it’s never been done before’ is no excuse not to try.”

Coppin State University was founded in 1900 by the Baltimore City School Board. What began as a teacher training program for African-American elementary school instructors is now a nationally recognized institution, complete with 53 majors, community outreach programs and international studies. 

The school is named after a regional heroine who took up the cause of education after gaining her freedom.

Fanny Jackson Coppin was born a slave in Washington, D.C.,” according to history released by the institution. “She gained her freedom, graduated from Oberlin College in Ohio, and founded the Philadelphia Institute that was the forerunner of Cheyney State University.”

The university expanded and improved its West Baltimore campus in the past several years by constructing the Science and Technology Center, which opened in 2015. The space is home to all science-related disciplines, including natural sciences and environmental sciences. In 2016, Coppin students saw the construction of an elevator tower, which has improved access for students with disabilities. This year, the university opened the Eagle Achievement Center (EAC), a student resource hub opened this year to support their academic, personal and professional needs. Future plans for CSU include a new dorm that would require on-campus residency. 

Moore encouraged the graduates and all those in attendance to continue the work necessary to push the institution and their communities forward. He implored those in attendance to create change by taking up a cause and doing the work to make our state a better place to live. 

“I call on you to serve. It doesn’t matter how you serve,” said Moore. “What matters is that you choose to serve.”

Graduates applauded Moore’s recognition of the challenges they have faced in life and how they have overcome a variety of obstacles during their matriculation at CSU.

“I’m thinking of the graduate who’s returning from incarceration and now doing something that many people didn’t think possible,” said Moore. “I’m thinking of the graduate who had to find a way to commute over an hour to get to campus because there were no trains or buses to take you from where you live to where you study.”

CSU graduates shared their reactions to Moore’s speech.

“Him telling us that we need to go out there and be the stars that we are from Coppin State University– that within itself speaks volumes,” said Dominique Stevenson-Deaver, 36, who graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in health science. “[His speech] was so impactful and down to earth.”

Deaver said she plans to attend graduate school for public health at the University of Maryland.

Another graduate commented on Moore’s work thus far as the head of the state. 

“I think he’s done an outstanding job building the education morale,” said Joanna Mack, 43, who graduated with a master’s degree in clinical mental health counseling rehabilitation. “Today is a testament to that.”

Tashi McQueen is Report For America Corps Member.