On December 1, just before I went on the air for First Edition, to have a conversation with two administrators and two students from the beleaguered Renaissance Academy High School (BCPS is considering shutting the school down, again), I received a jarring text from Nikkia Rowe, the school’s principal. “We had another student fall to gun violence last night,” the text read.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

Since 2015 Renaissance has lost four young Black men to violence in Baltimore. Ananias Jolley, Darius Bardney and Daniel Jackson were killed last year and Jamal Stewart was the young man Rowe texted me about last week.

After the deaths of Jolley, Bardney and Jackson, then city schools CEO Gregory Thornton said he wanted to shut down Renaissance and relocate its students, but Thornton was fired and the school remained open. Now, new CEO Sonja Santelises is recommending Renaissance close altogether by the end of the current school year, unless a new location is found.

Of course I’m not privy to all the information that may be informing Santelises’ reasoning for closing Renaissance. But, I suspect the violent deaths of these four young men provides significant impetus in her decision making about the school’s future.

However, the violence that has traumatized the students, faculty and administrators at Renaissance is the precise reason the school should not only stay open, but the school (housed on the third floor of Booker T. Washington Middle School) should receive an infusion of resources, financial and otherwise.

The three young men killed in 2015, died in the midst of the most violent and murderous year (351 homicides) in the city’s inglorious history of violence and murder. The neighborhood where the school is located, Upton/Druid Heights is the same neighborhood where Freddie Gray was lead poisoned when he was a little boy living on N. Carey Street with his family. It is the neighborhood at the epicenter of 2015’s uprising, where a significant bulk of the city’s homicides took place last year, this year, and every year as far back as I can remember. So, we shouldn’t be astonished young people who attend Renaissance have been the victims of violence; violence permeates the neighborhood where they go to school and where the vast majority of them live. Their school (the only high school in the community), decrepit, drafty and rodent infested still is a refuge and a vital educational resource for so many.

Nikkia Rowe, has fought with ferocity and eloquence for her kids and to keep Renaissance in Upton/Druid Heights. She also advocates for the broader community.

“The disparity is in the community,” Rowe said. “You’re not going to walk through Roland Park and see trash piled up in the gutter, you’re not going to see trash in front of Baltimore City College. When they talk about two Baltimores that is so legitimately so. In Upton and Sandtown and Cherry Hill…you have poor Black people that have been deliberately cut out of the American Dream for generations,” Rowe added. “It’s bigger than Renaissance, it’s bigger. That has been my chant, that it’s bigger than Renaissance, because at what point are we turning our attention to our people to demand better? There will be no space for children like these or their parents or whoever is raising them. In the gentrification path there has to be a seat at the table for these children.”

But, perhaps the best evidence for why Renaissance should stay open is many of the students themselves, including one of the young men I interviewed on First Edition, Christopher Streeter, who graphically, yet, poignantly made his case for his school to remain open.

“North Avenue… or whoever makes the decision to close these schools down has to understand… these mentors, these administrators, they are the ones who are going to have to deal with the bloodshed after they allow all of these schools to combine into one school and let kids from different parts of the city in,” Streeter explained. “Trauma does start outside of school, but they are allowing it to come inside of the school…ya’ll (North Avenue) are the ones who are making that happen,” he added.

The last thing young brother Streeter and his classmates at Renaissance need is to be abandoned. It’s been a recurring theme in most of their lives.

Sean Yoes is a senior contributor for the AFRO, and host and executive producer of First Edition, which airs Monday through Friday, 5-7 p.m. on WEAA, 88.9.

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor