By Tashi McQueen,
Report For America Corps Member,
Political Writer for The AFRO
Summer is coming. And while that means cookouts, road trips and snowballs for many, it sometimes means something else for teachers.
Gun violence is rampant across the United States and neither Baltimore City nor its students are spared in the damage.
Though a long break from the hustle and bustle of teaching is welcomed, some educators meet the last bell of the school year with a bit of anxiety. They know everyone enrolled in a Baltimore City Public School may not return for the Fall semester.
Current trends in gun violence have prompted a deeper look at the realities and nuances of gun violence in Black communities. Recently, the AFRO spoke with educators and parents about the beauty of summer- and the ever-present threat of losing a student during the break.
“I was devastated every time I lost a student,” said Beverly Sharp, a former teacher at Baltimore City Public Schools, who spoke under the condition of anonymity for fear of retaliation. “I’m still recovering from those experiences.”
Sharp taught at two different Baltimore City Public Schools before transitioning to the Baltimore County Public Schools. Sharp said she transitioned due to the domino effect of violence. The chaos within her students’ home lives all too often translated into chaos in her classroom.
“The problem was not the students,” she said. “They are who they are in their respective environments.”
Sharp says she has experienced it all.
She has had to cross off the name of a student she never met; tentatively slated for her class before they lost their lives in the heat of summer.
She has also had her classroom rocked by the abrupt killing of a scholar during the school year.
“Teaching students in Baltimore City Public Schools was already a challenge and then with the addition of a student’s death, it’s nearly impossible to get any teaching done,” said Sharp. “You have to work through the grief with them and be their friend, coach and teacher. Black and Brown students are slighted when it comes to resource distribution.”
Sharp continues to keep in touch and support her students from her previous job in the city, but the disorder ran too deep to stay.
Dionne Joyner Weems, a Baltimore native, is a mother of three. Her fifth-grader and second-grade twins all attend grade school in East Baltimore.
“Sean is one of the goofiest, most intelligent, empathetic little boys I’ve ever seen,” said Weems.
Along with her husband, Jason, Weems says she works to make sure her “three princes grow up into three kings.”
“Being a Mom is not for the faint at heart,” she said, “but my boys inspired audacity in me the day they were born.”
Weems said she has used her faith and grit to get to where she is today in her career but her role as a mother remains to be a large priority for her. After graduating from the notable Earl Graves School of Business and Management at Morgan State University, she dreamed of a big city job in New York but then realized she had her own big city right at her fingertips.
Weems now raises her children in the same city school system she used to succeed in life. Even though tragedies play out on the streets of Baltimore over and over again, she has hope for her city and her family.
“We try hard to keep our sons innocent in a world that wants to see them as anything but,” said Weems. “Politicians need to be in the communities. Listen to the people who live in these communities and deal with issues like gun violence daily! If politicians continue to ignore us and don’t take time to do more than a photo-op, change won’t come.” said Weems.
The Western High School alum spends her time speaking to high schoolers letting them know that there are younger ones looking up to them.
Dr. Loren Henderson, mother and expert sociologist on gun violence in Chicago, focuses her studies on Black mothering in a time of the increasingly violent crime. She has written multiple papers on the sociology of gun violence.
“Gun violence is a communal problem, not an individual problem,’ said Henderson. “Many, including the government–believe the solution to gun violence relies solely on the parents; it’s a collaboration.”
As summer approaches, one cannot help but acknowledge it has been a trying year for students who have had to deal with both the coronavirus pandemic and a gun epidemic. City School students began 2022 with the double loss of 16-year-old Desmond Canada and Bernard Thomas, 17, shot just an hour and a half into the year.
Ten days later on Jan.11, police-reported the death of 17-year-old Keye’Shawn Wilson, shot in the 3900 block of Belvedere Ave. The next day a 19-year-old victim was found shot to death in his car in the 2700 bock of Lyndhurst Ave. On Valentine’s Day, Montrell Batteas lost his life at just 16 years old. Between May 13 and May 28, three teenage residents were murdered.
The Baltimore Police Department reported a total of ten homicides between June 1 and June 7.
The last day of school for Baltimore City Public School students is June 15.
Help us Continue to tell OUR Story and join the AFRO family as a member – subscribers are now members! Join here!