"Our City" -- A Letter to My Undergraduate Students

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"Our City" -- A Letter to My Undergraduate Students

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Written as am email by a local professor the morning after the Monday night protests to her undergraduate students at Loyola University Maryland.

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"Our City" -- A Letter to My Undergraduate Students

Prof. Elizabeth Kennedy, Law and Social Responsibility, composed morning of April 28, 2015

(I've been receiving requests from my students to share this with a greater audience. Note that the following email does not represent all, or even a good deal of all the thoughts I have about what is happening in my city right now, nor what I think is necessary for real, systemic change. It was written for my undergraduate students because although classes ended at Loyola yesterday, I wanted to continue the conversation we'd had about justice all semester.)

Good morning, all.

I'm writing because I have been thinking about you all, and many of our class discussions this semester, as they relate to our City right now. I imagine many of your parents and friends have been reaching out to you to check in, and are asking you about what they were seeing in the streets of Baltimore, as covered wall-to-wall by the national news networks. I live, as my colleague Brian Norman put it, "radically adjacent" to the neighborhood in which Freddie Gray lived, and in which much of the damage occurred last night. Though physically proximate, there is an incomprehensible chasm between the life I lead, and the relationship I have with Baltimore City, from those in Sandtown, Penn-North, and all of West (and many other parts of) Baltimore.

Like many of you I am sure, I received many notes from family and friends yesterday to "stay safe." However, what that means for me and what that means for my neighbors just blocks away are so different. Violence in these neighborhoods is a constant. Harassment by the police is constant. Being treated not worthy of protection by police is constant. A lack of jobs and adequate housing is constant. Fear is constant. Uncertainty is constant. Crumbling schools are constant.

I cannot begin to truly understand what life is like for my "radically adjacent" neighbors. But I can try. I must try. In the Jesuit traditions of presence, reflection and discernment, it is only by spending time outside the safety of my own neighborhood -- whether that is a residential neighborhood, an educational neighborhood, a professional neighborhood -- that I can begin to understand. It is why I teach courses designed to push us all outside of our comfort zones. It is why I send my kids to our local public school. It is why I spent yesterday afternoon talking with residents and store owners up and down Pennsylvania Avenue, until they began shuttering their doors, bracing for more uncertainty.

I am heading over to Pennsylvania Avenue with the kids shortly to help clean up. I am happy to talk with any of you about what is going on, and answer any questions as best I can. I'd also direct you to the following Baltimore Sun editorial in order to gain a better context about why so many folks in Baltimore City would feel as angry as they do right now: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/opinion/editorial/bs-ed-freddie-gray-20150425-story.html

Some of you are natives of Baltimore, some of you call it home now, and some, I hope, will continue to call it home after you graduate. If you have learned anything about Baltimore City by now, it is that it is a city of contrasts, of wealthy and attractive playgrounds like Camden Yards and the Inner Harbor, as well as some of the largest concentrations of poverty in this country. You all asked many good questions all semester about justice, especially as it relates to the role that our legal system plays in ensuring that those subjected to injustice can be made whole. Last night was a powerful reminder that when the legal system itself, and those charged with enforcing laws, are themselves sources of injustice, the pain and suffering usually kept well hidden behind walls of a highly segregated city, is made visible to all. I hope you will continue to ask good questions, instead of jumping to judgment. We as a city, and as a Loyola community, must continue to ask these questions, recognize that which we do not understand, and take critical steps toward understanding and action.

All the best,

Prof. Kennedy

Added later that afternoon on April 28 during Facebook discussion:

For those following along, I had many conversations with students last night, many of whom expressed reactions to yesterdays clean-ups along the line of, "That's the Baltimore I know and love," or about Monday night, "That's not the Baltimore I know and love." I asked them to consider what those statements, though entirely well-meaning, said about the experience/lives of marginalized folks, who also "know and love Baltimore." To say that the anger and frustration of young people in neighborhoods like Sandtown, where life expectancy is the lowest -- on par with India and much lower than the U.S. -- is "not Baltimore" is to once again deny, turn away from, and discount their lives. Just because it is not the Baltimore that you know, doesn't make it any less Baltimore. How we choose to express what we all should be feeling in Baltimore right now - anger, sadness, frustration, does not define or diminish the motivations for those expressions. Yes, yesterdays cleanups were an awesome example of how great people can be when we come together, cross neighborhood boundaries, and help one another out. To love Baltimore, as I do and as so many of my students do, is to get to know ALL of Baltimore. http://health.baltimorecity.gov/.../Life-expectancy-2013.pdf

Citation

Elizabeth J. Kennedy, “"Our City" -- A Letter to My Undergraduate Students,” Preserve the Baltimore Uprising: Your Stories. Your Pictures. Your Stuff. Your History., accessed April 29, 2017, http://baltimoreuprising2015.org/items/show/10513.

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