By: Samantha Cooper
The Baltimore Algebra Project, a youth run organization held a rally outside of Baltimore City Hall to protest a nearly $130 million cut to the city’s educational budget on March 2nd . Katie Sarai and Marie Mokuba, both high school seniors who had planned the rally in a two week time frame. The rally was the second of its kind that week; the first happened on February 27th and was led by Baltimore City principals.
The rally was led completely by Baltimore city high school students, most or all of whom are persons of color; they discussed the issues that they faced as students in schools that were already underfunded and the dangers they faced as black people in the same city that Freddie Gray lived, or as undocumented students who risked being deported. Teachers and parents spoke as well, the rally presented itself as a stand-alone gathering, by youth of Baltimore and for the youth of Baltimore.
The press, including major news stations, were only permitted to ask questions relating to the event to Sarai and Mokuba. Speakers were also allowed to be interviewed, but no agendas were given out and only first names of many of the speakers were given. Any transgressions would lead to the reporters being escorted away. Sarai and Mokuba announced that Channel 11 was not welcome at the event, and that nobody was permitted to speak with the reporters from the station. This was because Channel 11 “did not respect our narrative” and did not listen to the rules that had been set out for the press. FOX News was also reporting on the rally; one protestor offered to “get rid of them.” The FOX News reporters were shuffled away to a side and eventually left, leaving very few news outlets including The Goucher Eye to report on the rest of the rally.
Sarai started out the rally, thanking those in attendance and gave a general summarization of how the evening would work: their main goal was to introduce a list of demands to the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland about how to handle the budget deficit and how to keep undocumented students safe.
The list is as follows:
-Write and pass a budget that will fund the education Baltimore students need, deserve and would receive if we live in Howard County.
-Be aggressive with getting the state to pay what they owe (240 million dollars in the attachment).
-Set guidelines for how schools are to deal with ICE so that students can have a stafe learning environment.
-To make information and resources for immigrant youth more accessible.
-Increase the budget contribution to 20% annually by taking money from the police budget.
-The youth fund will be held harmless from any contribution to the school system budget.
-Fund educational campaigns that specifically address immigrant youth and their rights.
-Close the 129 million dollar gap.
-Fully find BCPSS from now on.
-Replace the money that was taken out of the educational budget that was offset by the casino revenue.
-Demand that detention centers be transparent and cooperative with families.
-Hold ICE responsible for correctly identifying themselves when in the state.
It should be noted that the very first demand, is expanded upon. Howard County is currently funded at 120% accuracy, meaning that they receive 20% more than what is required for the schools to run. Baltimore city is funded at 80% adequacy, meaning that they receive 80% of the funding they need. The money from Howard County would close the gap. The money that would come from the police budget would also help further fund the schools.
Almost all of the people who spoke at the rally were minority races, Black and Hispanic or Latinx and undocumented people discussed how they felt unsafe around the police, particularly in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray at the hands of police brutality and Donald Trump’s election to office, which increased the presence of ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) which has been deporting high numbers of undocumented immigrants including children back to their home countries or those of their parents.
A few speeches stood out. Diego, whose last name was not given out, is a high school senior and an undocumented immigrant from Mexico. He has been in the U.S. educational system for 16 years, and has never known another life. Yet, he said, “ICE has affected me and my family throughout my life” and that he lived in “constant fear of deportation.” The rally on Thursday was the first time he spoke out about his experiences. He said he wants to stay in America so he can keep going with his education, especially since many newer immigrants “are not given a chance.”
The students also made it clear that ICE agents had been disguising themselves as police in order to gain access into people’s homes in order to deport them. The issue of detention centers and not knowing where family members were was also bought up by other students who faced the same issue.
Adam Jackson, CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, discussed the importance of investing in the youth: “They always find money for the police department. They always find money to lock us up and keep us in jail. We never talk about how to invest in our young people…We got to look at these moments. It is essential that we see investments in young people is where it starts. That’s how you end structural racism, investing in young people first.” This was met by cheers from the crowd. Jackson is also the co-chair of a youth fund that is going to give out $12 million to youth services in Baltimore; however, the city is trying to use the money from the fund to balance the budget gap. The money from the youth fund was not designed for this purpose, and so keeping the money from being used to bridge the gap is one of BAP’s demands. Jackson continued, “You can balance the budget for a police department. A racist police department…and we can’t find money to fight for our young people? I call B.S.”
Other speeches included a poem from a student named Lady Bree about her challenges with racism, the police and the school system and how those affected her ability to write, as well as her creativity.
Two adults spoke during the rally as well; one was a mother, Amy Greens Fleder, whose young daughter would start attending public school in a few years, and how she feared that the budget cuts would affect the classroom size and that it was “unacceptable for any of the students in our city.”
The other to speak during the open forum was Dr. Charles Kramer, principal of Patterson Park Public Charter School. “When you hear that there’s $130 million dollars not coming back to you this year, do you think that’s right or do you think that’s wrong? That’s wrong and that’s decision that’s been that’s completely wrong. We have to work together to hold our mayor accountable for that. We have to work together to hold our governor accountable for that…And you also need to make sure you hold people like me accountable at the school level. Every single one of us, you need to keep an eye on us. You need to make sure they know what you need in order to be successful.”
One student speaker, Yaslin who did not give her last name due to concerns about safety, each were able to answer a couple of questions. Yaslin, a high school senior, felt it was important to talk at the rally because it “is important to know how this affected us all,” and she felt sharing her story about creating a club for undocumented students regarding safety around ICE could do that. “It felt great to be here…in front of city hall. It’s a way to give back to my community,” she said.
Throughout the night, at the beginning and end of speeches and even in between the crowd was encouraged to do call and response chants. Some of the ones used throughout the night included: “They say cut back. We say fight back,” “No education, no life,” “If we don’t get it. Shut it down” and “Education not deportation.” “No education, no life,” seemed to be the motto of the night as it was repeated the most. “Education not deportation” was popular with speakers who were undocumented.
Some Goucher students attended the event, though they declined to be photographed or interviewed. However, Zeke Cohen, a Baltimore Councilman, Chairman of the Education Committee and Goucher alumni (Political Science major, 2008) who attended the event did agree to answer a few questions. “I’m just here to support [the students.] I wake up everyday ready to help them learn.” He also said, “I’m very inspired by youth organized doing the right thing.”
The whole night was not simply speakers and chants; there were both music breaks and dance breaks. At one point, “The Electric Slide” was played causing the entire crowd to break out dancing. The budget bill has not passed yet, and there is still time for the demands to be met. A press rally regarding the budget deficit is happening on March 4, no other ones are known at this moment in time.