A little more than a year ago, Freddie Gray died while in police custody, sparking a spasm of civil unrest largely among young people in West Baltimore who are disenfranchised and living at the margins. Much has been written about the causes for that sense of purposelessness and what should be done to alleviate it, and we all undoubtedly have our personal points of view on the subject. Beyond all the analysis, however, and without in any way condoning lawlessness, I would concur with a comment made at the time by our good friend Orioles center fielder Adam Jones. No stranger to a challenging upbringing himself, Adam offered the view that, if nothing else, the unrest was a cry for help.
With this in mind, I was proud then as I am now that the Y was and is in a position to respond to that need.
A great example and one that gives voice to young people aching to be heard, is the “Patterson 4 Peace” program developed by Y associate Shanelle England, our Community School Coordinator at Patterson High School.
The quick background is that after a fight broke out at Patterson three years ago, Shanelle and Principal Vance Benton came together to launch “Patterson 4 Peace” (known as “P4P”). P4P is a student driven initiative that brings together students, parents, teachers and community partners to commit to tolerance, respect and healthy relationships, and to address issues including trauma, community violence, student violence, drug addiction and unhealthy relationships.
This past April 11-15 was the 3rd annual P4P anniversary week of activities, which included the following:
Monday, April 11 – Unity Walk
Patterson students, staff and community partners marched around the building chanting “We Want Peace.” This was followed by a community conversation on the issues students face and information sessions addressing these issues
Tuesday, April 12 – Building Bridges Between Adolescents and Seniors
A roundtable discussion between students and residents of Our Lady of Fatima, a Catholic Charities senior living home next to the school. The discussion addressed “what has changed in Baltimore over time” and the difference between living in the City then and now.
Wednesday, April 13 – P4P Has Your Back
- 25 students visited the March Funeral home for a life lesson on Violence Ends Here
- P4P girls conducted a workshop on Human Trafficking.
- A resource fair addressed student and family needs. Representatives from various social services agencies, the health department, a career center, housing services, BGE, fuel fund, home ownership, etc. were in attendance. Workshops were held on stress management, money management and healthy living.
Thursday, April 14 – Take the Pledge
- Students conducted class presentations to promote a pledge holding students accountable for their own behavior and to get 200 people to take the pledge.
- The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice conducted a workshop with 20 students on trauma.
April 15 – “Thank You Friday”
- Certificates and trophies were handed out to students for leadership, participation in the week’s events, and to those who displayed negative behavior last year but who are now on track to graduate.
- The students were told that it was now their mission to inform, encourage and uplift others in spite of their own circumstances.
- Senior Class Valedictorian, Dontray, told the students that Patterson 4 Peace has “changed who we are both inside and outside.” He is an outstanding example of leadership, determination, strength and courage. He will be attending Towson University in the Fall
- Shanelle and many of the students wore last year’s P4P T-shirts with the words “Known. Humble. Determined.”
A deeper peak into the conversation between students and the senior residents of Our Lady of Fatima (Tuesday’s event) tells you more than any statistics about the nature of the challenge faced by these students and the absolute importance of the Community Schools initiative (I am proud that the Y in Central Maryland is a lead agency for ten Community Schools in Baltimore):
Residents shared that, in their day, they never locked their doors, they felt safe and there were no shootings or violence of any kind. The community looked out for each other and if kids behaved or dressed inappropriately, a community member would address it on the spot even if the kids weren’t their own:
“There were about 20 families and 60 kids in my neighborhood. All 60 kids had a mother and a father; no one was hungry. We have lost a lot. We have lost our sense of community and who we are as people. We have lost the vision to reach back to when times were better.”
Shanelle England’s Comments:
“You need positive people in your lives; you need to talk to people to find a way out.”
- “I need to find a way out or I know I’ll be killed.”
- “There is so much hatred in families. I get into arguments with my mother and she tells me to get out. I help pay for the rent and she wants me to get out.”
- “People are self-absorbed. They don’t want to think about things unless it affects them. I got mine now you gotta get yours.”
- “I’m just trying to survive.”
- “I don’t have support at home. Mom don’t care; why should I care? I need support to get through the day.”
- “A friend of my mom’s broke into our home when she wasn’t there. I was asleep and I was so scared. I found out that he had just been released from prison.”
- “Parents that have demons can’t parent you. They treat you like an adult even though you’re only a kid.”
- “Don’t be afraid of your future, meet it. Give the same attention to your future as you do to music and videos.”
- “You won’t be influenced if you know who you are. That will make you strong.”
Y Community School Coordinator at Patterson High School Shanelle England herself faced enormous challenges as a child and teen and is a shining example of how you can overcome circumstances. She now has a Master’s degree in Psychology and a meaningful track record of answering the “cry for help” of which Adam Jones spoke.
Shanelle is a force in the Patterson High community. She doles out love, discipline and counseling in equal parts. She is the students’ defender and role model, and is fiercely loyal. She is a positive and supportive light who is making a palpable difference in the climate of the school.
On the heels of the one year anniversary of the riots in Baltimore, Shanelle England is clearly what’s right in our City and at our Y.
All the best,
John K. Hoey
President & CEO
The Y in Central Maryland