Baltimore: We wait, We pray, We keep dreaming big

BY GUEST BLOGGERApril 29, 2015

Written by: Jessica Gregg, Director of Communications, Cristo Rey Jesuit High School

Cristo Rey Jesuit Baltimore students celebrate the school's fifth year in a row, with 100% of graduating seniors have been accepted into college.

Cristo Rey Jesuit Baltimore students celebrate the school’s fifth year in a row, with 100% of graduating seniors have been accepted into college.

When the protests in Baltimore erupted into violence this past weekend, one of our sophomores was stranded at his part-time job at the Inner Harbor as police blocked the streets and bus service stopped.

It was only the student’s second day at his job at a seasonal paddle boat rental. Scared and unsure of what to do or where to go, he called his mother. She told him to walk east, away from the protestors and toward the hotels and restaurants in Harbor East.

But when he got there, he still didn’t feel safe. So, he kept walking – for one mile more – until he reached Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. There, the student told his mother, he knew he was safe.

Every day of the school year, we seek to provide a safe place for our students to work and learn. Every day we create a haven for them – a place for them to dream and to believe and to learn what they need to become the adults they are supposed to become.

We can pat ourselves on the back for this, but the reality is that we do this out of necessity. Of all the images of the protests and riots that have flashed across the TV screens in the past few days the ones that are most true are the ones that show the poverty that affects wide sections of Baltimore. The after-the-riot reality is that there are places in this city where there is no haven for dreamers or kids who think big. This is why Cristo Rey Jesuit exists.

On Monday afternoon, several parents, staff from other schools, and a few of the downtown companies that employ our students called to make sure we were aware of the planned “purge.” We immediately dismissed students from their internships and cancelled our after-school activities. Several staff members stayed late to make sure students got home safely.

Then the worry began. Were our students OK? How were their neighborhoods affected by the rioting? What were they seeing? Although we were closed on Tuesday, we began to plan for our return to school – whenever that would be. “All I wanted to do was see the kids,” one teacher told me.

Today, we reopened and almost all of our students are here. Like us, they are a little bit on edge. Some want to talk, some don’t. Some are defensively coping – one joked about a liquor store on their block getting looted, for example, and his teacher knew to proceed carefully until the student could get to his real feelings.

We have counselors ready to talk to those who want or need to talk. Our social studies classes are going to discuss the events of the past week and begin a letter-writing campaign to advocate for peace and justice. After a day of being with our students again, we realized that they mostly want life to return to normal.

We know how they feel. All of us are nervous about Friday when the police will turn over the results of their investigation into Freddie Gray’s brutal death to the State’s Attorney’s Office. Everybody wonders what the resolution to this will be. Will we arrive at justice? So, we are waiting, we are praying, and we are reminding our students that once again this is the time and place to dream big.

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