Walking for peace in Park Heights, residents shaped by violence rely on hope, determination and effort to make Baltimore safer

John-John Williams IV, The Baltimore Sun
·4 min read

One teacher said she has lost 10 students to violence in her 18 years of teaching in Baltimore. A parent recalled losing her cousin to gun violence 15-years ago. And a principal just held a memorial event for a student’s father, who was killed. They all gathered Saturday afternoon to raise awareness for peace in Baltimore.

About 75 people attended Hope In the Heights Peace Parade, a walk in the Parks Height neighborhood that honored Ceasefire Weekend. Students, staff, parents and community members carried signs and wore shirts with messages of peace for the afternoon walk, which began at Creative City Public Charter School, looped to Park Circle, and ended back at the school.

“Having something like the Ceasefire even four times a year brings to light that we are still a community," said Traci Mathena, the school’s principal who held a sacred space ritual this week, for the student’s father, who was killed two weeks ago. "If everybody could commit to being part of the solution, we could do things - policy changes, how we treat one another, how people address conflict. People go to a gun quicker than they go look for other ways to solve their conflicts.”

Mathena’s school provides resources to the school community, whether that be having a food pantry, delivering clothes to people in need or getting them housing; offering peace resolution alternatives; and working with surrounding neighbors for events like the walk, she said.

Desirae Reid, an 11-year-old fifth grader at the school, said that the event was important to help ensure the safety of the community.

“It’s important to let people know that it is not okay to hurt someone else for something they did,” she said. “It’s wrong. They have to know they can be safe in our own community.”

Her mother, Yolanda Reid, knows the affects of violence. Fifteen years ago, her cousin was gunned down while witnessing an altercation.

“It’s important to support any good cause that steers toward results,” she said. “We have to combat learned helplessness.”

Ceasefires, which are held Friday, Saturday, and Sunday on the 1st weekend of the month at least four times a year in Baltimore, are working, according to data.

A paper published this year in the American Journal of Public Health shows that shootings—both fatal and non-fatal—dropped 52% when Ceasefire actions were in place. That study examined 6,024 shootings in Baltimore city between January 2012 and July, 6, 2019.

“They [Ceasefires] are needed to let people in Baltimore know that we are not standing by the violence,” said LaQuisha Hall, a former teacher of the year who now coaches and mentors teachers throughout the school system.

Hall said that she has lost 10 students to violence during her 18 years of teaching.

“We are not letting that go to the wayside," she said. ""I just believe in Baltimore. I believe a positive change will occur through the work of people committed to Baltimore.”

Efforts like Saturday’s walk are also important in silencing critics of Black Lives Matter movement, Hall said.

“If we are talking about Black lives, it is important we go out there and demonstrate what that looks like,” Hall said. “Black Lives Matter does not occur for single events. It’s more than just when someone is shot. This is a year-round service.”

For newly elected Mayor Brandon Scott, the event had added meaning because it was held in his childhood neighborhood at the building that housed his elementary school.

“It’s humbling to come back to a place where I started my education,” he said, adding that the school is where he got his first taste of leadership positions working with the school’s safety patrol and serving as the captain of the track team.

Saturday was Scott’s first public appearances since being elected mayor of Baltimore.

“What better place to start than where I started my life,” he said. “This neighborhood shaped who I am today. I had to come here first. This is the place I am from. I want these young people to know they can be me but better than me.”

Scott inherits a city that continues to be plagued by violent crime with 282 homicides committed this year. There were 348 homicides in the city in 2019-- the second highest killing toll on record.

Scott wants to look at violence as a public health issue; he wants to invest in schools, which he said are underfunded by $300 million; and he wants to address the guns that are brought in to the city for elsewhere.

“We cannot do this with one person,” he said. “Get ready for change. Get ready to be challenged.”

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