Blaming Baltimore's wolves

Op-ed: Baltimore's young black males are wolves set up to fail by their hunters.

There is an ancestral tale from the Arctic, which depicts how to kill a wolf. Folklore describes how some indigenous people would dip a double-edged sword in the blood of prey, and then pack the handle deeply into the frozen earth. Attracted to the smell of blood, the wolf would approach and begin to lick the blade. As the wolf licked, he would be fooled by the sensation of finally having his starvation eased. The more he licked, the more his mouth filled with blood. The wolf does not realize that he is cutting his own mouth, tasting his own blood, licking himself to death.

Who do we blame? We blame the wolf. We do not blame the trickery and cunning of the indigenous hunter who first buried a double-edged sword in the ice, to intentionally kill the wolf. This is how Baltimoreans from all walks of life are able to sleep restfully at night, as African-American males attempt to "lick" themselves out of oppression.

I have had the honor of serving as the principal of Renaissance Academy High School in historic Upton/Druid Heights for two years and seven months. We have lost three young African-American males, Ananias Jolley, Darius Bardney, and Daniel Jackson, under uniquely different circumstances. They were wolves — intelligent, courageous and strong. However, their horrific and tragic deaths have been simplified solely to the connection they shared: They all attended Renaissance Academy.

Believe me, I have grappled with the untimely coincidence of three males lost to violence in 90 days, all under age 18, all who attended the same high school. Then I come to my senses and realize that this is the new normal in the city of Baltimore. Violence and the systems that sustain it are the new normal. Allow me to go deeper: over the course of 370 days, we have borne witness to unprecedented, record-breaking violence: the death of Freddie Gray, civil unrest, a record year for murders, and the deaths of three high school boys all from the same school. Carnage. This town is hemorrhaging, and few "leaders" want to address the systemic issue. The city has become complacent with violence.

This is a systemic issue. In fact, it is so systemically ingrained that if this intentional destruction of the black male were happening anywhere else in the world, it would be called genocide. I grew up in Baltimore and watched what was coded "the war on drugs" translate into the annihilation of black and brown males across the city. The war on drugs locked up their fathers and other male figures, leaving the children without male guidance. The war on drugs secured their fate in being the primary commodity to supply the prison industry. It allowed for the free flow of illegal guns and heroin. It caused the children to shrink back into the shadows and adopt "cool pose" — a way of dressing, talking and walking — as a mechanism of defense, a way to belong.

Simply refer to the historical record: Deliberate legislation and policies on housing, jobs and other issues cemented deep poverty in West Baltimore. Perhaps you see the connection to our friend the wolf. Communities have been eroded and marred with dilapidated buildings and infrastructure. A lack of markets ensures that the children who need nourishment the most are trained to eat processed foods and chicken boxes.

Yet we blame the wolf. We blame the people, not the select few who control the systems. We blame Ananias Jolley, Darius Bardney, and Daniel Jackson, not the politicians who ignored them and others like them and prepared cots for them in juvenile and adult prisons and prevented the renovation of recreation centers. We blame Renaissance Academy, not the fact that new schools are going up in areas that already have gentrified. We blame parents, not the fact that they were victims of the same systems. We blame the poor, not the non-profits who send just enough to resuscitate, but lack commitment to long-term systemic change. We blame the voiceless.

But every single day at Renaissance Academy, a small coalition of the willing fights as if it is their last day to uplift the children and communities in West Baltimore. We fight side by side with the University of Maryland School of Social Work, Communities United, Bethel AME Church, Seeds of Promise, Safe Streets, the University of Baltimore, My Brother's Keeper, Villa Maria, Loving Arms, Kappa Alpha Psi Inc., AIMBA, Douglas Memorial Church, and a host of others to change the outcome and to eliminate the new normal, this acceptance of violence. The CEO of Baltimore City Schools, Gregory Thornton, is a member of this coalition.

So while many of the citizens of Baltimore City take up the luxury of judgment, we are actually in the trenches fighting for West Baltimore.

Nikkia Rowe is the principal of the Renaissance Academy High School in West Baltimore. Her email is nrowe@bcps.k12.md.us.

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