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Voices: For Black History Month, Baltimore-area residents share what’s next after the racial reckoning of 2020 | Commentary

Omer Reshid a resident of Pikesville and student at George Washington University and his thoughts on education and systemic racism.

ABOUT THE SERIES: People from throughout the Baltimore region shared their thoughts with The Baltimore Sun about what needs to happen to move ahead after 2020′s racial reckoning. Each week in February, we will share some of their comments.

During February, Maryland residents are commemorating Black History Month by studying and celebrating the past. Meanwhile, what’s being called the racial reckoning of 2020 is barely in the rearview mirror. Those recent events — Black people killed by police and marches demanding systemic change — are prompting some Baltimore residents to explore what needs to be done to ensure there is substantial progress toward achieving racial justice and equity.

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The Baltimore Sun asked residents: What will it take to move the region ahead in 2021 and beyond? Specifically what do they want to change, and how will they help make those changes happen? Each week this month, we will share some of their comments about how they hope to move forward after a tumultuous 2020.

The essays have been edited for clarity and length.

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Omer Reshid, 19, former student member, Baltimore County Board of Education; member, Baltimore County Work Group on Equitable Policing; freshman, George Washington University

Omer Reshid, a former student member of the Baltimore County Board of Education, now attends George Washington University. In his Black History Month essay, he called for people to work to improve their communities because "no one else will do it for us."
Omer Reshid, a former student member of the Baltimore County Board of Education, now attends George Washington University. In his Black History Month essay, he called for people to work to improve their communities because "no one else will do it for us." (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

Last year we gathered together to call for justice and equality. We fought against police brutality, systemic racism and discrimination of our communities.

In 2021, I hope that the education gap between all races and socioeconomic backgrounds is fixed and all students are given the same opportunities. We need to work to have a diverse range of teachers and a curriculum that culturally reflects the student body in Baltimore County.

I will continue to work with the Baltimore County Equitable Policing Workgroup to make sure the voices of young Black adults are heard and will also be running for Black Student Union president at George Washington University. I will use the role to educate not just fellow African Americans, but everyone, no matter their race, on racial justice, equity and what it all means.

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I hope other young people keep the pressure on local officials like they have these past few months and not run out of fuel. We need to keep improving our communities on our own since no one else will do it for us.

Monalisa Diallo, 55, Mondawmin resident, health and nutrition activist, community farms and garden advocate

In her Black History Month essay, Monalisa Diallo tells others they have the right to stand up and say, 'I want a healthy community.'
In her Black History Month essay, Monalisa Diallo tells others they have the right to stand up and say, 'I want a healthy community.' (Lloyd Fox/Baltimore Sun)

I believe that the health of our people in our neighborhood directly correlates with vacancy and blight. On the corner of Coldspring and Reisterstown roads, you have fast food restaurants on every single corner.

We are fighting the No. 1 killer in Baltimore. In the Black community, that’s heart disease. Homicide is a violent, horrible crime that reverberates here through our neighborhood. But homicide is sixth on the list. So if we’re really concerned about Black lives, then we need to start from the top and work our way down.

My goal is to let everybody know that you have the power. You have the right to stand up to say “I want a healthy community.” I’m in the bonus round now. That’s what I call being 55. I’ve lived longer than my grandmother, my grandfather and my mother lived. And I have the chance to make an impact.

Ajmel Quereshi, 39, senior counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund Inc., leads LDF’s efforts in Bradford v. Maryland State Board of Education

In his Black History Month essay, Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, says the disparities in education access, including the digital divide, is one of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.'s top priorities. Photo is LDF taken/owned
In his Black History Month essay, Ajmel Quereshi, senior counsel, NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, says the disparities in education access, including the digital divide, is one of the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.'s top priorities. Photo is LDF taken/owned

2020 challenged us all in ways few could have predicted. The nation was devastated by the combined impact of COVID-19 and racism. With local, state and federal governments’ failure to address the fallout, civil rights advocates have hit the ground running in 2021.

The disparities in education access, including the digital divide, is one of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s top priorities. Baltimore has been facing this challenge for decades. According to a Maryland state government study, Baltimore schools have been underfunded by at least $340 million annually since 2017, despite a 1996 ruling that students were not receiving a constitutional education.This is in addition to the nearly $3 billion needed to address school facilities.

The impact of this underfunding was felt even more severely in 2020 as the school district and its students had limited resources to improve cleaning procedures and purchase computers and internet services. Last year, the Maryland General Assembly passed legislation reducing this gap, but the governor vetoed even those modest increases. Legal efforts to fill the gap, including our lawsuit calling on the state to meet its constitutional obligation, remain vital.

We hope that 2021 brings an end not only to the challenges brought in 2020, but to the barriers that have harmed Baltimore students for far longer.

Dana P. Moore, 63, Baltimore’s first chief equity officer, first woman to serve as Baltimore City solicitor

Dana P. Moore, Baltimore chief equity officer, wrote in her Black History Month essay, 'my intent is to use the messages of 2020 to inform the many decisions to truly make Baltimore a more equitable municipality.'
Dana P. Moore, Baltimore chief equity officer, wrote in her Black History Month essay, 'my intent is to use the messages of 2020 to inform the many decisions to truly make Baltimore a more equitable municipality.' (Mark Dennis)

Darn you, 2020. You crept into places vast and shallow and deep and narrow and showed us that loss and sorrow and grief and fear can find us no matter our privileged or vaunted status. But Baltimore is a great city … [and the] messages from our own 2020 summer of reckoning have been heard.

My intent is to use the messages of 2020 to inform the many decisions to truly make Baltimore a more equitable municipality. The decisions that must be made include finding real ways to provide more financial support for behavioral health services so that members of law enforcement are not called to address health crises.

We have to create job programs so that the unemployed and underemployed have real opportunities to support themselves and their families.

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We have to assure that minority and women-owned businesses have real opportunities to compete for Baltimore’s significant public funds. I am here for that. Our partners are here for that. So, let’s get to work.

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MarTaze “Taz” Gaines, 24, project coordinator, 24+None, Maryland Office of the Public Defender

MarTaze Gaines. a coordinator of the 24+None program, says they are "fighting for a future where no youth in Maryland will be caged, but will have their needs met in and by our community."
MarTaze Gaines. a coordinator of the 24+None program, says they are "fighting for a future where no youth in Maryland will be caged, but will have their needs met in and by our community." (courtesy of MarTaze Gaines)

Our youth leaders recognize the racial disparities in state surveillance, rates of arrests, sentencing and post-incarceration outcomes are directly tied to other systems of oppression that consistently devalue, dehumanize and divest from Black and Brown communities.

We are seeking solutions that prioritize the dignity of every young person: namely closing youth prisons in Maryland, raising the age of prosecution so that young people are treated in developmentally appropriate ways, shrinking the system, and demanding quality opportunities for youth.

We are fighting for a future where no youth in Maryland will be caged, but will have their needs met in and by our community.

— Sundra Hominik, Christinia Tkacik and Tim Prudente

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