Baltimore City

One year after riots, Frederick Douglass students seek to reclaim narrative of Mondawmin

One year ago today, the voices of Frederick Douglass High School students were mere footnotes after riot scenes projected worldwide from neighboring Mondawmin Mall portrayed the school as the epicenter of chaos, and the students as the culprits.

The students hosted a panel discussion Wednesday to reflect on the events of last April and the fallout and made one thing was clear: Not this year. This time they would own, and tell, their stories about what really happened.


"Douglass didn't start the riot, I'm so tired of hearing it, and whoever said that told a huge, egregious lie," said Dominick Carter, a junior "That was just one of those scars, a little mark that we don't need to keep being branded with."

In a dialogue riddled with pain and pride, students from the historic West Baltimore high school reclaimed the narrative of the events of last spring, which they say have continued to overshadow their collective success as a school community but has helped them to grow as individuals.


"It opened a lot of students' eyes to see that we can suppressed, and we have to rise above what people think we are and their perceptions of us," said De'Asia Ellis, a senior, who will attend Goucher College on a full scholarship next year.

Uriel Gray, a senior, said he learned that, "just because I am a child, doesn't mean my voice can't be heard, it does not mean I cannot stand up for myself."

Police said the riots that roiled through West Baltimore last April 27 started after about 100 students walked out of Douglass in protest, one of many demonstrations that transpired in the city following the funeral of Freddie Gray, the 25-year-old man who died from injuries he sustained while in police custody.

Shortly after the walkout a violent standoff between youth and residents unfolded at Mondawmin Mall, which is adjacent to Douglass, and where its nearly 1,000 students go to take the bus to and from school.

It was later revealed that the Mondawmin bus transportation hub was shut down, leaving Douglass students and more than 5,000 other students who pass through the hub daily stranded. To this day, no city agency has taken responsibility for ordering the shutdown.

After watching his students explain how they were blamed perhaps because their bright orange uniform shirts were the most visible as they attempted to get home from Mondawmin that day, Jesse Schneiderman, an American government teacher interjected.

"We deserve an explanation, too," he said. "I want to know who stranded 1,100 of my students."

Teachers said that students are continuing to excel, starting businesses as part of a "Millionaire's Club," and placing in national debate and robotics competitions.


Ellis president of the city's student government association this year. Last year, the school had an 88 percent, 4-year graduation rate, well above the city's average.

Ebony Cooper, another American government teacher said the past year has been her most successful at Douglass, providing her and her students a real-world example of civic engagement.

But she said that there were a lot of false promises made in the last year that if kept could have pushed students to the next level.

"We have created a community here, the problem is we need additional assistance from the community for how far we want our kids to go," Cooper said.

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When schools reopened two days after the riots, a parade of media, city leaders and celebrities descended on the school. Among the most high-profile were former Baltimore Raven Ray Lewis and Washington-based rapper Wale.

The students were promised lights for their football field, frequent check-ins, even offers to work on an album. Not one promise was fulfilled.


"We need to hold those people and organizations accountable who came here a year ago and promised our kids the world...and we haven't seen them," said Cooper.

Even that was a learning experience, Ellis said.

"It opened our eyes as to what to expect when people promise you something," she said. "That most of the time, we're going to have to go out and get it ourselves."