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Baltimore high school students lead protest to urge city and state education policymakers to support Black Lives Matter

Several hundred demonstrators gathered Wednesday afternoon at Baltimore School for the Arts to demand that the Maryland State Department of Education and Baltimore City Public Schools show “full and public support” for the Black Lives Matter movement.

The protest was organized by a group of high school students, mainly from the arts school, who called for the state education department to implement “adequate history curriculums” so that students can be truly informed on black history and learn how the country’s history of racism has contributed to white supremacy and the systemic oppression of black people.

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The protesters, who included people of varying races and ethnicity but were mostly young, marched up North Charles Street, along roads cleared off by police.

Signs in the crowd called for the end of racism and for schools to teach black history more thoroughly. A’niya Taylor, a student at Baltimore City College high school, led several chants while sitting atop a burgundy Toyota Camry. Taylor, 16, was asked by BSA students to help organize the protest.

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“We are a burning building on broken foundation,” said Taylor, speaking into a microphone. “It is time we rebuild the foundation of what this country was built on.”

Taylor said she has been working in activism for a few years and helped organize other youth-led protests in the past two weeks, as part of demonstrations ignited by the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis on May 25 after a police officer knelt on his neck for nearly nine minutes.

Taylor said she was really moved to work in activism in 2018 after the death of Ray Antwone Glasgow III, a Baltimore City College student who was fatally shot in a case of mistaken identity.

Upon reaching North Avenue, the crowd gathered at the steps of the Baltimore City Public Schools headquarters. The protesters held a moment of silence for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, the time Floyd had his neck pinned to the ground by since-fired officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin has been charged with second-degree murder.

As the group remained silent, many taking knees with raised fists, vehicles passing by honked in solidarity. One passerby yelled out, “No justice, no peace.” Another honked his horn and raised a clenched fist out his window.

Various speakers addressed the crowd and artistic performances took place after the moment of silence. Black-owned businesses were stationed on the side, and demonstrators patronized the business owners during the speeches and performances.

Mahsati Moorhead, a rising senior at BSA, read off a list of demands directed to the state education department and Baltimore City Public Schools. The demands included that the two institutions publicly announce their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, prioritize the mental health of black students, and implement more black history in school subjects, such as United States and world history. The demands also advocated for works by notable black authors, such as Malcolm X, Zora Neale Hurston and Toni Morrison, to be included in the English curriculum.

Moorhead, who is black, said she went to private school until eighth grade and when she started attending public schools in Baltimore — which is over 70% black — she anticipated black history would be taught more.

“I can’t relate to ‘The Great Gatsby,’” Moorhead said, referring to the 1925 F. Scott Fitzgerald novel that follows the life of wealthy individuals in the Roaring ’20s. "I thought my voice, my people would be in the curriculum. And I was saddened to see that it’s not.”

Local activist Kwame Rose commended the students for leading the charge of social change and urged the parents and adults in the crowd to support them. He said the fight for change doesn’t stop with protests, and told the crowd to call Baltimore City Council members and other officials to let them know there should be increased funding for schools.

“There is no reason why Baltimore City police officers should make more than Baltimore City schoolteachers,” Rose said.

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