Led by high school students too young to vote but demanding to be heard, a rally in Towson Saturday afternoon called for more Black and other minority representation on the Baltimore County Council and elsewhere, including in their own school curriculums.
The most immediate concern, with the county council scheduled to vote on Monday, is a redistricting plan that keeps just one majority-Black district out of seven in a county that is about 30% Black and 45% nonwhite.
“Our districts have to represent our population,” said Roah Hassan, 16, a junior at Perry Hall High School who organized the rally on Patriot Plaza in downtown Towson.
Despite opposition from groups such as the ACLU, the NAACP and a citizens group called the Baltimore County Coalition for Fair Maps, the plan won the support of the current council.
A couple of dozen people gathered on the plaza in Saturday’s gray cold, young and old, to denounce the plan. They also heard speakers on issues including police killings, racism and the need for activism.
Darlene Cain, of West Baltimore, spoke about her son, Dale Graham, who “can’t come home to us because he was shot and killed” by a police officer in 2012.
“Everyone here today is a changemaker,” Cain told the crowd. “Your lives matter.”
Rally attendees took turns sharing personal stories — of being bullied in school for their race or ethnicity or not seeing themselves or their experiences in schoolbooks.
“I have been called many things,” said Jeancarlos Diaz, 16, and also a Perry Hall student. “I want this [rally] to be a call for unity between all students in Baltimore County... I want our voices to be heard throughout the county”
Hassan spoke of her experience as an Arab- and Muslim-American and the daughter of immigrants. Groups that are not in the majority culture, she said, don’t see themselves represented in policy or curriculum.
“The harsh reality is that people of color are not represented in educational policy,” she said. “In history classes we fail to acknowledge that our country, our local communities would not be the same without our African American, Latinx and immigrant communities.”
Some of the group marched in the area, chanting against police brutality, naming those killed from Freddie Gray in Baltimore to Breonna Taylor in Louisville. They ended the event by kneeling in silence for the amount of time that then Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck, killing him.
Hassan organized a Black Lives Matter rally last year after Floyd’s killing, but she decided for this protest to turn her attention closer to home.
“This year, we’re focused on more local issues,” she said. “The issues are right here.”
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The rally attracted adults as well, who largely let the students take the lead.
Mark Ingram, a professor of French at Goucher College, said he was concerned about how the redistricting plan “doesn’t seem very representative of the Black population in the county.
“And that seems like a legacy of the past that should be changed,” said Ingram, who is white and lives in Towson.
Anne George, of Timonium, said she’s been an activist since the 1960s, and brought a car trunk-full of protest signs. A retired teacher, she is a member of the fair maps coalition and has attended hours of council meetings at which the redistricting drew many detractors speaking against it — to no avail, she fears from the tenor of the council members’ own discussions.
“They all talked as if we didn’t say a thing,” George said.
At 15, Stephanie Avila is at the start of her own activism. A student at George Washington Carver Center for Arts and Technology, she said she previously participated in an environmental cleanup with Hassan.
“We can’t vote,” the Essex resident said, “but we can help our voices be heard a little.”