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COVID takes an unsung hero from Baltimore | COMMENTARY

Crystal Hardy-Flowers, the owner/director of Little Flowers Early Childhood & Development, dances with children at a cotillion in 2018. She died of COVID-19 complications in Dec. 31.
Crystal Hardy-Flowers, the owner/director of Little Flowers Early Childhood & Development, dances with children at a cotillion in 2018. She died of COVID-19 complications in Dec. 31. (Chiaki Kawajiri, Baltimore Sun)

I first met Crystal Hardy-Flowers almost seven years ago while working on a series of stories about violence in Baltimore and the myriad ways it impacts the people living in the hardest hit communities — the collateral consequences invisible to much of the outside world. Ms. Hardy-Flowers was working deep in the trenches running her Little Flowers Early Childhood and Development Center and knew firsthand the imprint violence left on neighborhoods long after the crime scene was cleaned up. She was dealing with the trauma violence inflicted on people way before it became a buzz topic for lawmakers.

She let me into her world to see the emotional distress violence had on the city’s tiniest residents, sometimes making it difficult to control their behavior. It was the reason a 2-year-old hurled a toy stove filled with plastic pots and pans because he wasn’t allowed to play with a toy. And why she taught her staff to respond with hugs, understanding and soothing words rather than more severe punishments when children acted out. It was the cause of depression and anxiety suffered by the parents of her students. It was why her staff once couldn’t leave because of police surveillance right outside the doors of her West Baltimore child care center. Violence was a part of everyday life in both overt and subtle ways.

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But Hardy-Flowers believed troubling circumstances didn’t have to define the kids at her child care center and wanted to make them feel special and loved every day. She held an annual cotillion for her students so they could be “kings and queens” for an afternoon. I would put her on the list of many of Baltimore’s unsung heroes doing yeoman’s work under the most challenging circumstances. One of the people of the community that doesn’t always get the same accolades as the foundations with the deep pockets, but still does the work because they truly care.

Sadly, Hardy-Flowers died of complications from COVID-19 on Dec. 31 at Sinai Hospital after being hospitalized around Christmastime. She feared contracting COVID-19 because she lived with the lung condition chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, which made it difficult to breathe when doing something as simple as walking across the parking lot. She continued her work all the same, dismissing her staff’s proddings to stay home and rest. They couldn’t stop her from doing what she loved.

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Hers was another tragic loss of life to a disease that is ravaging the country and killing more than it should. Personally, it was another COVID death that hit too close to home — someone I knew and had spent time with. Too many people in my life have contracted or died from the disease. Or they have family members who have. The cases of six degrees of separation are far too many, the stories becoming unbearable to hear. The virus is taking good people from this Earth.

We can’t bring any of these lives back, but we can remember them. Hardy-Flowers leaned on her social work background to meet the needs of the children under her care. Before opening the child care center in 2008, she led a team of counselors who cared for abused children at the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. Some of her students at the day care included foster care children and she was widely protective of them when talking to me for my stories. She built relationships with various social service agencies and nonprofits to connect the children and their families with wraparound services. Beyond the call of duty she went, and many of the children, and staff too, saw her as a second mother.

Lucky for Baltimore, Hardy-Flowers passed on her knowledge to daughter Ashley Flowers and a niece she raised like a daughter, Jasmine Hardy, and they will take over the day care center and carry on their mother’s legacy. Ms. Hardy has been promoted from academic coordinator to director, and Ms. Flowers will bring her business background to take on ownership duties.

“She always talked about keeping up Little Flowers,” Ms. Hardy said. “She was always prepping me of course. We weren’t expecting for it to happen like this, but I know what she wants, and her vision, and I plan to carry that out the way she would want to see it.”

But what she wants most is for people to remember this about her mother: “how giving and loving she was.”

Andrea K. McDaniels is The Sun’s deputy editorial page editor.

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