Telling History Project and the "Baltimore Thugs"

Having participated in programs run by Generation Human Rights back in high school, the organization played an integral role in shaping my passions.  As a sophomore in college, I decided I’d like to share powerful the experience of GenHR through the Telling History Project.  With a student group we began the Telling History Project at Johns Hopkins University and began working with local high schools in Baltimore.

Letters from Baltimore’s THUGS

The week after the unfortunate death of Freddie Gray, Jr., protests took place throughout the city of Baltimore.  Despite the attention given to the one night of violence and rioting, the majority of the responses were perfectly peaceful.  It was the passion and perseverance I saw during this week that made me love the city for the first time.  

That Friday, fellow Johns Hopkins students and I went to Baltimore City College high school to hold the last of our Telling History Project classes. The students in the class, all seniors, had much to say about the week’s events, which they were asked to put into letters to be published and sent to local officials. When discussing the many issues of racial inequality in the city, the students’ insights shed light on many subjects I’d never even recognized as issues.  After a long discussion, the students were then encouraged to propose changes and government responses.

Unfortunately, some students felt as though there’s no hope for change. They’ve grown up in poverty and violence, as did their parents, and grandparents–why should they expect anything to change? Others, however, felt a bit more optimistic about the situation and proposed amazing and clear responses such as mentorship and sports programs, greater tax allocation to low-income communities, increased job opportunities, and forums to open discussions and relationships between the police and communities.  

That day, the incitements in the Gray case were released.  The classroom and halls filled with excitement, but the students were firm in asserting that this one response did not mean justice.  This was addressed in one of the letters they wrote: “we have this preconceived idea that ‘justice’ is tangible, but you cannot grasp it and it doesn’t happen overnight.”   

I’m so grateful to have spent this day at Baltimore City College high school through the Telling History Project.  Although the students expressed gratitude for the program, I can only hope they took away half of what I did.  This day changed my perspective in many ways and the perseverance of the students (and Baltimore as a whole) greatly inspired me.    

Elena Hirsch, rising Junior Johns Hopkins University