Why social justice and trauma-informed education is necessary in East Baltimore schools and beyond

The recent Baltimore Sun investigative series on the consistent segregation in our school systems, in Baltimore and beyond, has been another wake-up call, to some. Focusing in on the investigation into the new Henderson-Hopkins contract school in East Baltimore and why trauma-informed education along with education about the history of injustice in the neighborhood and beyond is my objective in this piece.

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Block of homes demolished to make room for the Henderson-Hopkins School

Per the Sun’s article, Johns Hopkins University in the guise of the East Baltimore Development Inc. and its partners Annie E. Casey Foundation and the city and state, bought out the residents living in the homes that occupied the space of the current school and the growing Hopkins Biotech Park-88 acres known as Middle East Baltimore. Also true is the violation of residents’ human right to keep their land by forcing them to move through this massive public:private development similar to urban removal, this time using eminent domain*. This trauma is part of the foundation of the Henderson:Hopkins school: the physical, emotional, and spiritual foundation of injustice that has yet to be acknowledged, repaired, and healed. The current fair market value paid for residents’ homes came only after residents organized through Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc (SMEAC) and fought for this change. The initial price Hopkins and its partners offered residents for the land that would bring them much profit and prestige was the 1970’s value. This history of disrespect and disregard continues to have profound effects; it’s a continuation of the trauma brought about by gentrification, serial forced displacement* and community fragmentation of African-American people. And this injustice and resultant trauma affects a child’s ability to learn. This history of expulsion and dispossession has yet to be repaired. The children attending Henderson:Hopkins school bring this trauma and therefore healing of this must be a priority. They embody the continuation of the injustice and structural violence enacted on their parents, grandparents, and ancestors, and their land. The cost of a healing education for historic East Baltimore children will be high and requires the officials of the school to invest the dollars and resources necessary to assure that they are ready to learn-the teaching must be trauma-informed* and social justice-informed. But the government benefits received by the Johns Hopkins Biotech and Gentrification Park has been tremendous so translating these government subsidies into public benefit should be an expectation of Baltimore citizens. If not this project is just another neoliberal gentrification project expanding the gap between the rich university and the surrounding poor community.

For the past two years residents’ whose children and grand children attend the school have been complaining about the lack of interest in the needs of their children. One grandparent said she has been sending her child to school with her own toilet paper, a requirement by the school. Not only has the school been under-resourced, but this lack of adequate resources to address the great need of these students have been short-sighted. Adequate resources also include teachers ready and willing to care from a trauma-informed lens when educating children with generational/historical trauma*. If this school intended to benefit the children of the neighborhood, this needed to be part of the design of the educational curriculum and care. While it’s easy to blame the failure of academic performance on ‘concentrated poverty’ and suggest that the only way to educate children coming from homes of poverty and racial minority groups is to integrate the schools, a deeper and more truthful discourse is missing. What would be a more truthful discourse addressing the source of the history of racial, social, and economic injustice is to understand that the entire development of the 88-acre was never intended to benefit the existing residents. It was intended to move the existing residents away and expand the Johns Hopkins University. After organized and systematic protest and struggle to be treated fairly by residents, churches and businesses forced to leave, the ‘leaders’ of Henderson-Hopkins were forced to show how the development would benefit the community. Of course the 2005 supreme court ruling that eminent domain used by private developers must show real public benefit changed the original game of the ‘leaders’ of Hopkins’ expansion plan. Now they could be taken to court if there was not some public benefit from the taking of the homes of East Baltimore residents-and this may still happen if the public benefit promised does not materialize, ie. the 8000 jobs promised, affordable homes and amenities. When residents raised their voices about the school being exclusionary, and quoted the supreme courts’ ruling on the use of eminent domain, the ‘leaders’ of the school had to take note and include more local residents than previously planned. But also important is to recognize that the project has not taken off and new residents are not flocking to the development, even with the re-branding of the area and promotion of a new school. What must be discussed is the displacement of the challenges that were present in the 88-acre, to the neighborhoods just adjacent and the continued crime, substance use and sale, and disinvestment impacting these peripheral neighborhoods.The developments’ security guards now patrol on foot around the 88-acre area, a human wall attempting to keep the crime out, and the neighbors. The development has not benefitted historic residents, simply displaced the ‘problem’ to rehab and re-outfit the place with a more ‘acceptable’ race and class of people: one perceived more worthy of occupying the land. The community meetings held by EBDI provide no real opportunity for input by historic residents. Information promised, like the results of the recent survey on historic residents’ ‘right of return’-conducted by Annie E. Casey and consultants- that they filled out are asked for at each meeting and the response is the same: ‘next meeting’.

While studies show that children learn better in racially and socioeconomically diverse spaces, they also show that the environment that they come from determine if they will succeed in school. Studies also show that not only is the environment a determinant of educational outcome, but the environment of the mother also determines if a child will be successful in school. So to think that integrating Henderson-Hopkins school with children of Hopkins employees and students will bring their academic outcomes on par with their white and middle-class school mates is a superficial band-aid to the history of separate and unequal policies and structures. Because until we begin educating about the de jure segregation that exists in and in the surrounding neighborhoods of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins Biotech Park, we still are not educating all children from a place of truth and equity. The curriculum at Henderson-Hopkins certainly is not teaching them about the history of de jure segregation and why they are part of a history of serial forced displacement.

Serial Forced Displacement in the African American Community. Courtesy of Dr. Mindy Fullilove

Serial Forced Displacement in the African American Community. Courtesy of Dr. Mindy Fullilove

For this school to benefit historic residents in the short and long-term, it must address the generational trauma caused by social, economic, and racial injustice. Along with adverse childhood experiences* that many children growing up in situations of poverty experience, these obstacles to learning require an educational setting focused on these traumas. Trauma-informed education is not new. It’s been around for several years, informed by studies that show the benefit. Several states have mandated trauma informed education and include training of teachers in instructing and preventing negative outcomes of traumatized children, screening for trauma at schools, etc; examples are Oregon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Washington, Wisconsin. This is what we need in Henderson-Hopkins school for the school to attend to the needs of its residents and assure success. Doing so will unlock the true potential of every child entering the doors of the school and not only seek to bring black and brown children of poverty to ‘perform’ similar to children of means. The leaders of a school developed by taking of the land of people in Middle East Baltimore should aspire to offer benefit to the same people of this community. In order to do so it must teach to the needs of the community, not the myth of white supremacy.  Anything else is another deceit of the intention of the eminent domain policy of ‘public benefit’ and continues the history and trauma of serial forced displacement in Baltimore and beyond.

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*Terms

Adverse childhood experiences – stressful or traumatic events in childhood that are associated with health and social problems as an adult; include but not limited to Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Emotional abuse, Physical neglect, Emotional neglect, Mother treated violently, Substance misuse within household, Household mental illness, Parental separation or divorce, Incarcerated household member

Serial forced displacement – repetitive, coercive upheaval of groups

Historical/generational trauma – the cumulative or multigenerational emotional and psychological wounding of an individual, generation, or cultural group caused by a traumatic experience or event.

Trauma-informed care – education and care based on the four “R’s,” – realization, recognition, response and resisting re-traumatization

Eminent domain – power of the government to take private property for public use

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