In April 2015, like now, I was a resident of Baltimore City. That spring our city was in turmoil following the murder of Freddie Gray at the hands of the police. I lived within a mile of the place where Gray attempted to flee from the police one fateful Sunday morning, yet our worlds couldn’t have been more different. Me, a mom, wife, and college professor living in the so-called, “White-L”* of Baltimore (Geographer, Dr. Lawrence Brown coined that geographic phrase to indicate the area of the city most populated by White people, corresponding with an abundance of resources that the “Black Butterfly,” where Gray lived, lack). Yet, all of the city residents were shook by what we witnessed and experienced. International media flocked to our city sending out media representations of a burning CVS and understandably angry residents gathering in protest over the death of yet another Black man at the hands of police.
I thought about what I could do in such a helpless situation. In addition to having discussions about racism and police brutality with my own children and joining in the peaceful march the evening that the district attorney charged the police officers (who were eventually found not-guilty, again), I turned to what I do professionally: conduct research. I reached out to a colleague at a neighboring university, and we designed a study that we embarked upon later that year that investigated what a group of Baltimore City teachers did in the days, weeks, and months following our “Baltimore Uprising.” Typical of the academic publishing process, we didn’t see the fruits of our labor for a few years. However, little did we know how fortuitous it would be that our recently-published research would have renewed focus on the 5th anniversary of the Baltimore Uprising in spring 2020 following the public lynching of yet another innocent Black man, George Floyd, when Valerie Strauss of The Washington Post took notice. Strauss knew our work had relevance for teachers at this time moving forward, and we were humbled that she took such care to describe our research in The Post.
What my experience showed me was that, despite living worlds away enveloped in our comfortable ivory towers, we can make a difference in the world.
Our research amplified creative, heroic acts of teachers on the proverbial “frontlines” at a time of turmoil, so it is quite grounded after all, for it provides future teachers with ideas for engaging in relevant lessons, conversations, collaborations, and the like in times of strife. These lessons offer teachers and students with alternative vision and hope for a liberatory future.
*For additional information on “White L” of Baltimore.
Stephanie Flores-Koulish, Ph.D.
Professor & Director, Curriculum & Instruction for Social Justice
Loyola University Maryland
Flores-Koulish is Professor and Director of the Curriculum and Instruction for Social Justice Master’s Program at Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore. She is IRT Associate alum, 1998 and completed her Ph.D. at Boston College in Curriculum and Instruction in 2002. Her research centers around critical media literacy, urban and critical teaching, and adopted Latinx identity. She has also served as an IRT Statement of Purpose mentor for the past 4 years.