Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
April 4, 2020 | °F in Baltimore

Community organizers explain their missions

By DEREK MORITZ | March 12, 2020

Founder of Baltimore Ceasefire 365 Erricka Bridgeford gave a guest lecture at Professor Philip Leaf’s community-based learning course, Health and Wellbeing in Baltimore: A Public Health Perspective on Tuesday. 

Leaf, a professor at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, is the primary instructor for the class. Each week, different speakers speak about public health issues Baltimore faces and how students can have a better relationship with and understanding of the city.  

Baltimore Ceasefire 365 is an organization that hosts quarterly ceasefire weekends, which consist of a series of community events on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, with the goal being to reduce the violence that takes places in Baltimore.

Deputy Director of African American Male Engagement (AAME) Andrew Knox also spoke at the lecture. AAME is a division of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success, and aims to support the needs of black men in Baltimore City.

The discussion focused on the speakers’ experiences in trying to improve health and safety in Baltimore City. 

Bridgeford, who grew up in West Baltimore, explained that her commitment to decreasing violence in the city stems from her own experiences with violence, namely that her brother was killed in 2007.

In addition to her personal attachment to improving safety, Bridgeford noted that her movement intends to bring a sense of community and humanity to areas that are heavily impacted by violence.

“It really is about people showing up to do alchemy with that energy in neighborhoods and to change it into something where people recognize that their lives matter, and that it matters that they experience this kind of trauma,” she said.

Bridgeford explained that the movement has proved to be quite effective, pointing to statistics indicating that violence in the city reduces by 52 percent during each ceasefire, and the decrease in violence often lingers in the days following the ceasefire weekend.

When asked about how Hopkins students can get involved, Bridgeford stressed the importance of taking responsibility for Baltimore.

“The most important thing Hopkins students can do is recognize that they are now residents of Baltimore. Anything that is Baltimore’s problem is your problem. You’re not just a visitor, you live here now, and the success of this city and the lives of this city should matter to you just as much as your own success,” she said.

Additionally, she informed students that Baltimore Ceasefire 365 has an ambassadorship program where participants can join Ceasefire leadership and educate different groups and organizations in Baltimore about the movement.

Following Bridgeford’s comments, Andrew Knox spoke, sharing some of his life experiences, along with his work to help people struggling in Baltimore.

“The most important thing about myself is I want to see a better future for our children. When it comes to education, when it comes to safety, when it comes to just being raised up in a community where they can just come outside and play... that’s the Baltimore we want to see,” he said.

Knox has organized a multi-religion coalition to go into the most violent parts of Baltimore and offer free services to help those in need, including housing projects. The volunteers try to engage people who are willing to talk and offer services such as automotive training and heating, ventilation and air conditioning, along with aid in expunging charges on criminal records.

He also works to help people seek nonviolent solutions to conflicts through different programs which assist people who know others may engage in a violent confrontation to seek mediation instead.

Former Mayor Catherine Pugh hired Knox, alongside Andrey L. Bundley, to run these programs to directly address violence that happens within the black community.

“It was 275 black men that were murdered out of 309 murders in 2018. That was one of the reasons why the former Mayor Catherine Pugh started the program,” Knox said.

Knox also works at the Baltimore City Juvenile Justice Center to help youth learn life skills, such as résumé writing, tying a tie and maintaining a job.

Leaf argued in an interview with The News-Letter that it is important that students hear these community leaders’ perspectives, given the future roles they will serve in their communities.

“The point of having the speaker is to provide different examples of people who are working in Baltimore trying to help other folks to help turn the city around using different strategies. [Students should] think about either doing this or supporting other people that are doing these things because these are the kind of activities that make cities and communities healthy,” Leaf said.

Jon Judd, a senior in Leaf’s class, was glad to hear the speakers’ perspectives.

“I’m really moved that I am able to hear this at Hopkins,” Judd said. I might actually be able to go out there and do something about it in the future.”

Greta Maras contributed reporting to this article.

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