Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
October 24, 2020

CSC webinar chronicles Baltimore's history of racism and activism

By ELIZABETH RAPHAEL | October 9, 2020

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COURTESY OF LEELA GEBO

The Center for Social Concern holds Civic Sessions to introduce students to the Baltimore community.

The Center for Social Concern (CSC) hosted a virtual webinar titled “Baltimore History and Social Justice” as a part of its Civic Sessions on Tuesday, Oct. 6. The session was co-hosted by Gerrod Williamson, a student leadership specialist at the CSC, and Eli Lopatin, assistant director of civic leadership.

The CSC’s Civic Sessions are meant to introduce students to the Baltimore community. Misti McKeehen, executive director of the CSC, explained during the webinar that the CSC has had to get creative with its programming during the virtual semester. 

“[The CSC is] focused on ensuring that you all as students can make a lifelong commitment to active citizenship, and we do that through education, action and reflection,” she said. “In a COVID world, action is a lot harder right now, so we’re really focusing heavily on the education and reflection components.”

Lopatin and Williamson focused the session on Baltimore’s history of racial segregation, beginning with Maryland’s origins as a border state between the North and the South prior to and during the Civil War. They highlighted that the state continues with its history of redlining, noting Baltimore’s role in the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the uprising following the police killing of Freddie Gray in 2015.

“There was this sort of dark, systemically racist past of Baltimore, but in this presentation we want to talk about the positives that came from the city and led off of that past and the strong black population and presence in the city,” Lopatin said.

Williamson discussed a number of positive social initiatives from the ‘60s and ‘70s that have continued to the present through the legacy of individuals, such as former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, and institutions that still exist today, including the nation’s oldest remaining African-American publishing house, Black Classic Press.

“Even in the midst of redlining, racism, segregation and disenfranchisement, there was still this heartbeat within Baltimore City to right wrongs,” Williamson said.

In an interview with The News-Letter, sophomore Sooyeon Park, a Los Angeles native, stated that she realized that she wanted to get to know her new home in Baltimore after her first year at Hopkins. She had the chance to do so virtually with the CSC’s summer sessions.

“Over the summer I took these civic sessions and realized that I didn’t know a lot about [my new Baltimore community]. I wanted to learn more, get involved with the community and see where that will take me,” she said.

Now, as a teaching assistant for the University’s Arrive and Thrive course, Park is focusing her service toward mentorship. 

Sophomore Cionne Gates, who serves on the board for Alpha Phi Omega, has been virtually tutoring and phone banking prior to the upcoming election. 

“While we are virtual, we still require a certain number of service hours,” she said. “Every week I spend a few hours calling people from a designated city, asking if they are registered to vote and making sure we can get that information out to people who need it.”

The speakers also discussed opportunities for improvement and involvement in Baltimore, listing organizations such as 21st Century Schools, Baltimore Ceasefire and the Farm Alliance of Baltimore. 

Williamson once again emphasized the self-sufficiency and leadership within the city that is evident in these proposed solutions. 

“Something I appreciate about Baltimore is that we know we are a city with problems, but that doesn’t keep anybody from loving Baltimore and doesn’t keep us from being invested in the city,” Williamson said.

Williamson asked participants to share a word or phrase that they most closely associated with Baltimore. 

For these individuals, Baltimore brought words such as “home,” “community” or “neighborhood” to mind. For others, Baltimore is most closely associated with crab, Old Bay Seasoning and the Ravens.

“All the words you said combine for me to mean ‘family,’“ Williamson said.

The CSC will continue its Civic Sessions throughout the fall with registration open to all students

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