One Baltimore #30, Making A Secret Life

12/30/19

I’ve been in love with the American Visionary Art Museum since I was a teenager. I remember one of the first exhibits I saw there. There was a little set of embroidered pieces showing domestic scenes and pastoral views. Lovely, but they didn’t seem like much to me until I read the placard alongside them. They’d been made by an imprisoned man (Ray Materson), using only threads from his socks. How deeply I was struck then by the labor and the longing that those small and intricate artworks represented.

Well, my friends, the rewards of self-published journalism are finally rolling on in. I got invited to visit the AVAM **for free** to write an article on their latest exhibit! Like, as a member of the press! I was given a “media kit” when I checked in at the front desk (consisting of a folder with info on all the pieces and artists)… I HAVE ARRIVED!!

Planetary Prayers by Alex Gray

Woulda been nice if I’d actually seen the message on my WordPress site back in the fall when they invited me to their opening for the exhibit, but c’est la vie. Luckily, the offer still stood once I did notice it. I’ve since replaced the “Contact” form on the site with an email address — hmu at onebaltimorecolumn@gmail.com with more offers of free things.

Even cooler than saving $15.95, when I asked if there was someone on staff to whom I could ask a few questions, they hooked me up with Rebecca Hoffberger, the founder/director herself. I did a quick google, and was unsurprised to find that the woman was as interesting as her choice of life’s work would suggest. Raised in the Baltimore ‘burbs, she got into college at just 16 but turned it down to learn to be a mime in France instead. At one point she lived in the rural mountains of Mexico for three years, helping to deliver babies. Eventually she found her way back to B’more, where she worked at Sinai, helping psychiatric patients reintegrate into their communities. It was there that she developed the idea for her museum.

Gaia by Alex Gray

For those not familiar, by the way, the AVAM is the official national museum for outsider art, works by the self-taught and by all manner of people outside the mainstream. It consists of two multi-level buildings, a barn, and a sculpture garden, all nestled against Federal Hill and covered in gorgeous mosaics.

I spent a good three hours on Sunday absorbing the museum’s newest exhibit, which is entitled “The Secret Life of Earth” (you could view it in a lot less time, but after that formative experience with the sock-art, I always take the time to read every placard, and it remains worth it). It explored a topic that is near-constantly on my mind — our impending ecological/climatological doom — leavened with beauty, humor, and hope. Some of the things on display include:

  • NASA satellite imagery of smoke from wildfires in California wafting thousands of miles across Canada while sands from the Sahara blow across the Atlantic,
  • Soulful, life-size primates made from a dazzling array of green baubles,- Far Side cartoons about extinction,
  • A buffalo skull intricately covered with turquoise, beads, and paintings,
Honoring the Buffalo by Judy Tallwing
  • Placards with easily digestible data on everything from woodpeckers to factory farming,
  • Stunning paintings depicting the Goddess of the Bees, layers of superimposed reality, and nature in/out of balance,
A closeup of a portion of The Goddess of the Bees by Peter Eglington
  • Inspirational quotes from scientists and philosophers the world over,
  • Video clips of Greta Thunberg on The Daily Show, the trailer for a documentary called Fantastic Fungi, and a baby elephant and a woman joyfully playing together,
  • Sketches done by Julia Butterfly Hill during her two years living in a giant redwood to save it from loggers,
Journal Entries by Julia Butterfly Hill
  • A wall of shoes and boots painted with a variety of cityscapes and patterns,
  • And a heck of a lot more.

One of my favorite pieces was an installation called “Release” by Santiago Navila, which took up an entire dimly-lit room. It consisted of large pieces of semi-sheer material stretching at diagonals from the floor to the ceiling, onto which a video was being projected from multiple angles. There was a news clip about the ocean garbage patches and then nature shots, overlaid first with a haunting voice chanting “Round we go, round we go,” followed by a meditative monologue on positive thinking. The sounds and images reverberated in my mind after I’d left.

Release by Santiago Navila

When I got home, I gave Ms. Hoffberger a call (like so many people right now, she’s down with a cold, and so couldn’t come out in person). Speaking to her was a whirlwind of free-flowing interconnected ideas and themes, many of which, sadly, I had to trim out for purposes of length. Below is an excerpt of our conversation.

*

Abby: So you curated this show yourself, that’s correct?

Rebecca: Absolutely.

Abby: Do you usually curate the AVAM’s shows?

Rebecca: Yes, I’ve picked everything since we opened in 1995. I’ve had guest curators I’ve chosen, I’ve co-curated, I’ve mentored a young curator to help, but I write every word, I pick every color, I pick every placement, I pick the feeling, I pick why we’re doing this show at this time, I choose the quotes and write the exhibition text.

Abby: I’m not surprised to hear that, the shows are so varied and yet there’s been a very consistent feel over the years. How do you choose the artists to highlight?

Rebecca: Well, the process is totally intuitive. It’s like once I know what I’m supposed to do as a theme, usually right away, because I see so much stuff, two or three things, strong things come to mind right away and I go “Oh my, those are my anchors, if I can get them.”

As far as artists go, I get a ton of mail, I can’t respond to it or I wouldn’t be able to have a museum, ’cause it’s that much that comes through. It’s less now, but in the first few years it was a foot and half of unsolicited mail a day, and we don’t throw anything away, we have these huge boxes filled with stuff, but every once in a while something will come to the top. I try to look at the local talent, even though I show work from people over the world.

Abby: I noticed there were a lot of Baltimore people!

Rebecca: Uh-huh, I try to prioritize that when I can.

Abby: So, I take it that the natural world has been important to you for a long time. Did you come into this with a lot of specific things that you wanted to highlight or did you find that you learned a lot through the process of putting it all together?

Rebecca: Well, both. Nature has been really a lifelong passion. The name pays homage to a friend of mine who was the co-author of the book The Secret Life of Plants. He and I were actually working on a book together when he passed away — Christopher Bird. And then three years ago when I met Louie Schwartzberg, the foremost time-lapse nature photographer in the world, I didn’t realize he’d been the primary photographer for The Secret Life of Plants movie, so it was kind of like, wow, we have these same ties that went way back. And before I even knew Fantastic Fungi was coming out [Schwartzberg’s new film, which looks amazing: https://fantasticfungi.com/%5D, I knew enough about mushrooms that they should be starred in the Earth show for all they do for us and all that they can do that’s still being explored. So it just went together.

A still from Fantastic Fungi by Louie Schwartzberg surrounded by flowers by Erika Ezerskiene

And I knew I wanted to have the Thich Nhat Hanh quote, “Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet,” and so once I knew that, then I was sent images of painted shoes and boots by Rick Skogsberg from Vermont, and I found out he, too, was very close to nature and self-taught, he was interested in fractals and fundamental forms in nature, and I said “Oh okay, great. Now I have a way to vary the show texture and inspire people to artfully recycle shoes.”

So it’s all just a very organic process. I start seeing relationships between work I like, or that play well or dance well together. And so the fact that our eyes are hard-wired to see more variation in the color green than any other, I thought, “Oh my gosh, Johanna Burke’s life-sized green monkeys are such a symphony of greens, what wonderful works to play off.”

Green Monkeys by Johanna Burke

*

During our conversation, Rebecca asked me if I’d seen the museum’s exhibit on Parenting and I felt really foolish for having to say I’d missed it… not so much for the moment of minor embarrassment, but because it’s a loss to have missed any one of the AVAM’s shows. I felt that even more keenly, having learned a bit about how they come together. So don’t miss The Secret Life of Earth, which will be up through 9/6/20!

I’m super grateful to Rebecca for her generosity with her time and for all the work she’s brought to us over the years! One of the other things she told me about is the museum’s 25th anniversary show, coming up in 2020. She’ll be going back through all 40 of the AVAM’s major exhibitions over the years and working to curate an experience that will be accessible to people coming to the museum for the first time, yet deeply meaningful to those who’ve been along for the whole ride. It sounds like it’s going to be an amazing labor of love.

Another fun note — while heading to the museum’s basement bathroom, I ran into Bob Benson, sitting on a bench by his mirror-mosaic installation piece on farts. He pointed my attention to several of the tiles representing various kinds of farts and stories about farts, and encouraged me to step up and press the button to hear award-winning farts (they were indeed very impressive). He also told me about a workshop he’ll be running at the museum in March where you’ll make your own mirror art (not fart-related, as far as I can tell). After making a point to be so memorable, I figure he’s earned his plug — https://www.eventbrite.com/e/shiny-happy-things-with-bob-benson-tickets-83822606673.

Bob Benson with his piece Flatulence Post.

Speaking of plugs, don’t forget the West Wednesday Speak-Out Session against police brutality coming up in two days (https://www.facebook.com/events/2730155923690115/)!! Since last I wrote about it, there’ve been some exciting developments. We have some people confirmed now to read victim’s stories — Council President Brandon Scott, Erricka Bridgeford of Baltimore Ceasefire, Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead of the Today with Dr. Kaye show, Meredith Curtis Goode of the ACLU of Maryland, and mayoral candidate Catalina Byrd, among others.

In addition, I’ve been contacted by Dana Petersen Moore from the City Solicitor’s office, saying she plans to attend and announce that the administration WILL respect the new anti-gag order law in its entirety, including no longer enforcing old gag orders!! We’re asking for a clear written statement, ideally from the Mayor’s office, to this effect. It’s incredibly exciting to think that this could be the day when the issue is finally laid to rest for good, and we can all progress to the next fight. And just in time for the MD General Assembly session… lot of big fights gearing up to be had there on justice issues!

One thing we can’t move on from yet, of course — Keith Davis, Jr. just spent his fifth consecutive Christmas behind bars. An innocent man, shot nearly to death by BPD and then framed to cover it up, the evidence all as clear as day… and still his imprisonment goes on. We’re thinking of you, Keith.

#AmericanVisionaryArtMuseum

#AVAM

#OneBaltimore

Cultural Event of the Week: Oh dang, both of the Saturday shows are already sold out for Crankie Fest at the Creative Alliance! Looks like there are still tix for Friday, 1/3 and Sunday, 1/5, but I’d snag em now if you wanna check out the scrolling panoramic artworks — they’re really cool if you’ve never seen that kinda thing before — and accompanying musical guests.

https://www.creativealliance.org/events/2019/2020-baltimore-crankie-fest / https://www.facebook.com/events/751538408607024/

Green Event of the Week: Wanna spend more time in nature in 2020? Start out your year with the Friends of Herring Run Parks at their New Year’s Day Stream Bed Adventure Hike! Wednesday, 1/1 (obviously), from 10am-1pm.

https://www.friendsofherringrun.org/events.html / https://www.facebook.com/events/2536438929924398/

One Baltimore #29, Bringing Back the Sun

12/26/19

Apologies for the delay on this one! And happy winter holidays to all who are celebrating. 🙂

Every year, a group of dear friends and I spend the winter solstice together. I don’t have many reliable rituals in my life, but this is one I really cherish. The party starts large, then dwindles down to a core of us who stay up to greet the dawn. Literally, we bundle up and go outside a little before sunrise and watch to make sure that the sun does in fact come back after its longest absence of the year.

It was during a lull in the festivities at that gathering, in the wee hours this past Sunday morning, that I started writing this week’s column. I was thinking about the spiritual underpinnings of our tradition, the idea that if we stay together during the time of greatest darkness, if we stick it out and stand witness, we’ll see things brighten. Moreover, that our communion itself has a role to play in calling back the light.

I think all of us who care about Baltimore want to believe that our city, like the northern hemisphere this past weekend, is also at its darkest moment. That just as the Earth leans back towards the sun and the days lengthen, so it will be with this place that we love and that’s been struggling so badly. We’ll hit an inevitable turning point just when things seem their worst. The change will be barely perceptible at first, and it may even get colder and harsher for a while, but there will be more and more light day by day, until the depths of darkness in which we currently find ourselves are nothing but a memory. After all, there has to be a point when things are as bad as they’re going to get, right?

Certainly, the night feels especially long right now. The desperation-driven death toll rises, even as our population continues its generations-long decline. The people who are charged with stopping the terror are themselves corrupt and piling onto it. Every week, new news of police atrocities comes to light right alongside new news of that same police state intensifying, of spy planes (https://www.axios.com/baltimore-spy-plane-surveillance-pilot-238bc542-dfc0-40ad-bffd-47a929ef3215.html, why did both Young AND Harrison reverse their position on this??), federal intervention (https://www.justice.gov/usao-md/pr/attorney-general-william-p-barr-announces-launch-operation-relentless-pursuit, did that Hughes guy really say “striking fear in the hearts of evil”? ok, Batman), and the Hopkins private police plan marching forwards.

Speaking of JHU and corruption amongst the powers that be, I gotta share this great observation by a friend-of-a-friend (I’d quote him directly, but I don’t think he saw my message asking for permission, so I’ll just paraphrase) —

The Hopkins private police force bill was introduced by two people — State Delegate Cheryl Glenn and State Senator Joan Carter Conway, with the most vocal support from two others — Mayor Catherine Pugh and BPD Commissioner Darryl DeSousa. Of those four people, three have since been charged with federal crimes, and the fourth (Conway) is now out of office.

But while they’re now gone, we’re still here, stuck with a new police force that isn’t answerable to the public, alongside one of the most criminal police forces in the nation.

(Y’all seen the JHU Sit-In’s new social media campaign, by the way (https://www.facebook.com/TheGarlandSitIn/posts/493452527966365)? I haven’t taken the time to do it yet, but I’ma commit right now to sending in a video before the end of the year.)

Anyway, I don’t think I need to keep going on in this vein, we all get it. The people who rule over us suck, and as long as that’s the case, our collective needs deepen while our collective ability to meet them shrinks. Everybody knows that right now, shit is dark.

On the side of hope, well, the world is still turning and things are always changing, lately more so than ever, it feels like. Electorally, a great deal of turnover is guaranteed, or nearly so, this year — we’re getting a new representative in Congress to replace Elijah Cummings (special primary on Feb 4th!) and a new State Delegate to replace Glenn (though I agree with Represent Maryland that the process by which that happens is a problem, https://www.facebook.com/RepresentMaryland/posts/2496028340665270). The Mayorship and the Comptroller’s position are in play, and the City Council President’s seat will be in new hands (I feel like I’m not hearing nearly enough about that race, considering that our Mayors step up from that seat not infrequently), so we may have an entirely new trio at the top at City Hall. Three Council seats are definitely changing hands, with the departure of Reisinger, Clarke, and Henry, and most of the rest are in contention too.

Of course, a changing of the guard may, in the end, mean little or nothing, and we all know that too. Still, there are other big things afoot, yeah? The (supposedly, hopefully?) independent investigation of BPD is underway, the new Kirwan funding formulas for schools are about to be debated in Annapolis, the game-changing duo of jobs mobilization and climate action promised by the Green New Deal are being pushed at the state and federal levels, plans are being pitched to use the city’s Affordable Housing Trust Fund for actual long-term housing stability via land trusts and co-ops… there all these initiatives out there that could just maybe make progress on the things driving the darkness.

But maybe, as has been the case so many times in the past with good ideas, all of that will come to naught. Maybe there is no light about to dawn. Just because things are bad, that doesn’t mean they can’t get worse.

I wish I could have the same kind of confidence in which way Baltimore will tilt as I do in the tilt of the sphere on which we live. I can relax, at the solstice party, and simply enjoy the good company. What would it feel like if I truly believed that, unless we gave the celebration everything we had, the winter might never end? That’s a hell of a lot of pressure.

Who knows whether or not we can actually achieve our aims, whether we can play a role in bringing warmth and illumination, prosperity and peace, to our home. If enough of us hold vigil and actively work towards it together, maybe we can. Or maybe we can’t.

I would say that that’s where faith comes in, but I don’t personally have much of a sense of faith. I’m a committed agnostic — inasmuch as I believe anything, I believe that there are many things we simply can’t know. So, for me, continuing to show up isn’t actually about a belief that change is coming… rather, what motivates me is the belief that it’s worth fighting for change, whether or not it’s possible.

And ultimately, what gives me real hope is seeing all the many, many people who are also standing in the dark, lighting candles, singing songs, and believing in the light. Many have been out here in the cold for long years, others are just now stepping forward and figuring out what they can do. But it’s the communion that counts.

That feeling of togetherness in the struggle is what draws me back, over and over, to one of the few other rituals in my life — West Wednesday, Tawanda Jones’ weekly rally/protest/vigil for her brother Tyrone West, slain six and a half years ago by BPD (plus a Morgan State University cop), and for all victims of police violence. Opal has compared West Wednesday to church before, and, despite being an agnostic Jew, I feel that comparison strongly. While I don’t make it out every week, I know that I should, because being there brings me into community with others who believe in the better world that I believe is possible, and renews my commitment to playing a part in bringing it about.

Whether you’ve been out before or not, I hope you’ll join us for the next one. This coming Wednesday, January 1st, is going to be a special West Wednesday Speak-Out Session (https://facebook.com/events/2730155923690115). It’s the day that the new law ending gag orders for victims of police/city misconduct is supposed to take effect, but with the Mayor and the City Solicitor calling it an illegal law, people still aren’t free to speak about their experiences. So, while it should be a day of celebration, instead it’ll be another day of standing together to shame the establishment.

Starting at noon in front of City Hall, victims of police brutality and their families will speak about their experiences, and local leaders and advocates will read anonymous accounts from those who cannot share their own stories. All attendees will also be welcomed to speak during an open mic portion of the event, as they are at every West Wednesday, which is what I consider to be one of the most powerful things about it. Hot cocoa and cookies will be served.

Furthermore, and forever, until the day the travesty of his incarceration ends — free Keith Davis, Jr.!!

#OneBaltimore

Cultural Event of the Week: Sometimes, Baltimore feels small. But any time I get that sense, I remind myself that it means I’m not trying hard enough to branch out, because in truth, Baltimore is much, much bigger than my bubble. Case in point, I love local theater and go out to partake in it not infrequently, but in all of its 15 years in existence, I have never once been to a performance by acclaimed local troupe ArtsCentric. I’m going to fix that this Friday when I go to see their production of The Wiz at @Motor House, which will be entering the second week of its four-week run. The MD Theatre Guide’s review raves about the “jaw-dropping visuals,” “gravity-defying stunt work disguised as dance,” and lavishes praise on the cast. (https://mdtheatreguide.com/2019/12/theatre-review-the-wiz-at-artscentric/). Excited!!

https://app.arts-people.com/index.php?show=105528 / https://www.facebook.com/events/510895833091722/

Green Event of the Week: Once a month, bicyclists gather at St. Mary’s Park (tucked away between Mt. Vernon and MLK) for an evening ride en masse. It’s a way to celebrate cycling, to enjoy the streets with a much higher degree of safety than is afforded by biking singly, and to draw public attention to just how many cyclists there are. They call it Baltimore Bike Party, and the next one is this Friday, 12/27. Gathering begins at 6:30, ride begins at 7pm. FYI, at one point, Bike Party operated like a Critical Mass event, where cyclists ignore red lights, but according to the FAQ on their website, they’re now obeying all traffic laws.

https://www.facebook.com/events/425388941739204/

The sun over Baltimore on the day after the solstice.

One Baltimore #28, Corruption & Competence

12/16/19

Eleven years ago, I wasn’t paying much attention to city politics. I had a vague aspiration to learn more about it, and would dutifully consume an article now and then on the topic, but it was a bit much to follow. So many names and titles, so much history, so many complex issues to unpack.

One thing I did know was that Mayor Sheila Dixon was popular with local environmental types for doing things like rolling out the Charm City Circulator and increasing recycling pickup days. She even took regular morning bike rides! I’d been invited by a friend in Recreation & Parks and thought the idea was really cool, but the rides tended to start a little early in the morning for my taste. I figured I’d make it out eventually, and there was every indication I’d have plenty of time; Dixon wasn’t going anywhere.

Then, in June 2008, the news came down that Dixon’s home had been raided by the state (I had to double-check as I was writing this, because at first I was pretty sure it was the FBI that did the raid, which didn’t seem to make sense, but no, I was thinking of Catherine Pugh’s case… UGH). What happened? Something about a secret developer boyfriend and stolen gift cards meant for poor kids. Yikes.

Dixon took a plea — even though she was found guilty on one of the dozen charges against her, she was able to avoid the conviction and simply resign, perform some community service, and pay a fine (which she actually didn’t finish paying until a court found her in violation of probation and made her do it), and that was that. And so it was that her record was cleared and she was able to run again in 2016, by which time I was keeping a more careful eye on things.

It was unsettling as hell to watch that race unfold. For a while there, it really seemed like Dixon was going to get her old job back. I mean, didn’t this person steal from CHILDREN? In the end, Dixon lost to Pugh by just 2,446 votes, 1.9% of the total vote count. If she’d managed to peel off just 1/16 of the votes that went to the eleven candidates other than herself and Pugh, she would’ve been the victor. I didn’t get it at ALL.

On Saturday, Dixon announced that she will run yet again in 2020. While I don’t like it, I think I understand her continued support a little better now. She was the first woman to be Baltimore’s Mayor, she was passionate, people respected her and connected with her… and most of all, she was competent, a trait in desperately short supply in our top leadership. Crime actually went down during her tenure. Everyone who came after, Rawlings-Blake, Pugh, Young, none of them have felt like they really knew what they were doing. Under Dixon, the idea that Baltimore was on “the cusp of a renaissance” felt plausible, whereas when Jack Young delivered that line a couple of months ago, it felt like a sick joke.

Yet even as I can empathize with the perspective that maybe a competent crook could be the best choice — aren’t they all crooks, after all? — I cannot accept that we must tolerate corruption in order to have competence. And the more I’ve looked into Dixon’s deeds, the more it’s obvious that her abuses of power go way, way beyond gift cards.

Here’s what we know about (and I think it’s fair to guess, based on the length of this list, that there’s even more we don’t):

  • At the time that Dixon won the City Council Presidency in 1999, she also held another job with the Maryland Department of Business & Economic Development. The state’s ethics commission said that wasn’t OK, because many of Dixon’s clients at her state job, whose interests she was in charge of promoting, were the same people whose contracts she would be making decisions about at her city job. She ignored the ruling and kept both jobs for the next two and a half years.
  • Upon becoming the Council President, Dixon gave her campaign manager Dale Clark a contract to handle the Council’s computer system. After the contract lapsed, she had him keep working for six years without a valid contract, submitting hundreds of thousands of dollars in payment requests in small amounts in order to avoid city procurement rules. Other qualified firms tried for the contract and were rejected without explanation. When another firm was finally accepted, they claimed that they were sabotaged by Clark.
  • Dixon employed her sister Janice in her office until the city ethics board said she had to let her go.
  • Then, Janice got a job as Operations Manager with a technology company called UTech. Dixon actively pushed Comcast, which had a large contract with the city, to hire UTech, and steered other multi-million dollar contracts to companies in which UTech was involved even when their bids were coming in much higher than others for the same work… all while ignoring the city ethics rule saying that you must disclose anything that would benefit an immediate family member (https://www.nydailynews.com/bs-xpm-2006-02-21-0602210055-story.html).
  • Around this same time, Dixon started dating Ronald Lipscomb, founder of Doracon, a large development company. This was yet another relationship she should have disclosed on city ethics forms but didn’t. In her own words, she “twisted some arms” in order to allow Doracon to do a development in east Baltimore called Frankford Estates. Under her leadership, the Council authorized $6 million in tax relief and an $800,000 grant for the project, as well as giving away $237,000 in land and waiving $47,600 in building permit fees. Sorry for the pun, but talk about a sweetheart deal.
  • Dixon also pushed through zoning changes (no easy feat) that made it possible to allow Doracon to do a fancy condo project called WaterView Overlook. All this time, while Lipscomb profited enormously, he lavished gifts upon her, like a $2,000 gift certificate which she used to buy a fur coat that would become an infamous symbol of her downfall.
  • Then of course there are the gift cards. Much like with Pugh’s Healthy Holly scheme, though on a smaller scale, it would seem this was a way for Dixon to solicit free cash from the city’s wealthy. While some of the cards did go to charities, others were handed out to city employees and friends, and of course Dixon kept large amounts for herself.

It was a real job compiling this list, because each time I read about one scandal, I would find a reference to another and then have to dig that one up too. It is overwhelmingly clear that these were not “mistakes” as Dixon has termed them in her limp and late apologies to the city.

You don’t mistakenly ignore ethics rulings. You don’t mistakenly tell someone to break up their invoices to avoid review. You don’t mistakenly forget about people like your sister and your boyfriend when disclosing how your personal relationships and your job intersect. And in a detail that simultaneously represents the least and the most of what the problem with Dixon is all about, you definitely don’t mistakenly take a $15 Toys R’ Us card that could make all the difference for a poor family’s holiday and give it to a rich lobbyist friend (https://www.baltimoresun.com/maryland/baltimore-city/bs-xpm-2009-11-17-bal-md-ci-dixon17nov17-story.html).

Dixon was wrapped up in conflicts of interest (literally, in the case of the fur coat) throughout her time in office. She didn’t give a shit, refused to cop to any of it until she was found out, and continually gave away the store — excuse me, the city — to her buddies, her sibling, her boyfriend. Whether it was important contracts, land, or millions in taxes, it was up for grabs.

We can’t afford to be up for fucking grabs. We can’t afford Sheila fucking Dixon. I fully believe that we can choose a new leader who’s both competent AND honest. There are several running! More on them in future columns.

In the lead up to this column, I put out an ask for Dixon opinions. Here are a few:

“Someone referred to her as the zombie mayor. I think that sums it up. Zombie mayoral candidate. I liked her well enough at the time but it’s over, dead, but somehow she keeps staggering down the campaign trail. Let the dead rest.” — Jai Brooks​

“She definitely had a better grasp of embezzling.” — J.B. (a different person than Jai)

“It’s a no from me. She should be a consultant or something. And I am a believer in second chances but she hasn’t shown (to me) that she’s deserving of that. Especially since she can’t own up to what she did and make up excuses to why she lost the last time to Pugh. So no, thank you. We do have better alternatives that are running.” — Tiffany J. Jones

“They don’t have an emoji of eyes rolling completely out of my skull sockets. That’s my opinion.” — A.B.

“I think we have much better choices (Mary Washington for one) this time around and there’s no reason to vote for someone with even a hint of scandal in their background. Enough.” — Mary Scholl

“So after the Freddy Grey protest I spent some time in Sandtown handing out food at a bunch of the awesome food drives they had. When I was at one we had Dixon show up. She shook hands, took some photos “handing out food” and then left. Not impressed at all. O’Malley did the same thing at a different food drive at a church.” — M. Wilkes​

*

On an entirely different note, the Baltimore Rock Opera Society​ is looking for drums, rhythm & lead guitar, strings, and keyboards for the band for their super badass-looking spring show, Glitterus: Dragon Rising. Apply here by 12/22: http://www.baltimorerockopera.org/bandauditions

And to conclude: Keith Davis, Jr. is an innocent man languishing in Baltimore’s jail and he must be freed NOW!

#OneBaltimore

Cultural Events of the Week: This Saturday night, 12/21, from 5pm to midnight, visit the TAROT BALL: Solstice Gala and Market at Rituals: Bar & Venue​ in Station North. In addition to readings and performances by the always-sublime Jake Bee​ and Rahne Alexander​, there are some real gems among the long list of other guests, including Talbolt Johnson​ (check out this stunning piece he just shared here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=umtEYL_F7_Y). As for literal gems, the fact that Stellarium Jewelry​ is on the vendor list is enough reason to attend by itself.

https://www.facebook.com/events/1494575610689682/

Green Events of the Week: Tonight, Monday 12/16 from 5:30-7:30pm, Our Revolution Baltimore City/ County​ will be holding a Local Green New Deal discussion at the Roland Park Branch Library. What would it look like if we banded together to turn the challenge of needing new, clean energy infrastructure post-haste into a solution for the no less urgent problem of jobs for the masses?

https://www.facebook.com/events/1055179034814281/

Then, at noon on Saturday 12/21 at the Inner Harbor’s Christmas Village, join Extinction Rebellion Baltimore​ for “No Christmas On A Dead Planet”, an apocalyptic holiday street celebration. Featuring climate crisis holiday carols, justice inspired ornaments, and more, this is your chance to join a bunch of raucous artists and activists to combine nihilism with wholesome holiday fun!

https://www.facebook.com/events/1448407178650332/

My Sheila Dixon branded recycling bin. Thanks for that, at least. Oh wait, I had to buy it. Why the hell are we still not giving people free recycling bins? And they should come with lids, damn it!

One Baltimore #27, Spending Ourselves

12/9/19

This column has been a mini-research-project-of-the-week for a while now… it’s satisfying to do that, but PHEW, a lot of work too, and not necessarily what I intended to be doing non-stop when I started out. One thing I’ve always liked about the column format is that it can be different from week to week. This week, I’m just gonna write, without statistics or quotes or citations from other news sources. Time for a change of pace. And the topic, in fact, is pace.

Everyone is exhausted. I mean, there’s an exception to every rule, but I don’t think I know anyone (well, anyone remotely close to my age) who, when asked how they’re doing, would say “Ya know, everything’s on a real even keel, I’m well-rested and focused, calm and centered, finding myself sustainably balanced between work, play, and doin’ nothin’ at all, thanks for asking.”

Maybe I just know a lot of down-trodden people and that’s tipping the scales, but I think we can agree that whatever’s going on for a given individual, modern life is a lot. It tends to feel like we have untenable choices — disconnect and be isolated, or connect and be pulled in a thousand different directions. Disengage and feel useless, or pay attention and be enraged and depressed and terrified about the state of things. Of course, often there’s not much choice about one’s level of connectivity and activity, because to communicate at all is to be plugged into a firehose of information and distraction, and to survive at all is to hustle hustle hustle.

Our beloved town doesn’t make it easier. It’s hard not to feel sapped just walking down the street, seeing all the hunger and need, the folks huddled in blankets, the kids walking in traffic trying to make a buck, the girls on the stroll, all just trying to survive in a world without a place for them. Then there are the physical signs of neglect, the litter clogging the storm drains, the buildings crumbling down around us. You could throw yourself into any number of people and projects, but you’re running late, you gotta keep walking. Widen out your lens, and it doesn’t get any better — an epidemic of hopelessness and pain, a police state that’s out of control, corruption riddled through our government.

Even the things that make city life vibrant and beautiful can be overwhelming. That slam poetry night, that community skills-sharing class, that badass music festival, that civic-minded garden club, that new corner cafe… they’re all full of dedicated, fascinating people working to build their visions into reality, and they’re all imploring you to show up and take part, but you just can’t be there for all of it.

Especially not when everyone you love is in crisis (and maybe you are too). Wages are stagnant while rents are sky-high, so everyone is moving from one living situation to another all the time. Our food and air and water are poisoned, we’re stressed and losing sleep and not exercising enough, and on top of that healthcare costs are crushing, so everyone is sick all the time. Everyone is struggling and falling apart and trying to rebuild all. The damn. Time. We HAVE to be there for each other, we have to be there for ourselves… we do our best, and are crushed when we can’t.

I’m not even going to get into the national and global situations, the way they loom.

The other week, I had a bit of a crisis about the issue of time. I found myself lying awake in bed, turning my life over in my head, feeling stretched too thin and wondering if I really could do everything it felt like I had to do. Eventually, I turned on the light and found a pen and paper, because that’s what I always turn to.

I made a list of my priorities. Then I laid out a grid representing a four week block of time, splitting each day into two rough increments, daytime and evening. Fifty-six increments of time total. How do I spend myself?

Twenty increments of time to my day job off the bat. Sixteen total for the people in my life — significant others, family, friends, babysitting. Four for chores and self-care, two for community gatherings and events, one for a monthly meeting with my housemates.

That left the extra-curricular activities to which I’m most committed… there’s this column, my way of organizing my thoughts and ideas, communicating with the world, and practicing this craft I want to hone. It takes roughly two increments of my time each week for drafting and polishing it, so eight total… damn, that’s a lot of time I’d sorely love to use for other things, but it takes what it takes. Another four for Baltimore For Border Justice, the platform Opal and I are building to turn our desperate need for some kind of societal change into action… not as much as I’d like to give to it, but everything I could spare.

I left a single increment unassigned, because if I felt that my entire life was scheduled, I wouldn’t be able to handle it.

This exercise, as obsessive as it felt on a certain level, was incredibly useful in focusing my mind. It was also terribly sad. I know what’s most important to me, and it’s a huge relief to see that I can make a lot of things work… but I can’t have it all, and that’s a hard thing to face. There were things on my initial list that did not make the final cut, not least of which is more time to my damn self.

Artistic endeavors have to go by the wayside this year, that’s the biggest thing. I’m stepping back from community theater, something I already knew was going to be necessary but that I needed to see in black and white to really convince myself of. The other major takeaway is that I know I can’t take on anything new right now. No new classes, no new projects, very little in the way even of new friendships, which is a rough thing to accept in a world full of such interesting and inspiring people.

So if you’re wondering why I’m not around to help out or hang out as much these days, please know that it’s not you, it’s me recognizing that I have to try to more or less stick to that grid I drew in the middle of the night.

In addition to this personal message, what I want most to say is this — please don’t feel shame if you’re also feeling worn down, if you’re also struggling to figure out how to do it all. You can’t. I certainly can’t. No one can. We have to pick our battles.

I urge you though, if it’s not already a regular part of your life, and if you have an increment of time you can sustainably spare (it’s honestly ok if you don’t), to let one of those battles be about taking action on something that matters to you. There is a joy in action, a lifting of psychic weight. As much as it takes energy, it also replenishes it, especially when you can do it with friends and make it fun.

Yesterday was a great reminder of that for me. I went to bed late and woke up bone-tired, but I got up, made a bunch of hot cocoa, and brought it out to the protest that Opal and I had planned for the annual Mayor’s Christmas Parade in Hampden. Along with a crew of eight friends and fellow activists (we’d thrown this together pretty last minute), we waited several blocks down from the parade’s starting point, signs and banners at the ready.

When Mayor Young approached in his little yellow car, we jumped onto the street alongside him, chanting slogans about his refusal to enforce the anti-gag orders bill (explanation of the issue and a short video here: https://www.facebook.com/BaltimoreForBorderJustice/videos/805263173249275/). We’d just planned to do a quick action, but we ended up getting swept up in the moment and marching in front of him the entire rest of the route, passing by probably thousands of people (it’s a really popular parade, if you’ve never been). There were a couple of people who yelled at us but more who cheered and waved, which was heartening as hell.

The best part by far was when Young stopped to give a speech. We stopped too, turning to him and yell-singing “Hit the road, Jack, and don’t you come back, no more, no more, no more, no more!”, shutting him down and not letting up until he handed off the mic and started to move forward again. If he won’t let victims speak, he doesn’t get to speak either. At the end of the route, I gave an impromptu speech myself to the thirty or so parade-watchers lining the street, and they actually applauded.

Afterwards, I had the biggest, dopiest grin on my face, and we were all chattering away happily. Not all activist actions are going to be as pleasant as a walk in a parade where you get to bring a little karma to your city’s poor excuse for leadership, but every now and then, that’s exactly what it is, and damn is it a good and energizing feeling.

#OneBaltimore

Cultural Events of the Week: The holiday parties are in full swing, and while you can’t make em all (as we were just discussing), here are a few that caught my eye:

If you’re a fan of the timeless genre of horror schlock presented by a cheesy but smokin’ undead host, check out Shocktail Hour With Aurora Gorealis, a monthly late-night film series at Golden West Cafe. They’re showing Two Front Teeth, featuring Claus-feratu (GROAN) this Thursday, 12/12 — bring a gift for the Naughty or Nice gift exchange with Santa and Krampus!

https://www.facebook.com/events/393651188182978/

On Friday night, 12/13, party the night away in support of Baltimore Pride at the Pride Center of Maryland’s December Bash, featuring music, food, dancing, and prizes. You’re always in for a treat with host Rik E King of Pretty Boi Drag, and the Pride Center (formerly the GLCCB) does important work for the community.

https://www.facebook.com/events/456829271618668/

After all that, drag yourself up early on Saturday, 12/14, because you only have until 12:30pm to enter your cookies into SugarBaltimore’s Naughty Holiday Cookie Bake-Off! Suggested shapes include body parts, sex toys, and intimate positions. There will be multiple winners, apple cider (optionally spiked), and, of course, cookies for all.

https://www.facebook.com/events/484008092212648/

Green Event of the Week: What’s happening on the state level in the fight for a livable future? Find out tonight, Monday 12/9 at “Charting the Course for Environmental Change in Maryland”, a info/networking/action-planning session in Fells Point. The event is hosted by the Pearlstone Center and the Baltimore Jewish Council, and sponsored by community solar energy provider Neighborhood Sun. State Senator Sarah Elfreth is the keynote speaker, and a number of other local state representatives and non-profit staff will be leading breakout sessions.

https://www.pearlstonecenter.org/programs-events/event-calendar/event/environmentalchange/ / https://www.facebook.com/events/2631553453598058/

Marching in the Christmas parade. Photo courtesy of Odette T. Ramos, shared with permission.

One Baltimore #26, The 14th

12/2/19

People love to talk about the presidential election, and I certainly get why, it’s mind-bogglingly important. But what turns me off about focusing on it is that we have almost zero control over the outcome. Maryland is tied for 36th in the timeline of primaries, by which point the field will have narrowed drastically. Even then, our state only has 102 delegates, or just 2.5% of the total. If we’re just talking pledged delegates, people who are bound to vote as the electorate votes, we only have 79, or 1.9%. And of course, after the primary, we’re not much of a swing factor.

Meanwhile, there are SO many important elections this cycle over which we do exert control! The primary for the 7th district U.S. House of Representatives seat previously held by Elijah Cummings will take place on February 4th, with approximately a third of the votes coming from Baltimore City. And then there are the city-specific races — Mayor, Comptroller, and the ten out of fourteen City Council districts that are contested this year, all of which will almost certainly be decided on April 28th, the date of our Democratic primary (early voting April 16-23).

I wish that I heard as much analysis about these races as I do about the presidential one. Again, I get that the White House is a terrifyingly big deal and that it dominates the news. All I’m saying is, let’s put more energy where we can actually make a difference. Let’s all commit to taking a hard look at the local races, not just in the week or so before the vote (…yes, I’m talking to my past self here) but with enough time to really make informed decisions.

I probably don’t need to convince you why the Mayorship matters (holy effing hell, have you caught up on the details of Pugh’s corruption? worse than it seemed at first, and it already seemed real bad https://www.baltimorebrew.com/2019/11/23/pughs-bagman-operated-with-impunity-in-baltimores-political-culture/) and I’ll definitely get into those races in future columns. The Comptroller’s race, I already covered (https://one-baltimore.org/2019/09/18/one-baltimore-18-the-comptroller/). But man, these Council seats are a big deal too, especially as more and more people are talking about curtailing our strong-Mayor system of government to shift power in their favor (https://baltimorefishbowl.com/stories/with-legislative-package-baltimores-council-members-seek-new-checks-for-strong-mayor-system/).

Moreover, local elections are more of how we DO influence things at the national level. You don’t need to look back far to see someone jump from City Council to Mayor to Governor to the national stage. O’Malley may not have been a presidential candidate that anyone took very seriously, but that’s not to say that our next local-politico-gone-big couldn’t be.

It was with all that in mind that I attended, along with maybe 75 others, the 14th District Early Forum hosted last Tuesday by The Real News Network. Kudos to Real News and to host Jaisal Noor! The conversation was tight, thorough, and informing, largely featuring audience questions. You can watch a recording here: https://www.facebook.com/therealbaltimore/videos/563077327812472

So, ok, the 14th… which one is that again? The district covers a swath of central-north Baltimore City, from the eastern half of Hampden up through the fancy-detached-house neighborhoods of Guilford, Tuscany-Canterbury, and Oakenshawe just above the Hopkins Homewood campus, across to cover Waverly, Ednor-Gardens Lakeside (my home!), and Original Northwood, around to capture some of the houses on the east side of Lake Montebello, down through Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, and back to pick up Better Waverly, Abell, Harwood, and the upper halves of Charles Village and Remington.

Currently, the district is represented by the small but mighty Mary Pat Clarke. Clarke has served on the Council for over three decades, starting back when the districts were in a different configuration, gaining the City Council President’s seat for two terms, running for Mayor and losing, and then making a comeback to pick up her current position. She has a well-earned reputation for taking the small issues seriously, showing up, picking fights, and knowing absolutely everyone. Earlier this year, she announced that she would not seek another term, opening the district up for the first time in a decade and a half.

Vying for the position are Rita Church, Joe Kane, and Odette Ramos. So, what’re their deals?

Of Rita Church, I don’t wanna be dismissive, but I can say very little except that she doesn’t seem to me to be a likely contender. She’s the daughter of Rita R. Church, a community activist who served on the City Council from 1997-1999, and has had a variety of jobs ranging from correctional officer to school teacher to case manager. This isn’t her first race, and, in fact, the “Elect Rita Church” facebook page’s “About” section lists the 45th legislative district, 43rd legislative district, AND the 14th council district in various places.

Church’s website is short on policy details, but includes puzzling lines like “…the nature of the truth and not the falsity of non concrete ideas can become part of the political process interrelationship must foster and try and heal the deprivation of subversion that has taken preparation and concealed the economic and political injustices.” She did not attend the forum. In fairness to her, though, you can watch an earlier forum held by DMVDaily.news in which she did take part: https://www.facebook.com/DMVDailyNews/videos/586597125409901/

Then there’s Joe Kane, a large, affable man whom I’ve seen around at the Waverly Giant. He grew up in Waverly and Ednor Gardens, serving in the Army after high school. From there, he came home to study political science at Morgan State, where he got involved with the NAACP and Baltimore Algebra Project, organizing on issues like unionization for the JHU nurses, increased funding for Baltimore City schools, and the fight against the Hopkins private police force (which he spoke about at West Wednesday, which of course I’m happy to see a candidate attending: https://twitter.com/jkane146/status/1116033410345111552).

Today, Kane is back in Ednor Gardens, where he serves in a couple of positions in the local community association. He was also the president of the Waverly Elementary School Parent-Teacher Organization and serves on a city-wide parent advisory board for City Schools. His day job is in IT with the Coast Guard. He’s been endorsed by State Senator Mary Washington and by State Comptroller Peter Franchot (not entirely sure why he’s involved, but cool?).

Finally, there’s Odette Ramos, a very busy woman whose name I’ve seen in a number of places over the years. Raised in New Mexico, she came to Baltimore to attend Goucher, where she developed her own Social Justice major. She owned a small consulting firm for many years and has been very active in local community and political issues. She was the first Director of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance (a great source of local demographics information and analysis) and helped found the Village Learning Place (a free community library in lower Charles Village). She’s worked on campaigns like the Affordable Housing Trust Fund and founded Baltimore Women United, a local political organizing group.

Ramos currently runs the Community Development Network, which advocates for and supports groups doing small development projects throughout the state. She’s been involved in state politics for some time, serving as the chair of the Baltimore Hispanic Chamber of Commerce from 2007-2009 and currently serving as a member of the Democratic State Central Committee (charged with overseeing state-level party activities and nominating people to fill vacant seats) for the 43rd legislative district. She has been endorsed by Mary Pat Clarke and by State Delegate Maggie McIntosh.

On many points, the two participating candidates agreed with each other. They both talked about things like tipping the balance of the Board of Estimates, which oversees city spending, away from the Mayor, getting wealthy non-profits like JHU to put more resources into the city, taking back control of our police department from the state, the importance of schools. They’re both clearly highly competent, hard-working people who are invested in the city, and I think they’d both give the role their all. The main difference that emerged between them was their approach — Kane’s was squarely on community organizing, bringing more people to the table, and addressing systemic racism, whereas Ramos’s was more on solutions within the system, tweaking programs, and working connections in Annapolis.

It’s a tough call, but I walked out of the forum on team Kane. Crucially for me, he gave more details about how our out-of-control police department could be reined in and seemed more serious on the topic. I think he would represent a real and needed change, and I found myself agreeing with him when he said that Ramos would make a great State Delegate, whereas his strength is more on the ground. He concluded the forum by encouraging everyone to “find someone who inspires you and work with them,” and it was a good line, because he did in fact inspire me with his passion and humor.

An additional wrinkle — after the forum, it was pointed out to me by a friend (to be fair, a Kane supporter) that, as recently as last year, Ramos’s address was in the 12th district, where she previously ran for City Council. According to this person, her spouse and child still live at that address, and neighbors were confused at the idea that she’d be running elsewhere. Ramos addressed this issue in the DMV Daily debate linked above, saying that she moved because of family issues and pointing out that she has lived in multiple locations in the 14th at various times, and was even president of the Abell Improvement Association at one point. Not to muckrake — people move a lot, and it’s not like I know a thing about her personal life — but the timing does seem convenient.

In Baltimore For Border Justice news, we’re holding another Advocacy Gathering this Thursday, 12/5, to plan for an action in January around gag orders and local police control — please join us, your voice would be a huge help as we work to move the needle (plus there’ll be snax!): https://www.facebook.com/events/564131721072299/

#OneBaltimore

Cultural Event of the Week: Tonight, Monday 12/2, the Baltimore Boom Bap Society hosts their 77th session of live, improvised hip-hop. Their goal is to provide a space for experimentation and collaboration, and to bring hip-hop into conversation with other forms of music. I’ve been lucky enough to wander into their performances before and been extremely impressed. Catch them at Keystone Korner Baltimore, a new jazz club / restaurant in Harbor East.

https://www.facebook.com/events/616450922226476/

Green Event of the Week: At noon on Friday, 12/6, Sunrise Movement Baltimore, Clean Water Action Maryland, the Baltimore Peoples Climate Movement, and Our Revolution Baltimore City/ County are hosting a Baltimore Climate Strike at City Hall. People around the world, mostly children, who have the most to lose, have been striking on Fridays on a regular basis. The changes needed are so immense that it’s hard to have hope, but refusing to go on as if everything were fine is an important start. I’ll be there, hope to see you as well.

https://www.facebook.com/events/2403781533206840/

I’m cutting the song of the week. It was fun at first, but finding new relevant tunes got to be a chore.

Candidates Joe Kane and Odette Ramos with host Jaisal Noor at the 14th district City Council forum last week.

One Baltimore #25, Kirwan

11/25/19

In the last two columns, we’ve seen Baltimore City’s schools through the eyes of local teachers, and it’s no pretty picture. What would it take to reshape such a struggling system into something great? Just five little things, according to a man named Kirwan and his pals. Ok, five huge things made up of a lot of big things. Let’s take a look.

The Maryland Commission on Innovation & Excellence in Education (usually called the Kirwan Commission for its chair, former head of Maryland’s university system and owner of the whitest name I bet you’ve seen today, William English “Brit” Kirwan) was charged by the state in 2016 with looking at the best school systems around the world, figuring out how we could make their practices work here, and pricing it out.

They’re finally completing their work now, and these are their big recommendations, summarized (source: https://www.mabe.org/wp-content/uploads/2019/10/Pres-on-Kirwan-FINAL-10-10-19.pdf):

  1. Free full-day pre-school for low-income 3-4 year-olds,
  2. Higher teacher standards and pay,
  3. Improved curriculum with a focus on early college and/or technical education,
  4. More resources for high poverty schools and high needs students, and
  5. An accountability/oversight board with teeth.

Since I was talking to teachers for this series, I asked them for their thoughts on the details of item #2, including:

  • Requiring future teachers to take courses on things like research skills, racial awareness, and effectively managing student behavior, and to complete a year of practical experience,
  • Providing additional scholarships and loan assistance for teaching students,
  • Increasing teacher salaries 10% over the next three years and studying salaries of other professionals with similar education/experience for future increases,
  • Creating career advancement tracks in which teachers with strong performance gain greater responsibility and autonomy.

Not everyone had time to weigh in on the policy stuff, so extra thanks to those who did! Here’s what they had to say, lightly edited for length [content warning for mention of murder and sexual violence against a minor, sigh]:

*

A first-year middle school science teacher at a city school:

I have complicated thoughts about Kirwan. I am definitely optimistic about their findings/recommendations, specifically the fact that they have proposed hundreds of millions of new funding for Baltimore and PG county, which are HIDEOUSLY underfunded.

Requiring teachers to be trained in basic research and racial equity, as well as having practical experience would be fantastic. I definitely think that this training should be district- or state-provided, NOT an expectation of future teachers’ previous education. As a career-changer, I had no teaching experience or technical education before the week-long New Teacher Summer Institute, which was definitely not sufficient for my first year of teaching ever. If we want to draw in new, well-equipped teachers, the best way to do that is to not rely on people spending their own money and time getting a four-year degree with no guidance: we should be paying people to get this vital job training.

Increasing salaries would certainly be nice, but it is faaaar from all we need. It’s nice to get a bigger check, have more financial security, feel appreciated, etc. But the majority of the reason we have abysmal teacher retention is because teachers aren’t getting the support we need. We need curriculum materials. We need smaller class sizes. We need comfortable classrooms. We need an abundance of PSRPs [paraprofessionals & school-related personnel] (social workers, therapists, etc.) to help with student wellness. We need an environment that uplifts teachers and students, instead of trying to keep us in line.

In terms of administrative advancement, I would like to see school administration be a more democratic affair, possibly with administrative duties shared among the staff members, rather than a district-assigned taskmaster.

*

A former middle school music teacher at a city charter school that has since closed:

I think there should be multiple pathways that can lead toward teaching in the public schools, and that training should be able to be integrated and balanced with other responsibilities as a new teacher. Supporting teachers with more resources and pushing for higher pay is definitely huge. I also think there should be more freedom at a local level for teachers and individual schools to be able to shape their approach, based on the needs of their students.

*

A third-year high school technology instructor at a city charter school:

Apart from the 10% salary increase and additional scholarship opportunities, pretty much all those recommendations are already implemented as far as I am aware. I have colleagues who have been in the system for over 14 years who make twice as much, and who have been taking advantage of those advancement opportunities all along the way. Of course those same professionals will tell you about their trauma of watching a child stabbed to death by another child in the hallways, or a gang rape by middle school boys of their classmate.

A part of the problem is that we keep talking about it like there is some magic bullet that will address all this, when the myriad issues we deal with are the result of decades of neglect, and perhaps more importantly that the general public has absolutely no idea of what it is like, or how outstandingly qualified so many of the people working in the system already are. Teachers keep getting pressure to be better somehow. We are training constantly, and part of our constant recertification process is to keep growing our skills each and every year.

The public is offensively clueless, which means the legislature is offensively clueless, which means the top level leadership is offensively clueless, and their incompetence damages a system overflowing with top tier talent that is struggling against burnout on the daily.

*

A long-time art teacher who taught for one year at a city elementary/middle school:

All of that will definitely help. Getting student teachers in the classroom from day one would be good. The federal government setting education as a priority for the future well-being of this country and funding it is critical (and not where we are headed at the moment). And definitely this needs to be a well paid profession.

Part of the problem with what is listed by the Kirwan Commission is that it puts all of the expectation on the teachers as the solution to the problem of education. Some other problems that need to be solved for education to work is for parents and their students to have the following: a place to live, regular and healthy meals, work that pays the bills and provides health insurance. Secondly, parenting classes as part of high school education or certainly required by doctors tending to pregnant women.

It is critical to understand that the onus is always put on the teachers to improve things when it all has to work holistically. And frankly one doesn’t need to throw a lot of money at it.

I visited/taught in schools in Uganda where students were poor but well behaved and attentive in class. I taught a class of 120 high school kids.115 of them were attentive and working and the others were napping. So culture plays into it too. Those parents are paying for their kids education. A friend from India said he routinely had 70 kids in his classes and they learned biology from books (didn’t have fun experiments, etc).

*

A long-time arts teacher at several city elementary schools:

I think more teacher education is imperative. Our country has fairly low expectations for initially starting education jobs. The Urban Teachers Institute give teachers a year of experience under the tutelage of mentor teachers before they enter the classroom. Much better than Teach for America.

Teachers are only required to have two special education classes. After asking around I found out that the teachers feel as though the classes are good, comprehensive. But still not enough. We need more education about trauma, what it does to kids and how it affects us. We definitely need more stuff about privilege and race and how we all fit together. I am a teacher that never wants to do administration, even though I took all the classes.

I think autonomy and oversight should go hand-in-hand with reasonable ways of evaluating teacher performance. If I were to do it all again I would probably rethink my career path not because I don’t love teaching but because I am also a therapist and a parent and a social worker and it is very very difficult. Teacher education needs to take into consideration what teachers actually do, so yes definitely a full year of practicum and more training prior to.

*

I appreciate the point that more money can’t solve all our complex woes. That said… wow, it really wouldn’t hurt. There’s a statistic that Fox 45 (which is all-in on bashing Baltimore: http://baltimorebeat.com/2017/12/21/building-case-sinclair-broadcastings-project-baltimore-offers-right-wing-news-coverage-city-schools/) and Governor Hogan like to quote about how we already have the third-highest per-pupil spending out of America’s 100 largest school systems… but when you look at all the nation’s systems, we’re in the middle on spending while dealing with way more issues than most, including way more ancient buildings. If you’re unconvinced about the need, listen to the stories of the families involved in the ACLU’s lawsuit against the state for letting students get sick in freezing classrooms and otherwise leaving them without basic resources (https://www.aclu-md.org/en/bradford).

So, what’s the price tag, Kirwan my man? For Baltimore City specifically… about an extra $832 million per year (as compared to the 2018 City Schools budget of $1.4 billion per year), once the full spending increases are phased in over the next decade. The price tag for the state as a whole would be $3.8 billion more per year by 2030.

You can probably guess how Hogan reacted to that, if you haven’t heard. He’s called it “half-baked” (rude to say about something that took 26 people three years to write), refused to show up to meetings (https://www.marylandmatters.org/2019/10/29/tempers-flare-over-school-reforms-kirwan-urges-hogan-to-address-panel/), and taken to calling it the “Kirwan Tax Hike Commission.” Meanwhile, he’s holding fundraisers with VIP tables at $25,000 each (https://www.baltimoresun.com/politics/bs-md-pol-hogan-kirwan-cordish-20191014-lpeokeov25btpnbam3kburoapq-story.html), pouring money into his PAC in preparation to fight it out when the legislature takes up the plan this coming year.

Of course, our own lawmakers are dubious too. Of the extra funds that would go to City Schools, Kirwan recommends that about $329M come from the City government, more than double what we currently spend. In the Sun article cited above, southeast Baltimore State Senator Bill Ferguson calls it “definitely an undoable number”. State Delegate Maggie McIntosh of central-north Baltimore is a little more optimistic, talking about raising revenue by legalizing and taxing marijuana (yes plz), sports betting, taxes on online sales by out-of-state companies, etc.

I’ve got an idea to add to the list for making Kirwan feasible — how about police reform? We spent $47 million on police overtime in 2018, that’s a good chunk right there. $6 million to the family of Freddie Gray. $9 million to James Owens and $15 million to Sabein Burgess, both wrongfully convicted by BPD (https://www.propublica.org/article/baltimore-to-pay-largest-settlement-in-city-history-9-million-to-man-wrongfully-convicted-of-murder)… if we stopped all the brutality and wrongful arrests, the savings would really add up! Oh, and think how much less we’ll eventually have to pay out to Keith Davis, Jr., another wrongfully convicted man, if we free him now, versus waiting longer?

#Kirwan

#OneBaltimore

Cultural Events of the Week: It’s officially The Holidays, and that means that our arts & crafts friends are out there tryna get us to Shop Local. Don’t miss the Small Business Saturday events this week offering drinks, reusable bag giveaways, and other enticements. There’s a pop-up shop at The Alchemy of Art on Eastern Ave. featuring all queer and women creators (https://www.facebook.com/events/729205147580354/), another pop-up at Found Studio on Harford Road (https://www.facebook.com/events/1006895912998309/), a multi-level art crawl at the Mill Centre Artist Studios in Hampden (https://www.facebook.com/events/526433814846742/), and Highlandtown Main Street is doing a “walking pastry tour” (https://www.facebook.com/events/3098303563577335/).

Environmental Event of the Week: This Tuesday, 11/26, AIA Baltimore (the local chapter of the American Institute of Architecture) is holding an info session on “The Climate Take Back Plan and Reducing the Carbon Footprint of Buildings.” Experts will share research and a plan for reversing global climate change, focusing on how to cut down on carbon emissions in building construction and operation.

https://www.facebook.com/events/409514833068285/

Song of the Week: “Hello Young World” by Fashawn
No thoughts of failure your future is clear / The young world is now before you / Because the old world oh it couldn’t hold you / You can tell others to sit back and watch it all unfold / See young world you must be patient and ready / And it’s essential to keep on believing in you

Barclay Elementary School in the Abell neighborhood of central Baltimore.