By Kay Wicker
Last year, the images of Baltimore’s youth in revolt were on countless television screens and practically every front page and homepage. Now several young community members have stepped up to enact change. The Baltimore chapter of Creative Mornings turned last month’s talk at the Arena Players Theatre over to two of those very strong emerging voices of 2015. Youth Poet Laureate Derik Ebert, a junior at the University of Baltimore, and Katie Arevalo, a junior at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute. A third, Mikayla Gilliam-Price, an activist and blogger, was scheduled to join, but came down with the flu the week of the talk.
“Because so many of this city’s young people were impacted during the unrest I knew I wanted them to lead this morning’s talk,” Olivia Obineme, current organizer of the CM Baltimore chapter, said to the crowded auditorium filled with millennials sipping coffee. Obineme began the talk by asking Ebert and Arevalo how to incite change.
“There’s definitely a wrong way to go about change,” Ebert said. This concept of the wrong way became the theme for the morning—especially when it comes to outsiders helping the communities of Baltimore.
“When you’re not a member of that community, I like to use this metaphor: It’s like sticking a knife into an electrical outlet,” Ebert said. He went on to say that it’s important to look at situation from the perspective of the people it’s most affecting rather than our own. He stressed that we may think we have a clear picture of what a community needs, but that may not be what they want.
When someone from the crowd asked, “How do you help if you’re not from that community?” Arevalo responded, both quickly and with a wisdom beyond her years, “It’s about giving these communities control. Ask them what they need.”
The conversation steered towards how Baltimore’s current education system could also benefit from change. Arevalo and Ebert both grew up in Baltimore City Public Schools and each have had nuanced experiences with what they see working and failing.
“Nobody wants to learn when they’re hungry,” Arevalo said. “If a student is upset or being defiant or not paying attention, ask them ‘why?’ When we don’t do that, when we just expect everyone to learn the same way, then we ignore people’s social locations.”
Before the talk ended, both Ebert and Arevalo emphasized that creativity can work with change.
“We all have to get out of our comfort zones. Nothing grows there,” said Ebert.
For many, entrusting organizations and all that goes into running them may be out of their comfort zone.
Arevalo and Ebert prove that when given half a chance, young people may surprise you. They understand the momentousness of the task they’re undertaking, including the difficult logistics of change.
“You may not think we know how to work with a budget, but you might be surprised,” said Arevalo of her experience with student government and the Baltimore Algebra Project.
Ebert added that, “Funding can be hard to deal with when it comes from someone who’s not of the community. I look for funding from organizations that look like me.”
The morning closed with a slam poem performed by Hannah Sawyer, a sophomore at Morgan State University and the newly named Youth Poet Laureate for 2016. Her poem, about her identity and how she’s come to terms with that over the years, received cheers and snaps of approval from the audience. Her words were inspiring and hopeful—just like the idea of Baltimore’s future in the hands of its youth. BC