By Stefanie DeLuca and Susan Clampet-Lundquist
Originally Published by The Washington Post
Photo: Ricky Carioti/The Washington Post
Like many across the country, we watched the media coverage of Baltimore this time a year ago, eight days after the death of Freddie Gray, when reports surfaced of a midafternoon “riot” at Mondawmin Mall. Accounts differ as to who was responsible, but after police shut down city buses that high school youths relied on to get home, images of protesters went viral over the next several hours. Amid widespread condemnation, Baltimore’s mayor and President Obama called the Baltimore protesters “thugs.”
This label distorts what youths in Baltimore are like. Their potential is significant and real.
We spent more than a decade in Baltimore’s poorest communities, researching and talking extensively with millennial youths and their families. Far from the televised portrayals of inner-city youths as drug dealers and delinquents, 70 percent of the young people we met finished high school and about as many went on to college or trade school. Eighty percent held jobs in the years after high school.
These levels of attainment are even more striking in contrast with those of their parents: Only 32 percent of their parents earned a high school diploma or GED, and only 13 percent enrolled in college. Almost two-thirds grew up with a parent who was suffering from addiction or involved in the criminal-justice system.
While some neighborhoods had drug dealers and hustlers on the corner, most of the youths we met scorned them in favor of careers as nursing assistants, police officers, bus drivers, cosmetologists and business owners. As Larry, 21, explained, “You see other people that was on the corners, and I’m tryin’ to make myself better.” Of the 150 youths we studied, only 27 got caught up in the street, and only eight did so past age 18. Most young people are hungry for education, work and meaning. They want to be somebody.