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Algebra Project mobilizes students to protest in honor of National Day of Action to Defend Education

Erin Sullivan
Youth advocate "Grandmother Edna," aka Edna Lawrence, holds a sign a the Algebra Project protest.

By Erin Sullivan | Posted 3/4/2010

With a police helicopter circling overhead and a line of police cars parked, lights flashing, along the sidewalk, a throng of young people, mostly teenagers, crowded around the front of the Baltimore Juvenile Justice Center on North Gay Street. The kids, mostly students from Baltimore City schools, had gathered at the center as part of the March 4 National Day of Action to Defend Education.

To mark the day, students in several cities around the country organized rallies to decry budget cuts that hurt public-school programs, tuition increases at colleges, and the increasing privatization of education. In Baltimore, students from the Algebra Project, members of the Bail Out the People Movement, and the Baltimore Homeless Youth Initiative made it an opportunity to highlight the fact that while Baltimore City schools struggle to find enough money for supplies, programs, and books, state legislators continue to fund the construction of detention centers, such as the two new facilities being built in the city--one for teens and one for women.

Students at the rally chanted “They set us up to fail by closing shools and building jails” and “Close baby booking,” a nickname for the Juvenile Justice Center, which the Algebra Project says is the “13th grade” for too many of their peers.

Fred Ihezie, a 12th grade student from Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and a member of the Algebra Project, says the group wants to send a message to legislators that it doesn’t want to see any more investment in “new buildings that lock up young people.”

“Everyone needs to understand that this is not what we are supposed to be funding,” Ihezie tells the students through a bullhorn. “Jobs not jails, books not bars!”

“If you invest in things that prevent crime, not just things that are deterrents to crime, we believe that our young people aren’t going to end up in jail,” Ihezie says after the protest is over. “Things that prevent crime are quality education and educational jobs.”

Curtis McDonald, a member of the Baltimore Homeless Youth Initiative, says he and other members of his organization came out to the protest to show support because many of the kids who are released from the juvenile justice system end up on the street. “A lot of students who come out of this system are homeless,” he says. “Kids of all ages. A lot of people become couch surfers, staying with friends, going wherever to find a place to sleep. They have no stable housing.”

Delmas Wood, the state Department of Juvenile Services’ director for Baltimore City (DJS runs the Juvenile Justice Center), stood on the sidewalk watching the demonstration. He says he had taken the day off but got a phone call letting him know the protest was happening. He says he thinks that DJS and the protesting students probably have many of the same interests in common: “They are protesting the priorities, of where the resources are going,” Wood says. “We have a lot of the same concerns. They are concerned about the kids who are coming here, and so are we . . . There’s a lot of truth to what they are saying.”

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Tags: algebra project, education, public schools

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