Murder of former Morgan State basketball player gets attention on campus
Juvenile justice class works with Baltimore Ceasefire to help deal with violence
Baltimore — the city of crab houses, the Orioles and The Wire — is also known as a city with one of the highest crime and violence rates in the United States. The numerous anti-violence efforts in the city are not as well-known. A college class is working to change that by contributing to the Baltimore Ceasefire movement.
Violence has affected many students in the city, including those at Morgan State University, a historically black institution located in the northeast side of Baltimore. In the past five years, three Morgan students have been murdered near the campus.
Last semester, students dealt with multiple safety issues, including robberies, peeping Tom incidents and a shooting at an apartment just minutes away from campus.
Morgan State sociology professor Natasha Pratt-Harris and students from her juvenile justice class have decided to address these issues by participating in the November ceasefire weekend.
The goal of these weekends, which happen during the first weekend in February, August and November and on Mother’s Day weekend, is to reduce the city’s mounting murder rate. Organizers request just one thing from residents of Baltimore: “No one kill anyone” for 72 hours. The request comes by way of television, rallies and ceasefire posters hung up all across the city.
The first ceasefire weekend took place in August 2017. Baltimore was on its way to a record high of 342 murders, the second-highest murder rate in the United States that year.
Pratt-Harris’ class worked with elementary and middle school kids from the Baltimore International Academy (BIA) to create ceasefire signs that talk about peace in different languages.
The class handed out the signs, which their professor called “little signs of hope,” at events during the ceasefire. Pratt-Harris was raised in Baltimore and has seen firsthand what the city has gone through because of the violence, while some of her students have seen the same thing in different places.
“Children don’t see what adults see,” said Pratt-Harris, who is in her 18th year of teaching at Morgan State. “Children see a world through a very optimistic lens and are pretty much just acting out as children.”
One of the Morgan students working with Pratt-Harris is sophomore Alyssa Jonkins. The political science and psychology double major knows what it’s like to lose friends and family because of violence. Her hometown of Chicago had nearly double the murders of Baltimore in 2017.
“Seeing what they’re going through in Baltimore, it resonates with me because I’m from Chicago, where there’s always violence going on,” said Jonkins. “It affects the way we learn, it affects the way we think, and if I’m able to take one kid out of it and give them that safe space, then it makes me feel better.”
Another student in the juvenile justice class, junior Victor Curry, is also from Chicago and is a forward for the men’s basketball team. Working with the BIA kids had special meaning to him, as he’s lost countless friends and family to the violence in his hometown.
“I didn’t have this as a kid, so to work with these kids means a lot because they can relate to me. They’ve seen the same things I saw growing up,” said Curry.
It’s fitting that Curry is contributing to the ceasefire after former Morgan State women’s basketball player Tracey Carrington was gunned down just outside the city two months ago.
Carrington was also a former student of Pratt-Harris’, and her death is just one of the reasons the juvenile justice professor contributes to the ceasefire movement.
“Violence has surrounded us, and unless we engage in some policy and cultural changes, you’ll see more of it,” said Pratt-Harris.
Pratt-Harris has been involved with the movement since the first ceasefire weekend, so bringing Morgan State into it made “perfect sense” to Erricka Bridgeford, co-founder of the Baltimore Ceasefire.
“All of the oppression in the city affects people of color, and all of that oppression breeds and births so much violence,” said Bridgeford. “So it makes sense that HBCU [historically black college or university] students would say, whether we’re from this city or not, we live in this city now and it’s a part of our civic responsibility to get involved and help to try and save lives in the city.”
Bridgeford, 46, has been working to stop violence since the death of her brother in 2007. Since then she has worked to end the death penalty in Maryland and was named 2017 Marylander of the Year by The Baltimore Sun.
Bridgeford was familiar with Pratt-Harris even before the ceasefire movement started.
They both attended Western High School, the oldest all-girls public high school in the U.S. However, Pratt-Harris discovered the ceasefire program on her own. Bridgeford does outreach to various organizations so they can promote the ceasefire; how they facilitate the event is up to them. Bridgeford only asks for people to be peaceful during the weekend ceasefire event.
“We’ve always said that if you offer people the opportunity to celebrate and honor life, more often than not people are going to do that,” said Bridgeford.
Pratt-Harris plans to engage in anti-violence advocacy beyond the ceasefire weekends. There’s still much work to be done, as Baltimore’s murder count is at 216 as of mid-September. She and Simone Durham, a sociology professor at Morgan who was a former teammate of Tracey Carrington’s, are planning a “Tray day” to honor her memory at a Morgan State women’s basketball game later this season.