Emory University sends students to Baltimore to learn about 'systematic racism'

Students from Emory University recently traveled to Baltimore for a four day trip centered around the arrest of Freddie Gray.

The trip was the culmination of a semester-long course, “Baltimore Up Rising,” in which students “address[ed] the black urban crisis,” which was brought to “international attention by the death of Freddie Gray.”

Eleven students traveled from Atlanta to Baltimore for the trip, which included a visit to the site of Gray’s arrest and a memorial.The students were also able to speak with a man who said he “heard Gray’s cries,” during the arrest.

As part of the course, students developed projects with groups in West and East Baltimore, including grassroots organizations. One group created brochures for the political advocacy group, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, to use for lobbying efforts. The course focused on four components in Baltimore: mass incarceration, educational inequality, racial inequality, and health care disparity.

In supporting the activist groups in Baltimore, students also created their own websites, including one titled “The Fight Against the New Jim Crow.” The group writes that the new Jim Crow began in 1971 when President Nixon declared the war on drugs; once incarcerated, prisoners were stripped of economic access and rights. The website explains that the trip to Baltimore allowed the students to “further help their partner organizations.”

Students also visited Renaissance Academy High School and met with officials to speak about drop outs, which they believe are the results of school closures and suspensions. The high school could possibly close following a stabbing in one of the classrooms last month.

One of the students in attendance said that the trip helped him realize that the structure is to blame for the people of Baltimore turning to violence and drugs, because “it causes you to think this is okay.”

The course was taught at an introductory level for Africana studies by Professor Lawrence Jackson, a Baltimore native. Jackson was assisted on the trip by David Miller, cofounder of the Urban Leadership Institute. Miller is also a Baltimore native.

Jackson says he wanted students to “form strong ties,” to the neighborhoods they visited, which show “the consequences of generational poverty and systematic racism.”

In his initial address to the class Miller noted that the only reason that he and Jackson did not end up in prison was because of their “network of support.” Jackson received his PhD from Stanford University in 1997.

The students also presented their research to St. James Episcopal Church, where Jackson grew up as a parishioner.

The class syllabus began with an opening quote by Fred Moten, noting that in the cases of Michael Brown and Eric Gardner, there was “clearly” a “manifestation of Broken Windows policing.” Required reading included “The New Jim Crow,” “American Apartheid,” and “The Condemnation of Blackness.”

The class hosted speakers throughout the semester, including Dr. Brittney Cooper, a leader in the Black Lives Matter movement, who came under scrutiny earlier this year when she wrote an article stating that the religious right worships an “asshole” God.

The class was also lectured by Eddie Conway, a former Black Panthers leader, who spent forty years in prison after he was convicted of killing one Baltimore police officer and injuring another during a open fire on a marked patrol car.

The trip was financed by a grant from the Fund for Innovative Teaching at Emory. Grants, which range from $500-$3,000, can be awarded to any full time faculty whose proposals demonstrate “long-term educational effects within the Emory community.” The visit was also funded by the Africana Studies department at Emory and some of Jackson’s own research funds.

When contacted for comment, Professor Jackson shared the course syllabus but was unavailable to comment.

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