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LOCAL News :: Baltimore MD : Education

Baltimore City Students to Hunger Strike for Youth Employment

After months of pleading with Mayor Sheila Dixon to fund A youth employment program, Baltimore City School Students have announced that they will hold a hunger strike until the $3 million dollars they need is awarded.

Below is a letter from Jay Gillen, one of the Baltimore Algebra Project's adult advisers. Also attached is a "Youth Jobs" flier and a power-point on Peer-to-Peer Employment.
Youth Jobs Flier.doc (28 k)

Dear Friends,

Attached is a flier asking you to support student hunger strikers fighting for 700 - 1,000 youth jobs in the knowledge-based economy. The goal is both to create youth employment and to develop the city's human capital. (I'm also attaching a power point with many more details on the proposal.) Most important times: this Friday, May 30, 4:30 at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater; and Monday, June 2, 6 p.m. at the War Memorial on Gay St. for the Mayor's Night In. Please forward the flier widely.

The City Council has already unanimously requested a $3 million line item for Peer-to-Peer Youth Enterprises. Students and their adult supporters are asking the Mayor to accept this request.

Students involved both as strikers and supporters come from many Peer-to-Peer Youth Enterprises, working together as a coalition. These include the Algebra Project, the Baltimore Urban Debate League, the Hip Hop Congress, Kids on the Hill, Entrepreneurial Training University, YOURS, and many more.

Some adult supporters have had questions about the hunger strike tactic, and I give my view on some of these questions below. (Please feel free to call or write for further discussion 443-248-9032—and sorry for the length of the message!).

1. "A hunger strike is too extreme a tactic."

Please remember that the students organizing the hunger strike believe that the lack of positive, future-directed youth employment is a life and death issue. Hearing them describe their pain and anger at the lack of opportunity for themselves and their peers is still shocking to me, after 20 years teaching. Most of those involved have personal experience with the difference between having a job in an organization they love, and having a job at McDonald's or Target, or selling drugs, or not having a job at all. They believe peer-to-peer enterprises save lives. At a meeting last week, one young man asked: "Who is ready to die for this struggle?" No one laughed; no one thought the question strange. The young people pondered and then raised their hands or didn't raise their hands. The circumstances in the students' communities are extreme; their tactics mirror their circumstances as they experience them.

2. "The students should try more dialogue with officials first."

Over the past year students have presented formally to at least the following: Baltimore City Schools CEO Alonso, Baltimore Youth Commission, the Education Committee and the Budget Committee of the City Council, the City Council President, and the Board of Estimates. They have presented informally to many more organizations. All except the Board of Estimates (controlled by the Mayor) have endorsed the Peer-to-Peer proposal. The students and their adult supporters have been trying to meet with Deputy Mayor Marriott since January and with the Mayor since March, but City Hall has yet to schedule a meeting. We have asked powerful intermediaries to try to arrange a meeting with the Mayor, to no avail. Students camped for three nights last week in front of City Hall to try to get a meeting, but the Mayor only stopped briefly the third day to speak with them outside City Hall as she was leaving the building.

Students and adult supporters strongly urge anyone with ideas for less extreme tactics to implement them or suggest them immediately. All help will be welcomed—especially dialogue with the Mayor.

3. "The students should settle for some compromise this year, and get a better deal next year."

So far, the Mayor has offered no compromise at all. Another year means 700-1,000 students without knowledge-based employment. Students need employment now (I have young people asking me for a job literally every day.)

4. "Doesn't Youth Works create the kind of jobs you advocate?"

Yes and no. Youth Works is an excellent step. However, Youth Works only operates for 6 weeks in the summer. The city's young people face desperate economic circumstances for 52 weeks a year. Also, many Youth Works jobs are menial with no skill-building at all—a problem the Mayor recognizes. Peer-to-Peer Enterprises employ young people in very creative and engaging ways, transferring knowledge from peer to peer.

5. "The hunger strikers' health may be at risk."

The strikers will consume water and fruit juice. No striker under 18 will participate without parental approval, and the student organizers are requiring a doctor's certificate for each hunger striker specifying that there are no underlying medical problems. A schedule of nurses and physicians is being established so that strikers have constant medical monitoring, especially for hydration.

6. "Adult advisers are misleading the young people."

We try not to mislead. We encourage debate and dissent and try to get young people to hear many different views. Come to one of the young people's planning meetings and see for yourself how much in control they are of their own decisions, or call one of the contacts on the flier. Adults are undoubtedly influential, so we encourage all of you to get involved with this great group of students! You will find that they have minds of their own, a huge thirst for knowledge, and a kind of solidarity that comes only from struggle.

Again, please feel free to call me at any time. 443-248-9032.


Read the powerpoint here.

Also see


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