The challenge of balancing the collective trauma communities have experienced with the responsibility of teaching and learning at high levels.

When Sonja Santelises started her job as CEO of the Baltimore City Schools in 2016, she could see that the young people in her community were in pain. The city was still reeling from the arrest and death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray and subsequent city-wide protests against racial injustice. Black youth were justifiably angry about the murder of a black man in police custody, and their hurt manifested in school walkouts and sit-ins and confrontations with police.

Santelises would have to address her students’ need for healing head-on.

She also knew these protests were symptoms of a larger problem stemming from a long history of planned disinvestment in Baltimore’s Black communities. The history of redlining had left whole neighborhoods cut off from essential resources, dramatically affecting the quality of life and making it much more challenging for residents to attain the well-rounded support their young people needed to excel in and out of school. It was no wonder deep distrust festered between the community and its institutions, including the school district, going back generations. The community needed healing, too.