On the evening of March 24, Dena Robinson, a Maryland Center for Developmental Disabilities trainee, hosted and attended the Baltimoreans for Educational Equity (BEE) Mayoral Candidate Forum at the Cylburn Arboretum.

Since last spring, BEE has been listening closely to the concerns of parents, teachers, and community members about Baltimore City Public School System (City Schools). It is an organization of teachers, former teachers, students, parents, and concerned citizens who are passionate about impacting educational change at the city, local, and statewide level. Dena is a member of BEE’s leadership and regional strategy teams and we hosted this event to build a broad-based coalition that would make sure that Baltimore’s next mayor is invested in and held accountable for educational equity for City Schools’ students. The forum was the only one dedicated solely to education priorities and City Schools’ students.

The mayoral candidates in attendance at the forum were: Nicholas Caminiti, Gersham Cupid, Elizabeth Embry, Patrick Gutierrez, Joshua Harris, Sarah Klauda, Frank Logan, Emanuel McCray, DeRay McKesson, Lavern Murray, Catherine Pugh, Carl Stokes, Cindy Walsh, Wilton Wilson, Alan Walden, and Calvin Young. The first portion of the forum consisted of candidates responding to a series of priority questions—indicating what they would prioritize in their first 100 days in office. Answers ranged from gutting funding from the Baltimore City Police Department from Ms. Klauda to engaging on a listening tour to create smaller, intimate classroom settings from Mr. Caminiti. Next, candidates were invited to answer audience questions ranging from the funding of City Schools and mayoral control over City Schools to perceived issues of Dr. Gregory Thornton’s leadership of City Schools. The candidates had strong responses to education in Baltimore City and what should be done for its students. Mr. Harris spoke about the importance of environmental racism and justice and taking a trauma-informed approach in working with City Schools. Ms. Pugh discussed her work and experience founding the “Fish Out of Water” project, a city-wide urban art exhibit that displayed 180 multi-hued and diverse fish gracing the highways and streets of Baltimore in 2001. She also discussed the need for a reasoned and pragmatic approach to City Schools. Particularly notable, she discussed the need for jobs throughout the city for young people, something that has been disregarded by the current mayoral administration. Mr. McKesson, a rising star in protesting and organizing around issues of racial justice, spoke of his experience teaching and working in Baltimore and directing afterschool programs. He mentioned the need for bridging the dialogue occurring in the city and the importance of Baltimore rising together.

As a BEE member and leader, former teacher, and education advocate, Dena was impassioned listening to both the mayoral candidates and in conversations with some of the candidates and audience members after the forum had ended. Dena has so much hope for our great city and believes that Baltimore’s next mayor will have a deep impact on the future of the city. Dena stated that, “Baltimore is on the cusp of such great change and as Mr. Gutierrez stated best, ‘Baltimore is like a kitchen cabinet stocked with fine ingredients, we just need a chef who has been trained at a five-star quality restaurant to take those ingredients and create a high quality meal.’
Dena Robinson is a second-year law student at the University of Maryland Francis King Carey School of Law.