Federal officials visited students at Baltimore’s Frederick Douglass High School on Wednesday and pledged to help support the teens’ futures.
Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Labor Secretary Thomas Perez spent the day listening to students’ concerns about their community and future, and said they were working to increase jobs and training for young people, although they were light on specifics.
The visit came after unrest has ravaged Baltimore, following the funeral of 25-year-old Freddie Gray. Gray died after suffering spinal injuries while in police custody. Frederick Douglass High School students were at the center of this unrest, and some reports said the teens helped initiate violence.
Perez noted during a press conference that after racially charged violence in Ferguson, Missouri, where a police officer killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown last summer, the federal government provided about $5 million in grants to the community for aid and job training.
“We are seeking to replicate the model that we just put in place last week,” Perez said of the Ferguson grants. “I am unabashedly optimistic. This community has so many assets.”
Duncan emphasized the importance of role models for the students, and providing them with “real work opportunities.”
These students “need more role models to show them the way, in the absence of that there are people on the corner doing things we don’t like … they simply out-work us and out-recruit us,” said Duncan.
Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) also met with the students Wednesday. He said during the press conference that the students “have given us opportunity as adults to put a mirror up to ourselves and ask the question: How can we make their lives better?” according to The Washington Post.
Frederick Douglass High School has seen its share of challenges. A few years ago, it was the subject of a scathing HBO documentary called “Hard Times At Douglass High.” Since then, the school appears to be on a better path. In 2013, the U.S. Department of Education cited Frederick Douglass as an example of a successful turnaround school.
“We’re all about change for the community,” student Montreze Watt told The Baltimore Sun. “It’s going to start with Douglass; it’s going to end with Douglass.”
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