Lisa Snowden-McCray, Special to the AFRO
(Updated 08/06/2018) Danny Evans, Vice-Chair of the Baltimore-Xiamen Sister City Committee, has one especially poignant memory of the time he spent living in China, from 2012-2014.
“I was at a book store and a Chinese girl came up to me and she basically asked me if I was sick because I was black,” he says. “She told me she wanted to take me to the hospital…she grabbed me and we start walking to the hospital and her parents stopped her saying no, no he’s black. He’s African.”
Evans, who was living there as part of a teacher exchange program called WorldTeach, says that moment amused him, but it also showed him how important it was for black people to have a presence all over the world – working and learning on the word’s stage.
He took that memory with him when he and a group of students from several local high schools schools, left Tuesday for a two-week trip to with Xiamen, in the Fujian Province of China. The flight to that part of the world is 22 hours. Evans said that it’s an opportunity for kids who have been studying Chinese language and culture to put their education to the test – but it’s also a chance for them to teach others about what it means to be Black, American, and from Baltimore. Funds for the trip were provided, in part from grants from the Baltimore Community Foundation and the MECU Credit Union.
Baltimore has been sister cities with Xiamen, in the Fujian Province of China since 1985. Since then, the two cities have often joined together often – for example, kids from Carver Vocational-Technical High School have what’s called a “sister school agreement” with the Fujian Xiamen Electronic Vocational School since 2010. The agreement includes a student exchange program that first started in 2011. Johns Hopkins Hospital also works closely with the Xiamen Maternity & Child Care Hospital. Still, Evans says, there is still lots of education that can happen between the two cities, and this trip plays a big part in that.
“I’ve prepped them for Chinese. I’ve prepped them for how they react to certain situations. To know that people are going to ask you uncomfortable questions. People are going to ask you because they are curious or just don’t know,” he says. “It may seem ignorant, but at least they are asking you and not being negative towards you so you should take that as a way of teaching them.”
He says that he also wants the students to know that there is life beyond Baltimore – and that includes lucrative and important career opportunities.
“They are preparing themselves now to one day become an ambassador or secretary of state or being a leader of U.S.-China relations, and that’s something that we haven’t seen from our community.”
Shameka Littles has noticed that her son, Mateen Kane, has grown tremendously since he traveled to China a few years ago. Kane, 15, will be in tenth grade at Loyola Blakefield, a prep school in Towson, Md. Before that, he attended Baltimore International Academy, where he was immersed in Mandarin Chinese since elementary school
Littles said that she wanted to maintain his son’s skills and encourage his curiosity about the world, so she had been looking for a summer camp that would give her son the opportunity to travel – that’s when she heard about Evans and the China trip.
She says that her son has benefited tremendously from the trip, especially meeting kids from all over the globe.
“The thing that they had in common was that they all spoke Mandarin,” she says. “He was able to make friends from around the world in other countries and be immersed in the culture.”
She added that living in China gave Kane a greater appreciation for things here in America.
“The experience itself opened his mind to comparing other cultures and seeing how things are very restrictive there and not as restrictive here.”
Students will keep in contact with each other and with family back here in Baltimore through an app called WeChat. He says the app is similar to Facebook, and is available here, but more commonly used in China. They have to use that because Facebook, Twitter, and even email will be unavailable to them.
Evans says that kids, who spent all last school year learning together are ready to take the trip.
“They are like brothers on this trip because they have to take care of one another. They realize that this trip is very important for their community, for our community. It’s important for them to all do well,” he says. “They are excited. They are a team, they’re ready.”
Correction: A previous version of this story identified Evans as a teacher. He is not. The Afro regrets the error.