The AFRO spoke to several people who were personally affected by last year’s uprising. These are their stories, in their own words.

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Ericka Alston (Photos by Chanet Wallace)

 

Ericka Alston

Penn North Recovery Center

“My entire life changed, as a result of the uprising. One day I was the Director of Public Relations and Business Development and then four weeks later I was Director of Youth Services Violence Prevention and Community Outreach.  The uprising allowed me to see and hear one of the community needs, which was the kids needed a safe place to play.

As a result of the uprising, I learned that you don’t need the perfect space, the right check written, or the right group of people to see or hear a need in the community.  If you’re the one seeing or hearing the need, it’s probably your responsibility to fill the need.

Also, I realized the death of Freddie Gray didn’t happen in vain.  He died for a purpose and the reason I see is for us to potentially prevent future Freddie Gray’s.  Four weeks after the media circus and all the reporters being around, we decided to transform a vacant laundry mat into a safe haven for children.  We did this with no money, no funding, no grants, just passion, vision, and social media.

We saw and heard the need, we had this blank canvas, and the Kids Safe Zone came to life.  We said on June 1st the doors would open and it will be available to every child in need. My hope is that we’ve shown other people that they can do it too.  My hope is community leaders in other communities will also snatch a vacant property.

So far I’ve seen Leaders of a Beautiful struggle take over a vacant property with the hopes of helping the Sandtown community.  It’s time to give vacant properties real value.  Our vacant laundry mat gave hundreds of kids value.

We didn’t have a plan, only empathy, love, compassion, and need, and it has allowed us to create a space where hundreds of kids come to everyday.  These parents now know where their kids are.

We’ve actually had parents show up in tears thankful that their child stayed alive during one of the deadliest summers.  The best outcome for us has been little brown boys and girls now have a vision to live a full life where they can graduate from high school, attend college, but more importantly, they know that there are people outside their households that love and care for them.

The fact these kids get hugs and encouraging words is an outcome for me.  So one year later 17,000 visits from children, not one check was written, we, the community, did this. The Kids Safe Zone proves that it can be done.”

 

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Larry Lomax (Photos by Chanet Wallace)

Larry Lomax

Homeless at the time of unrest but now lives on Liberty Road.

“All the years and years of oppression and killing Black people, it needs to end. And during the uprising I felt like someone should’ve stood up and said enough is enough. I looked all around Pennsylvania Avenue and saw no one standing up for our people. No one else stood up so I did on my own.

I was pepper sprayed, pulled down to the ground by my hair, and later arrested. At the time I was being held in jail for trying to start another riot, second degree assault on an officer, and political start of destruction. I was later released and all charges dropped, the judge was very kind and felt as though the interaction between me and the police could have been handled much differently. The unrest affected me in ways that has changed my life, I will always fight for our people.”

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Adam Ahmed (Photos by Chanet Wallace)

 

Adam Ahmed

Owner of E-Z Mart Tobacco and Convenience Store

“We lost everything and I had to pay for everything out of my pocket. We didn’t have cameras or insurance.  It was so much damage done to the entire store.  I opened twice and then was forced to close for four months due to the looting and damages done to my store during the uprising.  They broke the doors, the glass windows, and took everything we had in the store.  And while the store was closed I had to pay rent and utilities and also, try to save money to repair and reopen it.  I wanted to keep the location so I kept paying the bills even though I lost everything.”

 

Lieutenant Jarron Jackson

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Lt . Jarron Jackson (Photo by Chanet Wallace)

Lives in Northwest Baltimore

“As a person who grew up in Baltimore and is from Baltimore it was actually very surreal to watch. It was something I never thought I would see. I went to Poly and was a student at Towson. I came back and became a police officer here because I love Baltimore so to watch places like North and Fulton, the Carryouts I go to, the CVS that my friend’s grandparents visit, was real. We are used to seeing incidents like this on CNN in other countries. This is something I thought I’d never see in Baltimore. I know a lot of people talk about past riots, and even then it feels so far behind us. But to be in the middle of it was like an outer body experience. But when it started sinking it, that this isn’t similar to 911, it’s citizen of Baltimore that were doing this was heartbreaking.

Just like many of the other police officers here, we felt very conflicted. We have families here, a lot of us work here, and also are citizens, so emotionally you are pulled in many different directions. One of my first thoughts was the safety of my family, the safety of that community, and then doing my job at the same time. It was a time where I had to block out exterior influences and focus on doing my job. The bottom line is the safety of the city.

I hope we use this as a learning and teaching moment, so we can move forward. I remember my son watching it and being afraid, and he’s 10. That’s something I don’t want my son or other kids experiencing again. I think change is inevitable and change is a good thing but we should seek change in a more positive way.”