This past Wednesday, one of Baltimore’s leading activists (and a Hopkins alum!), Dwight Watkins, visited our campus to speak at the Milton S. Eisenhower Symposium. Introduced as a survivor of Baltimore, or what he labeled a “war zone,” D. Watkins did not mince words when it came to discussing the brutality of America’s racial issues. His energy and vibrancy helped communicate his key point–the importance of sharing our skills in order to create a stronger community, and even more importantly, a community less prone to racial inequality.
To begin, D. Watkins talked about what our role as Baltimoreans in such a controversial debate. He emphasized that there is no face to this race revolution: “You don’t have to be vegan and wear open toed shoes. You can eat pork and still be part of the revolution,” he joked. But upon bringing up the day “our city blew up” and the name Freddie Gray, the auditorium fell into a heavy silence, waiting for the insight he would provide. “African Americans are as safe as a hunk of steak in a den full of lions. Being a kid can’t even save you.”
How do we go about fixing this? D. Watkins’ personal way is through literacy. To him, words leave a lasting impact. He discussed how throughout the recent racial turbulence, the portrayal of violence through news media was somewhat desensitizing. There were so many pictures and videos to get caught up in, we often feel disconnected from situations involving brutality. We often forget to humanize victims we will only ever see through a screen. Through writing, D. Watkins feels that he can not only process the information better, but also help others to do so as well. However, he recognizes that activism through literacy is not for everyone. He stated that our role is to achieve mastery in something, anything for that matter, and then share our knowledge; this is what will essentially help us overcome these horrible situations.
Part of the reason I decided to attend Johns Hopkins was because of the diversity–I knew that I would only have a limited number of opportunities to encompass myself in such a unique environment. Yet people always managed to bring up rioting when I let them know that I would be attending Hopkins, as though the City of Baltimore was nothing more than week-long protests. To these people, Freddie Gray became another name on a list and Baltimore became a forever violent city. But as Watkins reminded me and everyone else in the audience, a human life should never be just a number and a city’s response to such brutality can only be understood as a momentous call for reform.
After he finished, D. Watkins stuck around to answer questions. A student asked him how he felt about JHU cautioning students to not travel in certain areas during certain hours of the day. Watkins swiftly encouraged Hopkins students to venture off campus and integrate themselves into the greater Baltimore community, pleading to the audience “We need you”.