A mayor's call for community engagement

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After praising educators for their commitment to students, which "will leave an everlasting mark on their lives," Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake on July 20 urged AFT members to engage with their communities as much as they can and bring aboard as many allies as possible.

Stephanie Rawlings-Blake

Intentional, strategic and collaborative efforts will raise the quality of life in neighborhoods, she said: "I encourage you, if you're not already engaged, to reach out to your elected officials."

Rawlings-Blake, who became president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors last year, offered cautionary advice : If AFT activists are going to take a larger role in their communities, they need to educate themselves on laws and regulations. She cited an example. Tired of having four of five Baltimore schools rated in poor condition, activists together with elected officials resolved to make sure every building would be renovated or rebuilt. They became a constant presence, calling, emailing and "publicly describing conditions far worse than those enjoyed by students in surrounding counties."

As a result, the city has undertaken a plan to redesign and rebuild more than two dozen schools. Rawlings-Blake said her goal is to attract 10,000 new families, adding that you can't expect parents to enroll children if they can't see out the windows, drink from the water fountains or dodge leaks when it rains.

All of this, she said, began with community engagement. She urged AFT members to continue their advocacy on behalf of children, and continue to reap the rewards.

[Annette Licitra/photo by Russ Curtis]