It was the energy I remember most. It contradicted everything we are told, because the sentiment for many is that students in Baltimore schools are the issue; not the teachers nor the system nor the living arrangements (or lack thereof) that many of them face on a daily basis. And by the time they reach high school, if they are so fortunate, they are already so far gone that they’re looked at as lost causes. Murderers. Addicts. Parents. Drug dealers. Hustlers. Anything and everything but students.

But not this day. It was a different energy. It told a different story.

On Friday May 11th,  Shelonda Stokes & the Greibo team alongside a host of sponosors including the Mayor’s & State’s Attorney’s offices held the first ever Baltimore College Signing Day at Royal Farms Arena. Thousands of high school seniors from across the city came together to celebrate reaching this milestone called graduation and to encourage them to make the best of what their future has up next.

Upon entering the arena, students were met with endless support from the volunteers to the on-site college reps to the various organizations all there to be a resource and inspiration to them.  Not to mention the performances by Baltimore artists Lil Key, Kondwani Fidel, Peso Da Mafia, and Creek Boyz. With the youth choir from Cardinal Shehan providing the icing on the cake!

All this and more in support of former first lady Michelle Obama’s College Signing Day initiative introduced only a few years ago.

As I watched those seniors filter into Royal Farms Arena, not for a concert but to celebrate their own achievements and new beginnings, I could feel that the energy was hopeful, excited, eager, and refreshed. I knew then that this was the part of the story I was missing.  That many of us are missing. The students aren’t the issue. Maybe a symptom of the real issue. And when you realize that, the better sentiment becomes this:

Students in Baltimore schools are NOT the problem, rather products of a broken system. And by the time students reach high school, graduation if they are so fortunate, they have already beaten so many odds and should be considered: Experts. Conquerors. Survivors. Providers. Role Models. Above and beyond your average students.

…and, yet & still, hustlers in every sense of the word!!!

So keep hustling Class of 2018 (!!) and all those coming up next. And those teachers, parents, and community leaders, keep encouraging and mentoring. Finally, to those of you on school boards and high up in “The System” remember that its only about the students at the end of the day.

Baltimore College Signing Day showed me that amongst all the negative headlines coming out of the city, there’s a group of dedicated citizens working to change the conversation and bring a new energy into communities and classrooms. So, I challenge the entire city, and everyone reading this to #ReachHigherBMore.