‘Baltimore Stories' focuses on narratives
Project aims to show how we come to perceive race in the community's voices
One photograph shows a National Guardsman in fatigues outside Harborplace. Another captures a large crowd gathered outside Penn Station. A third shows young boys riding bicycles past marchers carrying signs that read “Justice 4 Freddie Carlos Gray.”
The more than 12,000 images — some taken by seasoned photographers, others by ordinary people with cellphones — form one part of “Baltimore Stories: Narratives and the Life of an American City.”
The yearlong project, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and organized by the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, College of Arts and Humanities, and others aimed to “contextualize narratives of race,” organizers said.
A discussion Saturday, the final event of the project, centered on how those narratives were made and disseminated by media after the death of Freddie Gray, fatally injured in police custody in 2015.
UMBC President Freeman Hrabowski, whose background is in math and science, spoke of the importance of stories and the willingness to listen.
“Each of us have stories,” he said. “They make us who were are today.”
Organizers held about 20 sessions over the past year at which Baltimoreans could discuss their stories and find ways to preserve them.
The photography collection, which has been preserved on the baltimoreuprising2015.org website, was assembled with the Maryland Historical Society.
Denise Meringolo, a history professor at UMBC who helped create the collection, said it offers images of the uprising that were not as visible in traditional media coverage, which she said focused on the violence during the rioting.
“This is from the ground up,” she said. Many pictures, she said, show “incredible peaceful” scenes.
Much of Saturday's discussion focused on perceptions of the city and residents following the riots.
Jessica Berman, director of UMBC's Dresher Center for the Humanities, said the program aims “to get community voices from lots of different places,” and to understand the complexities of those stories.
Looking at a variety of stories across the city, she said, allows a deeper, more nuanced understanding of the city.
Hrabowski spoke of the role that public universities play in a community. He said there must be emphasis on asking the community and listening before taking action.
“We too often assume,” he said, which does not help build relationships, but makes communities less trusting of those in academics.
Mama Rashida Forman-Bey of WombWork Productions said that collecting a diverse group of narratives leads to a more complete, broader perception of the community.
Oppression has caused “a false story" to be told of the African-American community, she said.
But through telling their own stories, she said, members of the community can change that narrative.