I recently read an article from USA Today that carried the following headline: "Baltimore Is The Nation's Most Dangerous Big City."
But what about the positive from my city, the place where I was raised?
No one documents the positive aspects about Baltimore. I am a teacher for Baltimore City Schools and teach at an alternative high school. So here’s my documentation on a Black-owned company in Baltimore that’s improving our young people's eating habits.
As I opened the library door in the school I teach at, I had no real expectation on the presentation of healthy foods. I was eager to support one of my co-workers as well as the students at Achievement Academy in Baltimore. In my two years as an educator, I've learned that most students need to see me excited about education for them to get excited. I wanted them to see me excited about healthy foods.
As I crept into the library (I was late), I was introduced to the good aspects of cauliflower. The gentleman presenting began telling the students the benefits of cauliflower, such as the high amount of Vitamin C, which helps boost immune system. The Black gentleman who spoke in a commanding yet relatable tone passed out cauliflower nuggets for the students to try. The students were apprehensive (it wasn’t their usual chicken box and fries), so I bit into the cauliflower first. Shocked as them, the cauliflower truly tasted like a healthy nugget. It was seasoned with the right ingredients, which included garlic and other herbs. The gentleman also passed around a natural based hot sauce that gave the nuggets a spiced taste. The students followed me and were amazed at the taste. They were reaching for more, and so was I.
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As the session wrapped up, I was able to talk to the owner of Healthy People Juice, Brother Juan Nance from West Baltimore. He explained to me that he left the Baltimore City School System a year ago as an educator, but dearly missed the connection with the students. He started his health food business while teaching students at an elementary school. He started by taking the leftover fruits and vegetables from the school and creating juices in order to help the kids test proficiently. He began to see how much food impacted how our Black students tested, as well as how they learned.
His story resonated with me. Day after day, I see most of my students, who are Black or Latino, grab a bag of chips over fruit, then proceed to enter my classroom and attempt to take a test. This lack of healthy food choices leads to lack of concentration, which eventually leads to aimlessly bubbling in answers without using their knowledge.
His vision is to teach Black kids how to eat healthier as Black kings and queens. He also chose Fells Point in Baltimore (a gentrified neighborhood) to place his business, hoping to build Black businesses back from where it started.
During the presentation he explained to my students that there is no such thing as crabs in a barrel mentality, as they are so frequently taught. He stated that we are stronger when we build together and we have the opportunity to define our own “Black Baltimore.” He did not preach to the students about violence or jail, but gave them positive “nuggets” to feed on — and we both agreed that there was a light that went off in most of their minds. They realized that they are able to be inspired and aspire. They can make better choices in health, which will allow them to have better critical thinking skills needed to shine their own light.
Beyond all, he inspired me. He inspired me to serve the students mental "nuggets," consistently speaking positive affirmations to them.
Although there is a stigma around Baltimore, there are many Black women and men, like the owner of Healthy People Juice, that are positively building up Baltimore to create a better future for the youth.