The Baltimore Times recently featured Baltimore City Schools CEO Sonja Santelises and the district’s blueprint for success. The following poem was inspired by her powerful opening address at the start of the school year and the work of educators in Baltimore and beyond who are reclaiming the ground for students.

She said we are reclaiming the ground.

We are taking it all back

For our children.

Picking up the empty vials and broken glass

And shell casings.

Soaking up children’s blood and mothers’ tears

And the hope that fell somewhere along the way.

Lifting feet and marching forward with watering cans

Brimming with hope

Because there’s a garden growing here.

Seeds and saplings cradled with care

By mothers and fathers, grandparents and siblings

Out of apartment buildings and aging row houses

Over cracked concrete

And rusting train tracks

Across roiling rivers and bone-dry borders

To the school house doors

Where bright green vines grow up the metal legs of classroom chairs

And curl around the edges of books and microscopes

And pencils filled with a million graphite words and stories

Waiting to be written.

Where sprouting leaves and buds

Reach toward the light beyond the crank-out windows

And the thousands of destinies that await

Now hung like wishes on stars

Above fire escapes.

There’s a garden growing here.

Filled with giggles and pluck

And curiosity

And promise.

And dreams of mothers and fathers

Who wanted something more for their seedlings

Than they were afforded.

More light.

Rich soil.

Tender nourishment.

And a chance to thrive.

There’s a garden growing here, she said

And we are peeling back the layers of concrete

And pain

And we are taking back the ground for planting.

The mural is located in West Baltimore along the wall of what is called the “Road to Nowhere,” which divides the West Baltimore community. Muralists used their art in protest of the division and walling off of the community.

“Untitled” was created by Archie Veale in 1994 for the Pulaski Street Project and the Baltimore Mural Project

Santelises is the former vice president of K-12 policy and practice at The Education Trust.