There’s no unity around Unity Days.

After a string of hateful social media posts by students in Anne Arundel County schools — not sure if the video of the kids in homemade Klan hoods or the young girls cheerfully spouting racial slurs was the most outrageous — the system started Unity Days in 2019.

There were four Unity Days on the school calendar this year, wrapping up on March 30. Students talked about the impact of hate speech and bullying and strategies for addressing them.

The response isn’t what you’d hope four years into this project.

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“What continues just to hurt my heart is this peer pressure among young people,” said Maisha Gillins, executive director of the school system’s Office of Equity and Accelerated Student Achievement.

A snapshot of Unity Days was one of the things I took away last week from a panel on racism organized in Annapolis by the Racial Reconciliation Collaborative. The group hosts regular discussions on racism and works to get other churches engaged.

It was formed by two Episcopal churches, St. Anne’s and St. Philip’s. One congregation is largely white, the other largely Black. They share a difficult history. St. Anne’s, one of the oldest churches in Maryland, formed St. Philip’s as a segregated place for Black people to worship in the 1880s.

The collaborative grew out of an anti-racism ministry at St. Philip’s and is intended to address racial healing and social justice in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County.

Organizers asked me to moderate this discussion because I’ve been reporting on these issues for much of my career as a journalist in this state. But listening to people who focus on this issue daily provided some revelations worth sharing.

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Pushback on Unity Day might have been the biggest. How do you argue with such a simple message: Don’t bully? Don’t say things you know will be hurtful?

Students tell Gillins that when they speak up to confront hate speech, their friends shut them down with responses like these:

“You can’t take a joke.”

“We’re just playing around.”

“You’re just part of the cancel culture. I can’t say nothing around you.”

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“I won’t invite you anywhere now. You’re off my social list.”

“And that scares me. Right?” Gillins said. “That’s just scary. That should scare all of us because we’re depending on our young people. ... to be that next generation of individuals who are going to speak up and speak out.”

If that weren’t scary enough, there are the phone calls from parents and others that inevitably come after Unity Days.

“Do you know how many phone calls I’ve gotten?” Gillins said. “That we’re indoctrinating our kids? That we need to see these lessons? Because these are the type of things we’re trying to help our kids through.”

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The topic of reparations gets a rise out of lots of white people. Why should they pay for the sins of the past, they ask? So I asked, how does the topic fit into the conversation about race in this community?

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Two years ago, the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland set up a $1 million fund that would provide grants to address the impact of systemic racism and slavery. Last year, the first $180,000 went to six groups. A second round of grants is expected to be announced soon, and some local congregations, such as St. Margaret’s near Annapolis, are working on their own initiatives.

Money is part of it, just not the only part.

“I think people need to understand reparations instead of having knee-jerk reactions to the word reparations,” said the Rev. Cannon Chris McCloud, who works on the issue of race and reconciliation at the diocese. “We need to understand that reparations are not about white people giving Black people money or giving them a blank check.”

“Instead, reparations start as simple as an apology.”

McCloud told the mostly white crowd of about 60 people in the meeting hall at St. Philip’s that money isn’t the only step needed.

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“Collectively, there has never been an apology to the African American community around the act of reparations,” she said. “That is the start of reparative work. That is reparations.”

If you have ever heard civil rights activist Carl Snowden talk, you know that handing him a microphone is an invitation to storytelling. And that was certainly true at this forum.

Snowden talked about Richard Mentor Johnson, who as vice president under Martin Van Buren refused to disavow his enslaved wife, Julia Chinn, or their children.

He talked about meeting Rosa Parks, the lynching of Henry Davis in 1906, and his admiration for Rep Justin Pearson, one of two Black Democrats expelled from the Tennessee state legislature over a gun violence protest.

But it was his prediction about the old Crownsville Hospital Center that was notable.

There was a well-documented history of the abuse starting when the state of Maryland created it in 1911 as the Hospital for the Negro Insane. It was a place to store Black people because of poverty, mental illness or behavior deemed unacceptable by the judicial system.

Many were subject to experimental medical treatments.

There are 1,700 patients buried on the grounds, and over the past few years, historian Janice Hayes Williams led an effort to identify most of the 1,400 buried in numbered graves. But there has been no outcry to compensate the families of those abused by the state.

“When Martin O’Malley was governor, he was considered to be a liberal. This issue was brought to his attention and he swept it under the rug,” Snowden said. “When Larry Hogan became governor, he was considered a conservative moderate. This issue was raised and swept under the rug.”

Last year, Anne Arundel County took over the property and plans to redevelop it as a nonprofit incubator, center for health and wellness programs, and memorial park.

But now that Maryland has elected Wes Moore as its first Black governor, Snowden is optimistic about the potential to address the human damages.

“You know, I’m curious to see what happens when Wes Moore gets hold of this,” Snowden said.

Advocates for greater scrutiny of police use of force in Anne Arundel County often point to two shootings as examples where race played a role.

So, when Lynda Davis, the fourth panelist in the discussion, cited Leroy Perry in 1981 and Crystal Nelson in 1989, I recognized the names. Each was a Black person killed by white police officers.

But she also listed Dyonta Quarles Jr. of Crofton, who was shot in January 2022. After his mother called Anne Arundel Police because they were having a dispute, Quarles charged one officer and seriously injured him, according to an investigation by the Maryland Attorney General’s Office.

As the officers tried to handcuff Quarles, he bit the injured officer’s hand and wouldn’t let go. The officer then shot him three times, body camera footage shows.

The attorney general’s office investigated and turned its findings over to County State’s Attorney Anne Leitess. She declined to file charges.

The Quarles family filed a federal lawsuit in January, and this spring, the General Assembly handed the power to charge officers involved in future shootings to the AG.

“His mother called because he was having a mental health crisis,” said Davis, a member of Connecting the Dots and other racial justice groups.

“My brother had a mental health crisis in Pasadena and the police were called and he walked out of his house in handcuffs and was taken to the ER to get treatment. I just wonder if my brother had been African American if he would still be alive today.”

Was this police abuse? Anne Arundel Police have a good reputation for dealing with people in mental health crises, but a man who needed help is dead. I’m not sure this is what Davis says it is, an example of brutality. But seeing it through her eyes was illuminating.

Ultimately, a federal judge will decide.