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But the deficit of Black children in the school system remains. Last year, of the approximately 25,000 students who were enrolled in the county’s public school system, only 993 — not quite 4% — were Black or African American. At some high schools, this number drops below 3%.

It is in this world that these children come of age and grow to celebrate their cultural roots and heritage. After years of laughing off insensitive comments from their peers, some learn to call out racism when they see it. And now, amid a national reckoning over systemic racism and anti-Black state violence, many are working to make Carroll County a more inclusive and welcoming place for the Black children who come after them.

Here are some of their stories.

Kelechukwu Ahulamibe, a freshman at the University of Maryland, graduated from Century High School last year.

From the time her children were young, Ahulamibe’s mother made sure they knew the rules of survival: Don’t get home later than 5 p.M. Don’t play with toy weapons — no BB guns allowed.

She told them stories of other Black children as they grew up. Tamir Rice was only 12 when he was shot to death by a white police officer while he played with a toy gun. Trayvon Martin was 17 when he was gunned down by a neighborhood watch volunteer in Sanford, Florida.

“It’s just a recurring pattern of all these Black males who constantly walk around in danger, or walking on glass,” Ahulamibe said. “We all have to live by these certain rules and regulations in order to avoid the speculation of we’re doing something bad.”

When he entered middle school, Ahulamibe learned another rule from his mom: When kids are mean, don’t fight back. Just try to ignore it. So, when he was called racial slurs, when students would slap his schoolwork from his hands as he walked to class, he kept his head down and his mouth shut. One day, as he ate lunch alone in the cafeteria, a group of kids came up to him, screamed that he was going to steal from them, and dissolved into giggles as they walked away.

The relentless harassment wore him down, Ahulamibe recalled. But when the external noise ramped up, he had his music to drown it out. He played trumpet back then, and would listen to Chris Brown, Meek Mill and other rap, R&B and hip-hop artists. His twin sister and little brother kept him strong, too — his parents got divorced when he was young, and from then on, he’s felt a responsibility for taking care of them.

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