Transit Stories: Crystal Harden-Lindsey

Baltimore, MD: Central Maryland Transportation Alliance

I’m a Baltimore native and was born and raised in East Baltimore. I’ve always defined myself as a servant-leader. I was a teacher, then a principal, and now I am the Vice President of Community Impact for the Baltimore Community Foundation. My core values are centered on giving and serving. 

When I think of transit issues that our community faces, I often recall the challenges that students faced getting to school while I was Principal of Green Street Academy. Green Street Academy served students, grades 6th through 12th who primarily resided in West Baltimore. Green Street Academy is a public charter school. Many public school students in Baltimore rely on public transit to get to school, and students at Green Street Academy are no exception.

I was very proud of my tenure there. When we started, we only had 130 students, but grew to 975 by the time I transitioned out. We were one of the first schools in Baltimore that offered classes in the trades, vertical farming, and hydroponics. We also focused on the green economy, especially green design and construction management.

Given the school was located on the city and county line, there weren’t any buses that would take students directly to school. Many of our students would have to catch two to three buses per day. They could be waiting at each of those bus stops for twenty to thirty minutes. For many students, getting to school on time meant a two-hour journey.

As Principal, one of my main jobs was to hold students accountable. That meant enforcing the rule that they show up to class on time and prepared. I will never forget this one day when I was speaking with a sixth grader who was late to class when she said, “a lot of students are afraid to speak up to you because you’re the Principal, but I’m going to, I’m late because the buses don’t even stop for us.”

At first, I thought she was just being mouthy, as only the way middle schoolers can be. I decided to check out the situation myself. I started going down to the bus stops and riding the bus with them. I found out quickly that the kids weren’t lying to me. Some buses would only be able to let some of them on because they were so crowded. Some of the kids, especially the shy ones who didn’t force their way onto the bus, would be left behind. I was startled and angered that these kids were leaving their houses in the dark at 6 am to wait for spotty transportation just to get to school. 

I took matters into my own hands. I convinced my husband that we should buy a used minivan so I could drive around to the bus stops and pick up kids and drop them off. I would make as many trips as possible before the school day started. After doing that for a couple of years, I decided to approach our Board of Directors and review with them the situation. They were appalled about the lack of transportation for the students and decided to raise the money so that Green Street could have its own bus.

It’s frustrating that Green Street had to move forward a strategy around student transportation to cover up what is clearly a systems and equity issue. Having kids leave at 6 am to get to school is unethical and immoral. We can repair some of the historic damages that redlining has brought on black and brown communities by investing in a better transit system. 

If I were sitting across from an elected official, I would say, “If we are going to compete in the global economy and prepare our students to be impactful humans, it is our responsibility to provide them with a high-quality experience. We are committing malpractice if we don’t think about their experience getting to school and moving through our city safely. Until we get certain things right, we’ll be continuing to fight with each other for that seat on the bus. Investing in our educational system and ensuring safe travel through your city should be a top priority.”

Now is the time for our country to invest in more operations funding for our transit system. That would mean more service and quality to handle our transportation needs and a better future for us all. I really hope that Rep. Johnson’s bill becomes a reality so we can realize the promise of Baltimore.

Thank you for listening to my story.

About Transit Stories

Transit Stories” is a series of real-life experiences with public transit in the U.S. We feature the first-hand experience of public transit riders from across the country. From large cities to small towns, we will document the experiences of the millions of users of busses, trains, ferries, and other forms of public transit in the US. Public transit is essential to our communities, to cooling the planet, to advancing equity. Transit is essential to our very lives.

There is a unique opportunity for the country to make a historic investment in public transit funding to help the country build back better. 

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