UB GRADUATE DEDICATED TO HONORING THE HISTORY OF BALTIMORE
May 15, 2019
The recognizable noise of airbrakes sounds as the bus pulls up to a stop in West Baltimore. One-by-one, passengers take their seats for a routine ride downtown.
As the bus begins moving, traveling from neighborhood-to-neighborhood, a voice from the front of the bus says, "and, that's the Baltimore Basilica."
Looking up from cellphones or pausing conversations, they turn and see a smile spread across the driver's face in the rearview mirror. Now that he has their attention, he continues, "Constructed between 1805 and 1821, the Baltimore Basilica is the first locale of the Roman Catholic Church in the United States."
IN THE DRIVER'S SEAT
For the past nine years, Juarez Lee-Shelton, B.A. '15, M.A. '18, has operated a bus for the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration, the perfect position for this freelance historian.
"Quite often, Baltimore history is ignored or downplayed," Juarez says. "As a historian, it brings me no short amount of jubilance when I share with my passengers the rich history of the city."
Specializing in American political, presidential, and social histories with a focus on the Civil War era, Juarez's favorite historical fact to share with his passengers is the location of the first bloodshed of the Civil War on Pratt Street.
"An astounding 'Really?' is always their reaction," Juarez says, explaining the excitement he feels when he helps his riders understand the history around them.
"As a bus operator, I hear and see many things as you can probably imagine," he says. "Over the course of nine years, I could write a book. I encounter hundreds of people daily, hearing their stories and seeing what's going on in our city. That's what is really exciting, getting to witness history being made every day."
PURSUING HIS PASSION
Juarez has been passionate about history and law for nearly his entire life.
"I get that from my father," Juarez says. "He has been a high school history teacher for 34 years, and like him, I simply love seeing people's faces light up when they take interest in our city's history."
"I chose to attend UBalt because of its commitment to public service. My professors really helped facilitate my education and pushed me to look outside the box and really develop my research and communication skills."
Because of the impact of his professors and the unique blend of his knowledge in history and law, Juarez's ultimate goal is to teach as an adjunct professor at a local university.
INSPIRING THE COMMUNITY
"Once I start talking about history, it's hard to slow me down," Juarez said with a big smile on his face. "My passengers are often the recipients of my knowledge, sometimes by their own request, sometimes not!"
However, the goal for Juarez isn't to bore his passengers with Charm City fun facts, but to encourage dialogue within the community about current and recent events.
"From the 2015 riots to seeing the changes in our city's neighborhoods, we are witnessing history firsthand," he explains. "I share historical facts that sometimes pleasantly surprise people because they realize that Baltimore has had some great things happen in the past."
Juarez hopes that by helping the community learn about and engage with Baltimore history, more productive conversations about the changes affecting Baltimore City residents will happen.
"You can visit famous landmarks like Federal Hill, the Shot Tower, or Fort McHenry, and you can easily access records at the Maryland Historical Society, the Maryland State Archives, or the Baltimore City Historical Society," Juarez says. "The history of the city is everywhere."
You can see Juarez in action by watching his Maryland Transit Administration Commuter Connections video.