The principal of Renaissance Academy in Baltimore keeps a photo of Ananias Jolley behind her desk. The 17-year-old was stabbed by another student in a biology classroom and died just before Christmas. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)

When he was young, Ananias Jolley’s grandmother would hand him construction paper and then sit back and marvel at what he would make.

“Ananias would always take it to another level,” his grandmother, Jeannette Simon, said. “He’d create a whole city.”

The 17-year-old, who grew up in a city filled with thousands of vacant, boarded-up buildings, dreamed of becoming an architect. But he wouldn’t even graduate high school.

Jolley died on Dec. 20, nearly a month after a classmate at Renaissance Academy in West Baltimore allegedly stabbed him repeatedly inside a biology class. The knife pierced his heart, leaving the stairwell where he collapsed smeared with his blood. The other student, Donte Crawford, is now charged with first-degree murder.

Jolley’s grandmother mourns for him and all the other young lives lost to Baltimore’s mayhem.

“One of the challenges is that a lot of our kids don’t have any dreams,” said Simon, 62, who has helped develop mentoring programs across the nation for black boys. “They can’t see past tomorrow or next week because everyone is trying to survive for today.”

Last year, 344 people were killed in Baltimore — the highest number since 1993. Most were shot to death. More than 90 percent of the victims were black and male. In the two months following Jolley’s death, the high school would grieve for two more young men cut down by violence: Darius Bardney, 16, who was killed in an apparent accidental shooting at an apartment building, and Daniel Jackson, 17, who was shot several times less than two miles from the school. In June, a 13-year-old boy who attended the middle school that occupies the same building as Renaissance was shot and killed.

Too often children from low-income neighborhoods are called broken, Simon said. That needs to stop.

“You keep telling kids that, and they actually begin to believe they are broken, that there is something wrong with them,” she said. “When in reality, it’s not the children that are broken, it’s the environment and area around them that is not working properly.”

After Jolley’s death, the high school’s principal, Nikkia Rowe, brought in turquoise and pink T-shirts that said “Graduate for Jolley.” Those three words became the motivational mantra for Renaissance students for the rest of the year. They even pushed Jolley’s older brother, Santonio Jolley, 20, who had dropped out, to re-enroll at the school and graduate. On June 3, he walked across the stage carrying an empty cap and gown on a hanger for his brother.