We went in search of the best solutions to the problems that lie at the root of the unrest: poverty, racism, disempowerment. Here’s what we learned—from local luminaries, academics, and experts, and from Baltimoreans who took the time to share their thoughts with us here on our website.
Make Black Neighborhoods Matter
When Baltimore erupted in flames on April 27, it seemed that the apocalypse had come. But there was no apocalypse. What transpired was a flesh-and-blood uprising against a city that must come to terms with the devastation of policies and practices that are traumatizing residents living in disinvested Black neighborhoods. To begin to heal, Baltimoreans must become intimately aware of the forces that shaped our city. Then we must act decisively to undo those policies and practices.
Our sickness should be clear by now. It has been well documented by historians and activists such as Antero Pietila, Marisela Gomez, Arnold Hirsch, and Garrett Power. In the early twentieth century, Baltimore mayors, policy makers, and city residents laid the foundation for apartheid in this city, pioneering the use of racially restrictive housing covenants and institutionalizing racial housing discrimination. From the 1940s to the 1970s, city leaders enacted forced displacement (a.k.a. Negro Removal) via slum clearance, urban renewal, and highway construction projects. From the 1970s up to the present day, city leaders have pushed policies of waterfront redevelopment while allowing redlined Black communities to languish.
How can we undo the damage done by decades of segregation and forced displacement? We must invest heavily in disinvested Black neighborhoods. Investment means enforcing the Community Revitalization Act of 1977 and demanding equity in mortgage lending terms, eliminating discrimination Black homebuyers face. Investment also means funding and supporting policies that engender community control and prosperity: community land trusts for affordable housing, democratic community benefits districts for problem-solving, community-based policing for public safety, and worker-owned cooperatives (supported by our medical and educational anchor institutions) for economic sustainability. As a model for worker-owned cooperatives, we can use Cleveland’s Evergreen Cooperative—a network of worker-owned businesses.
We must also push to affirmatively further fair housing by vigorously mandating inclusionary housing and by building quality, affordable public housing in Roland Park, Guilford, Homeland, Canton, and the harbor area. The primary barriers to this are the stringent zoning policies and building codes that were written precisely to exclude the types of buildings that house lower-income people affordably. This means that before the city council passes Transform Baltimore, the new zoning code, we must write the code to allow more flexibility for quality, affordable public housing in "greenlined" communities.
Baltimore leaders allowed redlined communities to decay for over 100 years; it will take a dedicated, long-term effort of restorative justice to help make these communities whole. But by marshaling public and philanthropic funds toward a plan of reconstruction and reparations, we can create cooperative communities all across our city—communities that bring us together so we can heal and grow.
Build a Digital Town Square
There are plenty of silos in Baltimore, with its steady state of hyper-segregation. How do we break through them and allow ourselves to be influenced by the best ideas? One way is through civil engagement online.
This is why I launched CityExplainer, to live-stream community and public meetings for free to the public via my Web site and YouTube. I also launched the Facebook group Baltimore Election 2016, a closely moderated forum that is meant to be an alternative to the anonymous, bile-riddled forum of local newspapers’ Web sites and is open only to city residents. (We don’t need to waste time arguing with people who live in Pennsylvania and only know Baltimore through watching The Wire.) Other group moderators include several people who are passionate about our city, such as Dave Troy (410 Labs), Dennis McIver (The City That Breeds podcast) and Carol Ott (Baltimore Slumlord Watch). In a matter of weeks, the group topped 2,200 members.
Soon after, I launched the Baltimore City Schools and Maryland State Politics Facebook groups to act as central spots for these conversations on the biggest social network in the world. My hope is that we can create digital town squares for citizens who want to share, follow, and break news, and debate their views in civil ways. We also need to hold our political leaders accountable in public ways. We want transparency and accountability. We will get it, in part, through the smart and relentless use of these digital tools.
Confront Police Bias
The problem is easy to name, hard to fix. “Implicit bias” is the term social scientists came up with to explain why otherwise well-meaning people engage in everyday acts of subconscious discrimination: why pediatricians give black and Hispanic kids lower doses of painkillers, for example, or why job applicants with
black-sounding names land fewer job interviews than those with white-sounding names. It also plays a big role in why police officers (even black ones) are more likely to pull the trigger on dark-skinned suspects.
Implicit bias isn’t full-throated racism exactly, but it is an artifact of a society shaped by discrimination. And because it’s “not accessible through introspection,” according to researchers at the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, it can be immune to the let’s-get-along bromides of diversity training.
But if we can’t eliminate implicit bias, we can blunt its power to kill. That’s what police in Las Vegas found when they instituted a series of reforms aimed at bringing down the number of use-of-force reports by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department. The reforms were masterminded in part by the Center of Policing Equity, which applies social science to what co-founder Phillip Goff has termed “evidence-based social justice.” Among their recommendations: An arrest policy called “No Hands On.” If a police officer is pursuing a fleeing suspect, another officer must be the one to physically subdue the suspect and make the arrest. It’s an acknowledgment that the first cop—exhausted from the chase and jacked-up on stress hormones—may not be in a good place mentally and will be more likely to make a bad, implicit bias-borne decision.
It’s not yet clear whether such an approach would have spared Freddie Gray from the fatal treatment he received at the hands of the officers who chased and arrested him last April. But it’s certainly easy to see how Michael Brown in Ferguson or Eric Garner in New York might still be alive. And in Las Vegas, the numbers tell a hopeful story: Between 2005, when the new policy went into effect, and 2013, use-of-force reports dropped by nearly half.
Expand Voting Rights for Ex-Offenders
At age 54, Perry Hopkins has never voted. He’s an ex-felon who has served more than 19 years in prison, mostly for drug possession and distribution. Six months ago, he finished his parole sentence, which means that he’ll be able to vote for the first time in the Baltimore mayoral race and the presidential primary this April.
The Maryland Constitution of 1851 barred felons from voting for life, a provision that disproportionately excluded African Americans from the ballot box. The Maryland General Assembly passed a law in 2007 that restored felons’ voting rights after they completed parole and probation sentences. But those sentences can drag on for years. Recognizing this, the General Assembly earlier this year overwhelmingly passed a bill that would have reinstated voting rights to former felons upon completion of their jail terms. But in May, Gov. Larry Hogan vetoed the bill, leaving forty thousand ex-felons, nearly two-thirds of whom are black, disenfranchised.
As Hopkins sees it, not much has changed since the days of Jim Crow. “I came home, and I wasn’t able to vote in elections on a local or a national level,” including Barack Obama’s historic run for the presidency, he says. Now an organizer with Communities United, a Baltimore-based advocacy group for low- and moderate-income residents, he is a vocal figure in the movement against felon disenfranchisement.
Hopkins works with the residents of Gilmor Homes, where Freddie Gray lived. More than 60 percent of African American men who live in Gilmor have criminal records, he says, and most can’t vote because they’re still on parole or probation. The toll of that political disinvestment is clear: “For communities where the voter count is extra low, look at the environment: the grounds, the grass, the trees.”
Restoring the vote to ex-offenders would force the city to invest in neglected communities, Hopkins says, as well as contribute to stronger hiring policies, job creation, and re-entry programs. “If you give us the right to vote, we are going to use this to reform current discriminatory policies and gain our due respect as taxpayers,” he says. “Like a new bike, we can’t wait to ride this one.”
Rewrite the Scarcity Narrative
There's is a narrative of scarcity in this city. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has used it to justify closing and privatizing recreation centers, hosting the Grand Prix and Horseshoe Casino, and giving downtown developers public subsidies and tax breaks. In the past sixty years, Baltimore’s population has fallen by nearly 35 percent. Tax dollars left the city, and now, the narrative goes, we must do anything and everything to bring in money.
Yet the narrative does not apply to all things equally. Funding for police has increased more under this mayor than any mayor in the past thirty years. While the city budget has increased 11 percent since Rawlings-Blake took office, the police budget has grown by 25 percent. In 2013, the overall city budget experienced no growth, but the police department’s budget increased by 13 percent.
As the city was shutting and privatizing recreation centers, the police department’s budget rose by $54 million, or five times what it cost to run all of the city rec centers. The city could have tripled the rec center budget and still put more money into police.
In fact, the city’s parks and recreation budget has experienced very little growth in the past thirty years.
This year, Baltimore City is spending $5.7 million on police helicopters, $8.7 million on its SWAT team, and $45.6 million to “target violent criminals,” above the $248 million it spends on police patrol. The city spends more on police than on health, housing, and community development, arts and culture, employment development, and the library combined. The police department’s budget rose $31 million this year alone.
The next mayor could change that, shifting funds away from programs that criminalize people to those that support people. Cutting the SWAT team budget in half could quadruple the budget for Safe Streets, the violence prevention program. One third of the money spent to “target violent criminals” could double the rec center budget. Five thousand additional youth could receive summer jobs if the city was willing to give up its four police helicopters.
Between the city budget, development dollars, and nonprofits and foundations, there is enough money circulating in the city to redistribute wealth to historically disinvested neighborhoods and the people who live in them. There is enough to build institutions for employment, create permanently affordable housing, and provide health and educational services.
The money is there. We just need to spend it more wisely.
Cling to Our Anchors
In urban-wonk-speak, they’re called eds and meds: institutions like universities and urban hospitals that are major employers and economic development generators. Others call them anchor institutions because, unlike other industries (or people), they can’t just pack up and leave. Baltimore is well-equipped with anchors, and that’s supposed to make us better off than fellow distressed cities like Detroit. But the relationship between these institutions and surrounding communities can be adversarial: eds and meds are big-footed, space-hungry entities, and they’ve been known to treat people in nearby inner-city neighborhoods more like dangerous interlopers than partners.
In the wake of the Freddie Gray unrest, however, Baltimore’s anchors are getting a chance to reboot those relationships and recommit to community outreach. There’s evidence that they’re stepping up.
Johns Hopkins, the city’s largest private employer, announced a major initiative in September called HopkinsLocal, aimed at boosting local hiring and spending: goals include filling 40 percent of targeted positions at JHU with city residents from low-income neighborhoods by 2018, growing spending at local businesses by $6 million over three years, and enlisting more minority-owned contractors in Hopkins’ many building projects.
At the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB), whose main campus intersects several neighborhoods on the city’s blighted west side, President Jay A. Perman says the school is redoubling its commitment to community outreach: The university is increasing the business it does with community merchants who employ residents and helping them find jobs on campus. “And we’re working closely with a coalition of neighborhood organizations—the Southwest Partnership—to help our neighbors achieve the community development goals they set,” Perman says.
In late September, UMB launched the Community Engagement Center in the university’s BioPark in West Baltimore’s Poppleton neighborhood. The center will work to promote learning among area children and adults, build residents’ capacity to advocate for policies and programs, and provide residents with health, legal, and social services. The BioPark is also home to Baltimore City Community College’s Life Sciences Institute, designed as a pipeline to feed BCCC students into jobs in the city’s health care and bioscience sector—it’s the only community-college biotech training program that’s built into the research institution that could later employ its graduates. To reach younger West Baltimoreans, UMB teamed up with nearby Franklin Square Elementary/Middle on a summer camp for students who visited the campus every Friday, and the university’s Summer Bioscience Internship Program mentors West Baltimore students in possible careers in health care.
And in Northeast Baltimore, Morgan State’s Community Mile initiative, which began in 2013, continues to use that school’s resources to improve public health, public education, and economic development in the 12.2 square miles surrounding campus. The historically black university also is exploring partnerships with the University of Baltimore and just launched a year-long task force—dubbed “Gray” Days, Brighter Tomorrows—
to examine policing and poverty. Morgan Vice President Maurice Taylor, who chairs the group, says the university has a special responsibility because, like fellow historically black university Coppin State, it enrolls a large number of city residents.
Taylor holds out hope for one big potential game changer: the city’s application to the Say Yes to Education Foundation’s citywide scholarship program, which would guarantee free college tuition to all city residents, regardless of income, to attend public state universities. Buffalo and Syracuse, New York, currently are enrolled in the program, which comes with $15 million in start-up funding for the winning site. Morgan and several local foundations are lobbying heavily to boost Baltimore’s odds. To Taylor, it represents an opportunity to turn the post-Freddie Gray soul-searching into real change. “Every time there’s a crisis, we like to talk about it, and once the salve of conversation has passed, we move on,” he says. “Fifteen million dollars will really help. In the absence of that money, it’s all just talk.”
Flip the Script on the Waterfront
There’s a lot going on in Cherry Hill and the adjoining community of Westport, which hug the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. The relocated Maritime Industries High School opened this fall, and Cherry Hill Middle/Elementary is scheduled to be rebuilt by 2018. The National Aquarium’s fence around a long-stalled waterfront park came down. And Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank’s Sagamore Development has unveiled plans for a major redevelopment, including neighborhoods, parks, hotels, marinas, and a new global headquarters for Under Armour.
Michael Middleton, who grew up in Cherry Hill and is now head of the Cherry Hill Development Corporation, is hopeful that this activity will breathe life into his neighborhood. But he also wants to make sure that the current residents will be a part of it. “We need to flip the script,” he says. “We need to make sure that anyone who wants to stay in Cherry Hill can stay in Cherry Hill.”
Displacement is not an idle fear. One of the city’s youngest communities, Cherry Hill was chosen to house war workers in 1943 as the site of what was then (and is still) the largest planned suburban black community in the country. The Afro-American newspaper called the industrial waterfront site a “damnable selection”; for city leaders, it had one advantage: Its isolation meant that there were few neighbors to complain.
A decade later, low-income housing came to Cherry Hill for much the same reason; today, it is home to the largest concentration of public housing east of Chicago, contributing to what Middleton says is a sense of transience that has kept the neighborhood from coalescing. “Cherry Hill has had a bad rap,” adds Ray Winbush, the director of the Institute for Urban Research at Morgan State University, which just completed a study on the Middle Branch area. “I’ve rarely seen an area so maligned, in terms of stereotypes. I think the people who are developing Middle Branch, they want to say, ‘We’re going to save the community from itself.’ And in every case that involves displacement of African-Americans.”
Winbush may be pessimistic about the future, but he does hold out some hope that this time could be different. “People are now talking about these things in light of the uprising that occurred in April,” he says. “I think there’s a willingness to say, ‘How do we shape black neighborhoods, and how do we stop this intrusion that has occurred in our historic communities?’”
Both Winbush and Middleton insist that a key part of any future vision of the area should involve mixed-income housing. Winbush cites Chicago’s Hyde Park as a template: This waterfront neighborhood on the city’s South Side, home to the University of Chicago, maintains a balance of subsidized and market-rate housing and is one of its most integrated parts of a heavily segregated city.
Middleton isn't naïve to the challenges of redevelopment without displacement, but he thinks residents can overcome them. “Cherry Hill wants to plan its own destiny. If the nature of this community continues, it will be a community that is compassionate, because all of us have been in that position of being poor, and understand that all of us must help one another. We're aware of gentrification. We're aware of people losing their homes. It is up to us to use whatever resources we have available to stop it.”
Take a Page from the Past
Some called it a riot. But to others, the violent, racially tinged confrontation that unfolded in Christiana, Pennsylvania, in 1851 was known as the Resistance. What’s happened since may be instructive for our city.
The Christiana conflict was about runaway slaves—four men who’d fled from the fields belonging to Edward Gorsuch of Baltimore County in 1849. The men had escaped along the Gunpowder Falls, through the hills, into free Pennsylvania. Under the protection of the newly passed Fugitive Slave Law, Gorsuch and his son Dickinson raised a posse to capture the runaways.
On September 11, 1851, the bounty hunters were met by a large crowd of free blacks and escaped slaves who’d settled in Lancaster County, a key way station on the Underground Railroad. Aided by white Quaker townspeople, they fought back. Gorsuch was shot, hacked with corn knives, and died in a bloodbath that became national news.
President Millard Fillmore sent in federal troops to pacify the area and round up the instigators. Forty-two white men were tried for treason in a Philadelphia courtroom. The trial was a cause célèbre for the abolitionist movement, and the subsequent acquittal of the Christiana resistance outraged Southerners. Many historians describe the Christiana Riot as the unofficial beginning of the Civil War.
In 2001, on the 150th anniversary of the incident, descendants of the escaped slaves and the Quakers who supported their resistance gathered for a funnel-cake-filled celebration and what was called a “Forgiveness Dinner.” Among those on the guest list: the great-great-great-grandnieces of Thomas Talbot Gorsuch, and Frank Parker, the 39-year-old great-grandson of William Parker, the former Maryland slave who boarded the fugitives.
Helen Mayo, who still lived on a parcel of the original Gorsuch Farm, admitted that she wasn’t sure who was supposed to be forgiving who, and what for. “God's not going to ask me what my ancestors did 150 years ago,” she said at the time. Another Gorsuch descendent, Karen Riddlebaugh Hunter of Ohio, expressed her own ambivalence about the killing of a distant relative and what it meant to her today. “When my family told the story,” she explained, “it was told that he’d been caught in history.”
But, as the event proved, the descendants of the two opposing sides no longer felt so trapped; their dinner of reconciliation proved to be a friendly social gathering, full of hugs, speeches, and some tears. Since then, the Christiana descendants have taken bus tours to the northern Baltimore County land still owned by a relative of Edward Gorsuch. There, they’ve eaten more meals together. Somehow, the people whose families once clashed have crafted an understanding, a peace.
“We continue to come together and continue to talk about it,” says Darlene Colon, 61, of Lancaster, whose great-great-great-grandfather, Ezekiel Thompson, participated in the resistance. “We have events every year. The families, the communities, we try to keep the story going. We try to keep those relationships open.”
In April, Colon watched the news from her home about Baltimore protests-turned-violent. She felt, she says, “a terrible sadness.” With each hurled bottle, she recognized the kind of suffering that led her ancestors to rise up 150 years ago—but she holds out hope. “The kind of dialogue and togetherness we have fostered here could work in Baltimore,” she says. “Despite the hurt in our history, we have a sort of pride about how we all came together. This was a fight for freedom. It’s a fight we’re still fighting.”
Here’s a radical proposition: What if foundations’ decisions were informed and influenced by residents of communities most impacted by their philanthropic largess? What if residents of disinvested communities sat on foundation boards and advisory panels, helping to shape local grant-making and policies? What if these communities wielded the power to define the public good?
Foundations cast a wide shadow here—even if most of us are unaware of it. The mentoring program where you volunteer? A family foundation may have given it a grant to keep its lights on and pay its staff. The training program that helped your niece or nephew find a job when they returned from prison? It may have received a foundation grant to identify industries with the most potential to pay living wages.
Private foundations are a unique institution. They are required to disburse at least 5 percent of their assets every year, but face no market accountability. They are obligated to support the “public good,” but are free to define that however they want. They affect public life, but their leaders are unelected and their business practices can be rather opaque.
While it is true that many foundations demonstrate a level of transparency, communities at large rarely understand the grant-making process, and impacted communities are rarely invited to inform it. In fact, most foundation boards are composed of individuals from communities that seem worlds apart from those being “served.”
There are other models. The Brooklyn Community Foundation, for example, recently launched a resident-led, grant-making program in the Crown Heights neighborhood that awards grants between $5,000 and $25,000. The $100,000 budgeted for the program pales in comparison to the $20 million disbursed by the foundation since its founding six years ago, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Foundations contribute mightily to strengthening Baltimore and advancing solutions and programs that make our city a more prosperous, vibrant place. But we also have a rare moment to consider their collective role in exercising equity and being responsive to communities most impacted by April’s unrest and the decades of disinvestment that precipitated it.
End Public School Apartheid
The Civil Rights Project at UCLA calls schools where whites make up less than 1 percent of the enrollment “apartheid schools.” Baltimore has apartheid schools. I teach in apartheid classrooms. They are test-driven, culturally hostile, and institutionally racist. They are not “vestiges” or accidents. As with policing and housing, they are intentional, policy-created, and policy-perpetuated—and they need to be confronted at the federal, state, and local levels.
At the federal level, the Obama administration could follow through on the recommendations of the National Coalition on School Diversity—reducing racial and economic isolation and segregation in local schools and districts, for example, and requiring states to report on efforts to promote racial and economic diversity in the public schools in order to receive federal education dollars. The administration and Congress could expand and fund the 2009 Technical Assistance for Student Assignment Plan (TASAP) grant program and the ten Equity Assistance Centers funded by the U.S. Department of Education under Title IV of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, both of which help states and school districts with desegregation. Similarly, the Justice Department and the Office of Civil Rights at the Department of Education could make educational apartheid a focus of their work as they once did in the long-ago civil rights era.
At the state level, Maryland could combat the hyper-segregation of Baltimore and Prince George’s County schools, and the growing segregation and racial isolation in its suburbs, by creating district student assignment policies that foster diverse schools, and producing inter-district programs like city-suburban transfers and regional magnet schools. For working models, Maryland could look to inter-district choice programs in Minneapolis, Rochester, and Omaha, and the eighty-four magnet schools in Connecticut designed for cross-district metropolitan desegregation.
At the local level, we can give students, families, and communities more meaningful ways to opt out of the current oppressive system. As University of Chicago urban education scholar Charles M. Payne has written, we need schools that are “intended to help people think more critically about the social forces that shape our lives and think more confidently about their ability to react against those forces.” Such schools “can take a variety of forms,” he goes on: “Freedom Schools, Afro-centric schools, Native American survival schools, Black Panther Liberation schools.” Despite the language of “choice,” such schools do not exist in Baltimore right now. Let’s build them.
Until we do, the real opportunities for intellectual liberation and genuine education for Baltimore students are in its rich community-based, co-curricular educational programs. From urban debate to spoken-word poetry to theater, photography, and political organizing, you will find amazing young intellectuals, artists, and academic stars in Baltimore. The tragedy is that they find inspiration only in the cracks of this damaging, racist school system.
Raise the Minimum Wage
In Baltimore City, nearly one quarter of residents live in poverty. They survive by making impossible choices and inhuman calculations: Should I get my medication or buy food? Can I let the BGE bill slide so I can buy school clothes for my kids?
To remedy this, we should consider raising the minimum wage from the current $8.25 per hour to $15 by 2020, enough to provide a full-time worker $31,000 per year. That’s a wage that can sustain families and honors the value of work.
Opponents of a wage increase say that companies would hire fewer workers, causing greater unemployment and higher demand for social services. Research and experience suggests that is just not the case. Over the past eighteen months, six U.S. cities and counties, including Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles, have approved $15 minimum wages without the predicted disastrous results.
In fact, raising the minimum wage would save taxpayers money and boost the economy. Providing benefits to impoverished Baltimoreans cost the government more than $102 million last year, and it’s not because they’re not working; 56 percent of public assistance recipients statewide live in households in which at least one person works. In other words, right now taxpayers are subsidizing low-wage employers. Many workers would no longer need assistance if they were paid a fair wage.
And by boosting the purchasing power of workers’ paychecks, we can generate new consumer spending and support job growth as businesses expand to meet increased customer demand. A minimum wage increase to $15 per hour would also have a profound impact on the economic status of minority workers. In our city, African Americans are nearly twice as likely to live below the poverty line than whites, and are more likely to work in low-paying jobs like food service, health care, and personal care.
When jobs pay too little, opportunity is out of reach. Raising the minimum wage will put more money in more families’ pockets, promoting economic growth and creating economic justice that makes a better Baltimore for all of us.
Build a Black Business Incubator
You can’t understand so much of the things that are happening in Baltimore now without understanding the economics in a community that has been historically ignored, and particularly the people who have been historically ignored. We have to do a better job of creating an entrepreneurial culture and entrepreneurial class in Baltimore, especially among black men and boys.
I think that we should come up with a $100 million fund that is exclusively for developing small black businesses in the city of Baltimore—and not just helping to build them now but also creating new entrepreneurial ideas and new entrepreneurial cultures. Look at what happens in Silicon Valley; look at the lack of diversity, and see how difficult it is for people to break in.
A lot of people may think $100 million is a very big number, but it’s not. Think about the philanthropicsupport that we have in the city of Baltimore, and also look at the fact that the state and the city have budgets that go toward economic development. You could take a small fraction of that money, and this could be something that could clearly move significant obstacles out of the way for economic development.
Do you care about the future of the city? Do you care about the future of Baltimore? Because there is going to be no future in Baltimore if we’re not doing a better job of incorporating black men and boys into that conversation. When we look at the next 10 years, in Baltimore, we can be a city of 800,000 and thriving. Or we can be a city of 500,000 and dying.
Heal By Design
Melissa Moore’s cure for Baltimore’s many real-world ills—creative expression through Buddhist-inspired “contemplative design”—may seem a little esoteric. To the contrary, she says, it’s an antidote to the oppression and trauma of Baltimore living: “It is above all pragmatic and essential to helping achieve economic empowerment, economic justice, and positive social transformation in our city, where there is an incredible amount of suffering and latent potential.”
Under the umbrella of the Youth Learning Lab of Education and Applied Design, (Y-LLEAD), Moore leads programs for city youth that provide lessons in product design, spiritual resilience, and economic security. Last spring’s Grow & Gather event in Greenmount West brought together community members to design a public gathering space on an empty lot. Over on the west side, the Liberty Holistic Design Village offers young adults and high school students free training in wood turning, woodworking, weaving, textile design, and other crafts. In the next year and half, Moore plans to launch an artisan-craft cooperative that produces and sells eco-friendly home goods.
“Marginalized folks are brilliant and come with ancestral knowledge, but it’s been lost or hidden or covered over by so many things,” she says. “We are all creative beings, want to have our basic needs met, and all have the ability to heal.”
Wage War on Cars
The private automobile has been an unmitigated disaster for Baltimore: We scoured holes in the heart of the city to accommodate its needs, strangled neighborhoods in ligatures of highways, and trapped our most vulnerable citizens in the dead zones left behind. The car has been the chariot of white flight, the devourer of public funds, and the solvent of social cohesion.
But its death grip over U.S. cities may be loosening. Americans are driving fewer miles every year; car-sharing and self-driving technology may make private car ownership an artifact of the last century. And Baltimore could take a lead role in this process.
Other cities have made progress on this front. London Mayor Boris Johnson established a congestion charge for drivers who wanted to enter the central city in 2003. Some 246 European cities and towns agreed to hold car-free days during a “European Mobility Week” in September. And during the pope’s recent visit, Philadelphia residents marveled at the “traffic box” that temporarily broke the siege of cars in the downtown area for two days. Residents were stunned and delighted to discover that their city’s 19th-century street plan and dense rowhouse neighborhoods suddenly made sense.
Decent transit can have a big impact on seemingly unrelated factors. In the mid-1990s, the mayor of Bogota, Colombia—a city whose crime, traffic, and general dysfunction level made Baltimore look like Geneva (think four thousand murders per year)—launched a bus rapid transit system that, combined with a network of feeder buses, a bike-path building boom, and a strict limit on cars during rush hours, tamed a seemingly ungovernable city. Crime plummeted, livability soared, and a broken place came back together.
But papal visits, occasional Sunday-morning ciclovias, and other sporadic car-free holidays are the only way we tend to get glimpses of this state in American urban space. If Baltimore got serious about reclaiming its streets, we’d go Full Bogota and permanently close key corridors to four-wheeled traffic, establish a weekday congestion charge, and radically expand bus service—a Circulator on Steroids—to liberate chronically under-served parts of town. Buses aren’t as sexy as maglev trains, floating personal-transit pods, or any of the other fanciful transit suggestions getting bandied about in the wake of the Red Line cancellation, but they’re cheap, flexible, and they actually work. Imagine, in a decade or so, fleets of electric robo-jitneys humming along placid surface streets, swift articulated rapid-transit buses tear-assing up and down I-83, and a downtown core full of humanity, not machinery.
As then-New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg learned when he tried and failed to convince state lawmakers to import Euro-style congestion pricing in the mid-aughts, any American mayor who messes with drivers is on a political suicide mission. Business leaders and suburban commuters will say that cracking down on cars in the city would be an economic disaster. They might even be right, in the short term. But so what? The suburbs have written us off anyway. The private automobile and the world it made is about to get seriously disrupted. Baltimore has a shot at being—for once—on the right side of history.
Keep Talking About It
On April 29, Andrew Copeland grabbed his Canon 7D and tailed MICA students as they poured into the streets to protest the death of Freddie Gray. Copeland, creative manager for communications at MICA, soon found himself in the midst of a march from Penn Station to Baltimore City Hall.
His photos of protesters of different races and ethnicities captured a reality that got lost in the media frenzy: “The media tried to make it seem like [the uprising] was a black and white thing,” he says. “But it was a people issue, not a one-race-versus-the-other issue.”
Copeland, 35, contributed nine images of the march to the Baltimore Uprising digital archives housed at the Maryland Historical Society, which now includes more than nine thousand submissions from amateur and professional photographers.
“The role of this project is to provide a space for the people who are directly impacted by the death of Freddie Gray, to make sure the protests are represented the way they think they should be represented, so they can control the story,” says Denise Meringolo, a University of Maryland, Baltimore County historian who helped create the archive.
The digital collection is one of several initiatives by historians to use Baltimore’s past to help move the city forward. A 2008 conference at the University of Baltimore also created a rich online trove of images, oral histories, and documents related to the 1968 riots. Back then, “people didn’t want to talk about it,” says University of Baltimore assistant professor of history Elizabeth Nix, who helped organize the conference. Today, she is in demand as a lecturer on Baltimore's segregation history.
The more people who contribute to these archives, “the better understanding we can have of history,” says Jessica Douglas, an archivist with the Maryland State Archives. “One hundred years from now, when people are researching the uprising and everyone who experienced it is long gone, there will still be an accurate record of the kids who weren’t able to get home, the people that walked ten miles in one day on a march, and the protesters outside City Hall.”
Morgan State historian David Terry, an advisor to the archive, hopes that “a much wider swath of society” will see their lives reflected in the digital collection: When people can see themselves in the context of history, he says, they’re empowered to change it.
UMB builds a fresh model for community transformation
Right around Christmas a few years ago, Dr. Richard Colgan saw a patient whose story has stayed with him ever since. "She was an older African-American woman," recalls Colgan, a professor of family and community medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in West Baltimore. "When we talked, she mentioned some vague aches and pains." After further examination, the doctor's diagnosis was that the woman's physical symptoms appeared to be fueled by emotional distress. "Over the years, she'd lost four of the men in her life because of urban woes," Colgan remembers, "including a son who had been shot and another who died of HIV/AIDS. She was feeling sad around the holidays." His voice registers compassion. "We're family doctors in the middle of Baltimore. We see violence, homelessness, and more," he explains. "We are very sensitive to the fact that a lot of people in the community we serve are not just physically ill, but hurting economically, emotionally, and perhaps spiritually."
That confluence of factors, coupled with the unrest that followed the police custody death of Freddie Gray last year, has led to a renewed commitment to community initiatives and outreach, according to UMB faculty—and not just at the medical school.
UMB President Jay A. Perman says the university has had a longstanding commitment to ending "acute" poverty. "But UMB—and the rest of the city’s anchor institutions, businesses, and nonprofits—have an obligation to do even more," he says. To that end, UMB has launched a multi-pronged effort aimed at giving West Baltimore residents more opportunities beginning in grade school stretching through college, and ultimately into potential careers. The effort represents a fresh approach to collaborating with and empowering inner-city communities. Last summer, UMB teamed up with nearby Franklin Square Elementary/Middle School on a summer camp for local students. For six weeks, about two dozen youngsters visited the campus every Friday for science, technology, engineering, and math-based activities. They also interacted with law school students, learned about financial literacy and healthy eating, and took part in recreational activities such as swimming. "Our kids are so smart, and being able to see [university] students inspires them," said Kirk Crawley, a practicing attorney who teaches history and world cultures to 7th and 8th graders at Franklin Square. "Now they're talking about becoming lawyers, doctors, and professionals, too. They're dreaming big." The university's Summer Bioscience Internship Program mentors and guides West Baltimore students from middle school all the way to possible careers in health care. In recent years, leaders have struggled to secure enough mentors to support 25 students, but last year, 36 faculty members signed up, double the previous year’s participation. "They'll spend a summer acquainting Baltimore high school students with bioscience research and inspiring them to make a career of it," Perman wrote in a campus newsletter. In September, UMB launched the Community Engagement Center in the University’s Biopark in West Baltimore's Poppleton neighborhood. The center's initiatives will include providing residents with health, legal, and social services; promote learning among area children and adults; and build residents’ capacity to advocate for policies and programs, according to Ashley R. Valis, UMB’s executive director of community initiatives and engagement. “The School of Nursing will host guest lecturers so that nursing students and neighbors alike might explore urgent community and public health issues," she said. "The ‘Just Advice' Clinic in the Carey School of Law will hold sessions, while the School of Social Work will hold a course on community and economic development." And so on.
In October, UMB announced the creation of the Continuing Umbrella for Research Experiences (CURE) Scholars Program, designed to create a “pipeline” to carry Baltimore school kids into careers in cancer research and care. The program should help increase diversity in cancer care careers—and also addresses the higher cancer rates among poor communities and communities of color.
The university is also significantly increasing the business it does with community merchants, and will help nearby residents apply for jobs on the campus. "And we’re working closely with a coalition of neighborhood organizations—the Southwest Partnership—to help our neighbors achieve the community development goals they set," says Perman.
With seven graduate schools, including those devoted to pharmacy, law, social work, and medicine, UMB is situated amid an economically, ethnically diverse urban population. Its main campus intersects several neighborhoods on the city's west side that are dealing with poverty, crime, and blight, among other issues.
“We make the mistake of treating people in low-income and black or brown communities-in-need as if they are broken, when they have merely adapted to the brokenness that was created in their lives and in their communities,” said Diane Bell-McKoy, President and CEO of Associated Black Charities. “As we move forward to support communities and provide them with the tools, information, access, opportunities, and relationships to change their lives, I also hope we have the courage to address the institutional and systemic issues and policies that created the situation we currently have in Baltimore and other cities."
In Freddie Gray’s honor, a hub for Baltimore youth
On Sunday mornings, Rev. Jamal Bryant delivers fiery sermons to a congregation of 10,000 people at Empowerment Temple Church in Northwest Baltimore.
But following the death of Freddie Gray, the new millennium minister has gained local and national attention as a social activist determined to shed light on the volatile uprising that revealed how deep the chasms are between prosperous and poor neighborhoods in Baltimore.
"The issues that face contemporary urban life are too volatile for residents to have to wait months for change. Help in these communities needs to be immediate," said Bryant. "In the competitive 21st Century, a city cannot thrive when a significant portion of its residents can't participate in its culture and economy."
With that in mind, Bryant decided in July to re-open a multi-level building owned by the church and dedicate it as the Freddie Gray Youth Empowerment Center. The three-story building is located in Bolton Hill, about a mile from Gilmore Homes, were Freddie Gray lived.
Last summer, the center hosted youth summer camp classes with enrichment programming, as well as free breakfast and lunch served daily. Campers were exposed to science, technology, engineering, and mathematics classes, as well as fitness, creative arts, leadership, entrepreneurship, and theater.
The center will also include a young adult safe-haven camp for teens, computer, and job training classes, as well as meeting space for community associations and local businesses.
Because Freddie Gray and his twin sister, Fredericka, were exposed as youngsters to lead based paint, and were found to have excessive levels in their blood, the site will also host monthly lead paint testing sessions sponsored by the law offices of Saul Kerpleman.
At a grand opening, Gray's family and dignitaries that included Maryland Lt. Governor Boyd Rutherford all took part in the building dedication ceremony.
During unrest, libraries offered a safe haven
The Enoch Pratt Free Library has long been a Baltimore institution. But the library took on new significance as the city erupted on the day of Freddie Gray's funeral.
"We decided to stay open—all branches—when the riots started on Monday," said Roswell Encina, a Pratt spokesman, explaining that the Pennsylvania Avenue Branch (at the intersection of North and Pennsylvania) became ground zero as looters smashed windows, torched police cars, and destroyed a CVS pharmacy.
When a large group of people descended toward the library, Branch Manager Melanie Townsend Diggs and her staff locked the doors, keeping the children and adults inside calm and away from the windows. When it was safe, they snuck the patrons out the back door, Encina says.
The following day, with city schools closed, Pratt officials, under the leadership of Dr. Carla Hayden, decided to open branches citywide, providing safe, nurturing spaces for the city’s kids.
"It was important to show that the Pratt is there for the community," said Encina.
When Silicon Valley tech entrepreneur Marc Andreessen and his wife, Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen, learned that the Pratt had remained open during the unrest and the days that followed, they donated $170,000 in Hewlett-Packard computers, laptops, and printers. More good news came in June, when Rep. Nancy Pelosi, a Baltimore native, presented Melanie Townsend Diggs, the Pennsylvania Avenue branch manger, with the American Library Association’s People's First Award.
What does Baltimore need? A local industry wealthy enough to pay tens of thousands of people a decent wage, profitable enough to do so for decades and competitive enough that it doesn’t move to Indonesia, Brazil, or China. … Solid employment will rebuild the city, literally (as in replacing the rapidly deteriorating water and sewer lines) by increasing tax revenues. It will provide people with a sense of purpose and savings to improve their homes and buy homes that they once could not. People will come back to the neighborhood in twenty to thirty years as a professional in some industry and a role model for a future generation.
Baltimore is a city without an industry, a city that’s been brutalized by the drug war, a city divided along color lines and poverty lines. Decades of “the new Jim Crow” have turned our streets into combat zones. But at this moment we have before us an unprecedented opportunity: We can save Baltimore with legal cannabis.
I see a thriving cannabis economy where there used to be illicit open-air drug markets. I see ancillary companies that buy up vacant properties for vertically integrated manufacturing facilities and offer job training, partnering with local schools, and finding their employees in the community. I see nonviolent offenders being put back to work in an industry that values their insight and experience. I see police who don’t have to waste their time locking up cannabis smokers and communities that appreciate cops who aren’t at war.
Do you see it?
I’ve lived in Sandtown for five and a half years now. I have been honored to work with leaders within the community like C.W. Harris and Antoine Bennett. However, they need more support—expertise, training, support staff, and funding.
Baltimore City’s political and business leadership needs to stop practicing “trickle-down” political economy and pouring massive resources into downtown areas as opposed to the less developed neighborhoods. Privileged people in Baltimore—particularly those who live in the “White L”—need to think about how they are either reinforcing or tearing down the structural barriers that hold people back.