Friday, April 22, 2016

Good News Baltimore asks What is Progress?

News about Baltimore on local TV is frequently limited to shootings and fires; on the national scale the city is known for the Wire and, lately, the riots.  There is one organization which was created to broadcast a different kind of news: Good News Baltimore.
GNB is an organization that produces progressive programming in an effort to educate, entertain, and most of all inspire the residents of Baltimore. Our vision is to highlight leadership in the areas of local business, education, and civic responsibility. We accomplish this by filming docu-news and video style packages that examine newly formed and ongoing community initiatives. (website)
Sharayna Ashanti
Yesterday the news people went outside their studios near City Hall and organized together with OSI and the Walters Art Museum one of the many events on the anniversary of the uprising. This one was titled What is progress?  - Reflections one year later.

Walters Director Julia Marciari-Alexander opened the evening by saying "Museums are a place of safe haven for difficult conversations; public discourse"

OSI Baltimore director Diana Morris spoke of systemic racism in Baltimore and the problem of providing sufficient mobility and access to the resources. But then she rattled off some of the significant changes she attributes to the uprising, a fairly good list which clearly shows that things are not the same:

  • Grassroot groups like the No Boundaries Coalition 
  • New Police accountability legislation
  • Dept of Justice investigation 
  • New Mayor
  • New council
  • New police chief

Martha Gay, the person responsible for Community Benefits at Kaiser Permanente,  the health care provider. She described how the unrest had brought her company to see that they needed to address health issues "upstream" not by admonishing to eat better or move more but by fighting poverty, the root cause for poor health outcomes. She promised that much will be seen coming from Kaiser Permanente. Regardless of what the actual delivery will be, the insight that poverty causes more bad health outcomes than anything else is certainly worth noting. One can hope that her corporation stands as an example for more Baltimore businesses to understand that business cannot flourish in the long run if large parts of the population are left behind.

The messengers of the good news sat on the stage of the lower level Walters auditorium. They were:
The panel

Photographer Devin Allen, Aaron Bryant of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Sharayna Ashanti of Muse 360 Arts, Kathleen Starghill Sherrill of AIA Maryland, and Joseph Jones of Center for Urban Families (CFUF), each telling their own personal stories of engagement for a better Baltimore.

Devin Allen's story I reported yesterday, his sudden rise to fame thanks to his photo on the cover of TIME. He said what mattered to him was his work with youth, his distributing free cameras to the youth of Sandtown so they can learn photography as a from of self expression or a tool to document their surroundings. Devin holds a job with Under Armour. The uprising was "the end of people sitting on their asses"

Aaron Bryant is the chair of the Mayor's Commission that advises about the future of Confederate Statues in Baltimore. He kept coming back to the phrase that you can't be what you can't see with which he meant that folks in impoverished communities need role models. "If you create structures of violence you create cultures of violence."  He observed from his perspective as a historian he is seeing something similar to the sixties when the pot started boiling the last time.  "The lid is off" he said.
Devin Allen

Sharayna Ashanti did not grow up in Baltimore but choose it as her home. She teaches young people dancing and she takes them outside Baltimore for experiences. She spoke about being a one person operation and the permanent lack of funds, nevertheless she is said to serve over 1000 youth annually through her 360 arts non profit.
"Bridge the gap and really find out what people need."
Kathleen Sherrill

Kathleen Sherril spoke about how her parents wanted her to be something different than the common expectation of the time (nurse, teacher) and she picked architecture, something that many can't even pronounce let alone understand what it is. She said she was only one under 400 licensed female black architects in the entire country. She engages with schools and teaches adjunct at Morgan to show young people how architecture is an expression of culture and history. She pointed to Upton where much of the African American history has been wiped out "on purpose", as she observed. "If you don't know your history what do you have pride in?"

Joseph Jones recounted the support his organization gave to an ex offender to get licensed as an exterminator, clean up his credit, by a house and run his own business.  The exterminator told him that when he sweeps in front of his house the kids coming by call him "mister". His organization has worked on workforce development and family service since 1999. He stressed how important work is for dignity. (An WP article quoting Joe Jones about the specific disadvantages boys in poverty face found can be found here).

Students from the Baltimore Debate Club offered comments from the floor. Young people have no voice, one of them said, the uprising gave them one.
Art and culture at the Walters

Most Baltimoreans have probably never heard of any of these individuals. There are hundreds more like them. In spite of OSI and the resolve of so many organizations to fund grass roots initiatives in Baltimore, the ones on stage felt that they were largely left to their own devices. It is this patchwork of initiatives from within that gives Baltimore a chance to not only move on but forward and upward.

This week's countless events recounting the injustices and the problems also bear in themselves the solutions. It looks like people begin to listen and engage. The Walter's auditorium was filled to capacity and not only by the usual suspects.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA