Friday, February 21, 2020

Taffy Gwitira: For the most part we do not feel represented

Today's take on Baltimore and the upcoming elections comes from an immigrant perspective with a clear focus on Baltimore. A view that is sharpened by decades of work in the health and human services sector. Many know Tafadzwa Gwitiri from the Impact Hub on North Avenue.  Others from her work at the Farm Based Education Network or in her capacity as a Board member of the University of Maryland School of Social Work or her position at the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board Public Advisory Committee.  Most call her Taffy because it's hard to pronounce her first name.
Taffy Gwitira

Taffy combines a global perspective (she speaks five languages) with the local on the ground view of an activist.

Taffy Gwitira

·  Are you overall optimistic about Baltimore or pessimistic? Why?
I am optimistic about Baltimore, because we have some of the most hard-working, talented and innovative people on earth.  Most people in Baltimore, believe in the worth and depth and breadth of their community and family, and friends.

·  What three issues do you suggest should be the top priority of the new Mayor?
Education, Housing and Transportation.

·  If you were to advise a candidate for Mayor what would be your best suggestion?
To hire the best people to work for city government, and have accountability and transparency at all levels of city government.

·  Do you think the Mayor has too much power or not enough?
Currently too much power.

·  What should the next US President should do for cities?
Heavily invest in them, particularly in infrastructure.  Encourage them to be connected to and use global frameworks like the sustainable development goals and human rights instruments, so that they are globally competitive.
Baltimore, similar rowhouses everywhere but
so much difference their value (Photo: Philipsen)
·  What recent local fact has given you hope for Baltimore?
The opening of new schools, connected to the community.

·  What recent local fact has depressed you the most?
The number of shootings, fatal and non-fatal in the city.

·  Do you think the people of Baltimore feel represented by the Mayor and the City Council? Do you support any particular candidates?
I think the term people of of Baltimore is such a broad term.  I am what indigenous people would call a settler. Baltimore has been my adopted home for almost twenty years, and I love it.  The "real" people of Baltimore are those who were born and raised here. The reason I mention this, is because often times we center and elevate the voices of everyone else other than those people.  To answer this question I will include all of us including transplants who love Baltimore as home, not as a pit stop, and not just the inner harbor or tourist attractions.  No, for the most part we do not feel represented by the mayor and some members of the city council.  Priority, resources, capacity is celebrated, allowed, and given to philanthropy, businesses, religious affiliations and institutions, so-called anchor institutions, and basically anyone other than actual people who live and work in community.  It oftentimes seems like the city is working for the aforementioned organizations, and not the people pf Baltimore. I would be lying if I said that I have a favorite for mayor, but I am unequivocally an unashamed Ryan Dorsey supporter, always.
Mural on Open Works on Greenmount Ave
(Photo Philipsen)
·  What personal contribution to Baltimore are you most proud of?
Consistently fighting for access for black, brown and immigrant voices in all facets of transportation advocacy, and place making.

·  Any final thought?
I was born and raised in the Global South. I am so proud to be from Zimbabwe and Tanzania. These are both places that have incredible disparity and disinvestment. There are however extraordinary resources , often times untapped and misappropriated, but even in places where we think there is scarcity, the abundance is always in the people. This is true for Baltimore as well.  


Tafadzwa Gwitira has worked in various health and human service sectors for twenty years. These include child care, family literacy, teaching ESOL, healthcare, managing three assisted living facilities and public policy. Born in Tanzania, and raised in Zimbabwe, she speaks five languages. She is passionate about communities being involved and supported to reach their highest potential. She is committed to social change that is intersectional, inclusive, innovative and just. She is certified in community building strategies and is a Certified Public Manager. Tafadzwa was an Opportunity Collaborative Fellow, a member of Cohort IX of Associated Black Charities , Board Professional Training, and was also awarded an Annie E Casey training in Results Based Accountability.
Baltimore transportation: Upton subway station,
one line doesn't make a network. (Photo: Philipsen)

She attended the White House Opportunity Project in March 2016 as a community advocate, and also the inaugural Every Place Counts Leadership Academy, hosted by the US Department of Transportation, as one of a cohort of national community transportation leaders, to review and give input on the first ever National Transportation Toolkit. She also participated in the United Nation’s Association’s Maryland Consultation on the Post 2015 Millennium Development goals. Her advocacy has also included the creation of a pilot program for prepartum and postpartum African immigrant women in Baltimore city in 2015, and speaking on behalf of African Immigrants , at the United Nations Special Inquiry into Human Rights abuses in Baltimore.

She believes that local issues mirror global issues and has had training with the United Nations Institute for Training and Research in governance in urban sanitation, international roles in public finance and debt management, gender and humanitarian action, and humanitarian action and peace-building.

She serves on the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board Public Advisory Committee and the board of the University of Maryland School of Social Work Community Outreach Services. She is part of Future Harvest Chesapeake Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture, Beginner Farmer Training Program,and a senior fellow with the Environmental Leadership Program of the Chesapeake Region.At home she loves to read, cook, garden and go fishing.

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