Annapolis community specialists launch outreach efforts next week

Danielle Ohl
Contact Reporterdohl@capgaznews.com

Two members of Mayor Gavin Buckley’s administration will help host a community engagement event next week, marking their first large-scale outreach to members of the African American and Hispanic communities.

Adriana Lee, Annapolis’ Hispanic community services specialist, and Adetola Ajayi, the African American community service specialist, will help host an event Wednesday to connect residents from traditionally marginalized communities with city services and job opportunities.

The event, held in Pip Moyer Recreational Center, serves to launch engagement efforts between the city and the Hispanic and African American communties. The goal is for these meetings to become regular, said William Rowel, the city’s community relations specialist.

The City Council Finance Committee has recommended funding Lee’s position full-time. The Hispanic liaison under former Mayor Michael Pantelides administration was a part-time position. Ajayi and Larry Griffin, a second African American community liaison, both work part time. The Finance Committee supported funding Ajayi’s position as well. Their positions mirror the mission of the Hispanic and African American liaisons established under Pantelides, but are more focused on proactive outreach and “intention,” Rowel said.

Griffin could not be reached for comment.

Lee immigrated to the United States from Mexico in 1998 and worked in project management. Most recently, she worked for the Center Of Help, a local non-profit dedicated to helping Hispanics and Latinos in Annapolis. Lee built a rapport that has helped establish trust after she moved to her city position, said executive director Sean Schneider.

“Knowing her and what drive and engagement she is going to bring, that lends greater confidence already,” Schneider said.

Ajayi is a native Annapolitan who has been active in the African-American community, co-founding Black Wall Street, a business-focused community engagement organization. Ajayi, a critic of the Pantelides administration during the election, said his burgeoning interest in politics lead him to connect with Mayor Gavin Buckley during his campaign.

The work Ajayi and Lee do to connect their respective communities to the city is a part of Buckley’s goal of inclusivity, or “One Annapolis,” Rowel said. African American people make up about 25 percent of the Annapolis population, according to the 2016 U.S. Census. Hispanic and Latino people make up another 20 percent of the population.

The Buckley administration has targeted these communities not only for their size, but because they have a “history adding to the fabric of Annapolis,” Rowel said, but have increasingly been pushed to “places where their involvement in the city’s evolution has not been fully acknowledged and hasn’t been tapped.”

Both Lee and Ajayi hope to help their respective communities reengage and grow alongside the city. The city’s immigrant Hispanic and Latino community, beyond the language barrier, needs assistance learning government processes that might be different from the ones in their home countries, Lee said. The African American community, especially residents living in public housing, still suffers from wealth and education disparity, Ajayi said.

A first step toward bridging these gaps is outreach — which can include doorknocking or showing up at churches on Sundays or talking to department heads to gauge how the city is struggling to connect.

“It’s amazing what we can do… ,” Lee said, “but we are starting with the basics.”

The city has started to translate forms to Spanish and launched projects in public housing communities, including a mural-painting event with young people living in Newtowne 20.

Carl Snowden, convener of the Caucus of African American Leaders, said the outreach has already started to have an impact.

“A lot of people were just unaware of what types of services city government provides,” said Snowden, a guest columnist for The Capital. “Citizens of color have not necessarily felt a connection to City Hall.”

The launch Wednesday will start at 5 p.m. and end at 8 p.m., with transportation available at 4:30 p.m. from Eastport Community Center, Olive Community Life Center, Stanton Community Center and Forest Drive Safeway Forest Drive. The event will be bilingual and include child care. Lee and Ajayi will speak, along with other city and community officials, and host breakout sessions.

For more information, visit the OneAnnapolis Community Engagement Launch event at https://www.facebook.com/events/996019237218039/.

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