Ad campaign urges Baltimore to consider 'structural racism'

Ad campaign challenges Baltimore residents to rethink racism.

A group of Baltimore's business, religious and philanthropic leaders is attempting to spur conversation about what it calls structural racism by placing ads in the city's newspapers.

A full-page ad appeared in Friday's Afro-American newspaper asserted: "THE TIME IS NOW ... for real, inclusive and transformative change." It's scheduled to appear in other newspapers in the coming days.

The ad says structural racism is "the long-term result of laws, policies, attitudes and approaches based on skin color that have systematically benefited many whites, but routinely disadvantaged and alienated many nonwhites."

Examples of structural racism include laws and policies that prevented minorities from buying homes in certain neighborhoods and banks refusing to offer loans to minority borrowers. The ad directs people to a website with information about structural racism, as well as links to groups that are doing work in Baltimore to combat poverty and inequality.

"After what happened in April, we're clear that lots of the challenges we face in this city — as in other cities — is really a product of structural racism," said Diane Bell-McKoy, president of Associated Black Charities of Maryland and one of 28 leaders who signed their names to the ad.

The signatories have been involved in seminars hosted by the Aspen Institute, an education and policy studies nonprofit. Local leaders who participated in Aspen events dating back to 2011 formed a "Baltimore Aspen Workgroup" to continue discussing and dissecting issues of racism.

Following the death in April of Freddie Gray, who suffered a spinal cord injury while in police custody, and the rioting, looting and arsons the day of his funeral, members of the group decided to take their conversation to a broader audience.

"The events of April made clear in a really public way that there's a tremendous amount of pain, but there's also a tremendous amount of conversations that haven't yet been had, levels of understanding we haven't reached yet," said Michael Sarbanes, a teacher from Southwest Baltimore who signed the ad.

Other signatories include people who work in education, nonprofits, churches and businesses.

"I signed it because it's time to say what it is and ... say that we can do better," said Sheldon Caplis, a businessman who grew up in the city and now lives in Pikesville.

An ad is scheduled to appear Sunday in The Baltimore Sun, and ads are also scheduled to appear in The Daily Record and the Baltimore Business Journal next week, according to Gretchen Susi, director of the Aspen Institute Roundtable on Community Change. The ads cost a total of $10,000, Susi said, paid for by a grant from the Baltimore-based Annie E. Casey Foundation. The foundation declined to comment.

The ad is posted online at

Baltimore Sun reporter Yvonne Wenger contributed to this article.

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