Baltimore council president proposes Associated Black Charities take control of city's new $12M youth fund

Baltimore City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young is proposing that Associated Black Charities take control of the city’s new voter-manded $12 million youth fund — with the plan of giving out grants to small community organizations that work with young people.

Young planned to introduce legislation Monday that sets the framework for the Baltimore-based charity to begin awarding grants to organizations that run academic, artistic and sports programs for youth. Potential winners could be groups that hold winter coat giveaways and run recreation centers, he said.

“The ones I want to get funding are the ones who have never gotten funding and are doing great things in the community,” Young said.

Under Young’s plan, Associated Black Charities would decide who gets the grants in the program’s first year, and the organization will create a new entity to do the work afterward.

Diane Bell-McKoy, president of Associated Black Charities, said she’s excited about the possible new responsibility, but knows it’s only temporary.

“We want to keep this very lean and make sure we do this right,” she said.

Bell-McKoy said it was important to use the youth fund money to help undo the effects of structural racism.

“We’re clear the issue of racial inequality is really driven by institutional and structural racism,” she said. “We don’t view people as broken. We view people as having strength and assets to bring to the table.

“That doesn’t mean it’s not inclusive of other races. But if we want to change the outcomes for people of color long-term, you’ve got to have a racial equity framework.”

Voters authorized the $12 million youth fund last November. Some say they’re frustrated the money — which Mayor Catherine Pugh put in this year’s budget in July — hasn’t started going out to local groups yet.

Tonya Taliaferro, who is known as Aida Sun Q and runs an organization called Black Voices MusiQ Learning Lab, said city leaders haven’t shown enough urgency to get the funding in the hands of community members.

“I’m hoping they’ll live up to what they say they’re going to do ultimately,” she said. “If they do what they say they're going to do, everything will be cool. But they’re already failing on urgency. You have the money sitting there. Why not do something?”

Young is urging patience as the City Council begins to work on the legislation.

“This Youth Fund will be around for a very long time, so the main directive has been to ‘get it right,’” his office said in an FAQ. “The Fund will exist long after most of us have moved on. The Council President fought for a dedicated Youth Fund because often the same well-connected organizations receive the majority fo available grant dollars from the City.”

Young said he’s tried to get the city to spend more on youth programming for decades. He said he was rebuffed by the finance departments of four mayors.

“I had no support,” he said. “I tried it under [former Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke]. I went and asked Martin [O’Malley]. There was pushback from the finance department. I tried with Sheila [Dixon].”

Once Young became City Council president, he said, he knew how to get the bill passed.

When then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake vetoed his youth fund bill — she called it fiscally irresponsible — Young said he talked to council members individually and persuaded them to override the veto. They did, the measure was placed on last year’s general election ballot, and it passed overwhelmingly.

“I told council people, “Do you want to be seen as not voting for something for kids?’ ” he said.

By law, the city's contribution to the youth fund is determined by the value of assessable property. The latest estimate of the city's assessable base is $40.4 billion, which means $12.1 million in taxpayer money was funneled to the youth fund in the budget year that began July 1.

It is likely to increase in future years as the value of property increases.

The co-chairmen of a task force Young created to offer advice on how to implement the youth fund say it’s an opportunity to rethink how philanthropy is done in Baltimore.

John Brothers, who oversees philanthropic activities at T. Rowe Price, said the goal is to figure out ways to ensure small organizations can compete for grants in the same way large entities can.

“How many times do you get to create a philanthropic institution?” he asked. “These dollars are going to organizations that know these communities very well.”

Adam Jackson, CEO of the Baltimore think tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, said grant-making by city officials has typically been “very arbitrary and highly subjective.”

“This will be the first opportunity Baltimore has to really have community engagement on a large pot of money,” he said.

Jackson said community meetings about the youth fund have been packed.

“It showed the need,” he said. “A lot of people were like, ‘Finally I can get resources for my program.’ ”

A public hearing and work session on the bill will be scheduled after the legislation is introduced. Young said he plans for the bill to pass before the end of 2017.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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