OSI awards $337,500 from money raised after rioting

OSI distributes $337,500 in grants from fund created after Baltimore unrest.

Open Society Institute-Baltimore issued $337,500 in grants from money the nonprofit raised after the April riots to programs aimed at addressing structural racism and problems in the criminal justice system.

The money will go to 13 programs designed to "address some of the most enduring, entrenched issues affecting our city," according to the organization. That includes $25,000 to the You're the Quarterback program to help fathers in West Baltimore make themselves better candidates for jobs, secure stable housing and become better providers.

OSI's Baltimore Justice Fund raised $800,000 after the death of Freddie Gray and the unrest that followed. This is the first round of grants from the fund; most were for $25,000.

Most of the money went to programs run by former OSI fellows. That offered a way for the nonprofit to get the funds into the community quickly, organizers said.

Pamela King, the director of OSI's community fellowships and initiatives, said supporting former fellows also made sense because they've "really dug in and stuck with" their commitments to the city, working to address systemic problems that organizers say helped to fuel the unrest.

"This is an opportunity to say, 'We believe in you. You've been doing wonderful things,'" King said. "This is OSI saying, 'We are investing in the work you do, because of its value and because of your commitment.'"

The fund is intended to support programs to improve police accountability and relationships between officers and the communities they serve.

It also is intended to help people who have been arrested and to engage young people and others in advocacy for their communities.

Lawrence Brown, a community fellow from 2012, will receive $25,000 for You're the Quarterback. The program has served 125 men in Upton; Brown hopes to expand it with more services to more people.

Brown said the program has connected with fathers at the Union Baptist Harvey Johnson Head Start Center, who meet in group sessions called huddles to help the men develop playbooks for success. They help the men connect to services, catch up on child support payments and complete their educations.

The money from the OSI grant will be used to find permanent space for the program, hire a new staff member and pursue nonprofit status, Brown said. He wants to expand services to help the men find jobs and become entrepreneurs.

"We felt we needed wrap-around services directed at men," Brown said. "Many services are aimed at women and mothers of children. What better metaphor for men than football? To help them think about the barriers in their life, we make it analogous to defense. Their family is their team."

King said Brown's program works with some of the city's most marginalized people: ex-convicts, the unemployed and the homeless.

Brown called the grant a "very powerful commitment."

"We're going to take those resources and use them right away," Brown said. "This is a moment of great opportunity. It takes people realizing that now is the time to really make the sort of changes that are needed so we can have a different outcome in the future."

Other grants went to programs that give young people an opportunity to express themselves through art, serve homeless youth who have been exposed to trauma, address hunger in West Baltimore and help former convicts in Sandtown-Winchester.

Renita Seabrook, a professor of criminal justice at the University of Baltimore, said such programs can speak directly to the disenfranchised, and understand what they need to move forward.

"You have to invest in people," said Seabrook, a 2014 OSI fellow. She founded Helping Others 2 Win, a program for female ex-offenders and those who are incarcerated.

"The great thing about a grass-roots organization, you hear the pulse of the people," she said. "You are right at the heart of understanding the needs of the community."

ywenger@baltsun.com

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