In April of 2015, Baltimore City's civil unrest made international news. Immediately following, a flurry of meetings was called by elected officials, philanthropic organizations and faith based groups to discuss change. There was a huge push to rebuild what was lost and make up for the decades of inequality that fueled the unrest. But two years later, nothing really has changed.
The major difference now is that the national news cameras have left, and the groups who rushed to organize have again turned their backs on West Baltimore.
Does anyone really give a damn about us?
I am encouraged by the community development work I see taking place in East Baltimore, but have to ask why there is no such collaborative, focused and financed effort in West Baltimore. We have major assets such as Druid Hill Park, Mondawmin Mall (albeit soon to be without its anchor Target), Baltimore City Community College, Coppin State University, MICA and University of Maryland, Baltimore, that could be leveraged around which to plan and produce major community revival.
But first, someone must give a damn.
Clearly Southern Baptist Church and Johns Hopkins University and hospital cared enough about East Baltimore to lead that redevelopment charge, but who really gives a damn about West Baltimore? What is that West Baltimore anchor institution that is willing to put its blood, sweat and tears into making this side of the city an archetype for urban American renewal?
Healthy neighborhoods identify their strengths and then use them to make their communities even stronger. West Baltimore has strengths, but what we don't have is authentic interest in helping us create transformative changes. West Baltimore has pockets of community development, but we lack a comprehensive plan for contiguous renewal.
Last month, Gov. Larry Hogan visited West Baltimore to kick off the redevelopment of Walbrook Mill through Project C.O.R.E., which stands for Creating Opportunities for Renewal and Enterprise. The event was well attended and the effort highly celebrated, as it should have been. But you cannot have true community rebirth and revival by rebuilding structures alone. Long term and transformative change must rebuild properties, yes, but there must also be an intentional focus on rebuilding people. So while I salute Governor Hogan for the Project Core awards, Project Core alone will not heal West Baltimore.
My friends, the cameras are gone. The headlines no longer speak of Penn North. Pharmacies are no longer burning. All of this has allowed too many to return to the behavior that has made and continues to keep West Baltimore down. The West Baltimore we see today did not come to be by happenstance. It is what it was designed and destined to be by years of disfranchisement, disinvestment and disinterest.
As a pastor who believes dry bones can live, I do give a damn about West Baltimore. I have managed a Safe Streets site for four years. I started an HIV ministry, partnered with Goodwill Industries on workforce development needs; and served with many trying to better our schools and create access to well programmed and maintained green space for all of Baltimore.
I now want a real plan, inclusive of funding, for West Baltimore.
As my friend Baltimore City Council member Leon Pinkett says: “I want to promise every West Baltimore child in kindergarten today, by the time you graduate high school in 2030, your community will be much different because its better.”
So that’s the goal. Join us in shaping what we call “West Baltimore 2030” — because we give a damn, and you should too.
Franklin Lance (firstname.lastname@example.org) is senior pastor at Mount Lebanon Baptist Church and executive director for the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council.