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Newsmaker

Baltimore’s Jason Bass turns connecting the community and the hospitality industry into a new profession

Jason Bass is a connector. From being a party promoter and liquor rep early in his 20s to his successful Night Brunch series, a diverse party that has been a fixture in Baltimore’s nightlife scene for the past five years, Bass has made it an art to bring people together.

As the director of culture and impact at Hotel Revival in Mt. Vernon — the position is a first for Hyatt Hotels — Bass is putting his ability to bring people together during a time of racial reckoning to the test.

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“It’s a crazy thing,” Bass, 42, said. “I got a job during the pandemic.”

As a resident of Mt. Vernon, Bass frequented the hotel and its top floor restaurant, Topside. Eventually, Bass started putting on events at the hotel through his organization, Night Brunch.

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“I was a fan of the space,” Bass recalled. “When Donte Johnson [the hotel’s GM] started working there, I introduced myself to him. He ended up asking me questions and vetting me. He wanted me to make the space more inclusive and open to the community.”

Two years later, after having served in a consulting role helping produce events and social impact initiatives, he works full-time at the 107-room, 14-story boutique hotel.

In February, Bass was presented with the 2021 Icon of Culture Award by the Independent Lodging Congress as part of its annual INDIE Awards, which recognizes the achievements of independent hospitality enterprises that have created unique hotel cultures.

In 2020, Bass was recognized by the Baltimore Business Journal as one of its “Leaders in Diversity” and by the Baltimore Times with a “Positive People Award.”

Bass bridges the gap between the community and the hotel, according to Johnson.

“We hadn’t ingratiated ourselves with the neighborhood,” he said. “No one knew what we are all about. The community has been socialized not to trust big buildings. Over the years, I hope the people in Baltimore have gotten to know me, but I’m not the best person to tell Baltimore what it needs. I feel like an outsider.”

Bass is behind a number of initiatives at the hotel, such as programming at the hotel during Black History Month, including a showing of the HBO documentary “A Choice of Weapons: Inspired by Gordon Parks,” and various events surrounding the CIAA basketball tournament, virtual events and conversations revolving around mental health, Juneteenth and International Yoga Day.

Bass also helped lead food and supply giveaway efforts at the hotel as the pandemic wore on. In addition, the hotel has allowed displaced restaurant industry types to use the cooking facilities as a ghost kitchen.

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“Jason has a true connection with the community,” Johnson said. “When we were thinking how to put this together, we wanted to think about helping the city. The best way to do that is build a connection with folks. That’s Jason as a person.”

Jasmine Norton was able to move her restaurant concept The Urban Oyster to the hotel for nine months during the pandemic after closing her original location in McHenry Row. She calls Bass a “Godsend” for allowing her to work at the hotel rent-free during that time.

“That allowed us to come up for air. It also allowed us to get in front of a new set of customers. It allowed us to take time to figure out our next move,” she said. “It allowed us to rebound in a better way and it allowed us to keep the Urban Oyster alive.”

She credits Bass with sustaining her restaurant dreams.

“I didn’t know what I was going to do,” she recalled. “When he reached out, that was the lifesaver that was thrown out to me in the middle of the ocean. I don’t know what I would have done with Urban Oyster had Jason not reached out to me.”

Through Bass, the hotel has forged business relationships with a slew of Black-owned companies. Lor Tush, a women-run eco-friendly toilet paper company now provides toilet paper for the hotel. Black Acres, a Baltimore-based coffee company offers in-room coffee service. And Bass has brought in several artists for installations in the hotel and for a street mural in front of the building. Sole Wash, a black owned sneaker cleaning and restoration service, operates in the hotel on Friday and Saturday. They clean as many as 30 pairs of sneakers at a time.

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“They deserved some love,” said Bass, who graduated with a bachelor of science in business management from the University of Phoenix and a master of business administration in marketing from the University of Baltimore. “Hotels feel like little institutions. They pop into communities and don’t interact with people — not in a significant way.”

Bass also works internally to make sure he gets buy-in from the hotel’s staff.

“I really try and get the other employees in the ecosystem to understand why my role is important and how it affects them every day,” he explained. “You don’t want to be seen as someone on the outside. You want to be seen as someone on the inside.”

He added: “The hardest part was really understanding the hotel community. It tends to be the most inhospitable place. They don’t always treat non-customers with respect. It’s not just about the person who booked the room and made reservation in the restaurant. It’s about the people and community that surrounds it and the space that the property exists in.”

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Bass said he wants to buck the traditional approach that hotels have had when it comes to attracting and retaining Black guests.

“It challenges what Black luxury looks like,” Bass said. “We have been looking at luxury from a colonizer’s viewpoint.”

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He also wants to challenge the way that employees like himself are presented in a larger sense.

“I’ve been given space to dress as my authentic self. It’s a mix of streetwear and smart casual,” Bass explained. “I’ll have a hoodie on, which has been demonized in the past. I’ll show up with an officer’s coat from Todd Snyder, joggers from Uniqlo, and a denim shirt from Billy Reid. I’m over 200 pounds. I have tattoos, I have a beard and long hair. All of those things together are threatening.”

Ultimately, he hopes his approach of building better inclusive relationships between communities and hospitality providers will spread.

“From an industry perspective, I hope it inspires them to create these positions using me as an example,” Bass said. “I can affect change on a larger scale. Hopefully that is with Hyatt or alongside Hyatt.”

This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at khigh@baltsun.com.


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