For Joe Jones, the founder of Center for Urban Families, the march held along Pennsylvania Avenue in West Baltimore was personal.
As Jones walked with his staff, promoting the ALL in for Opportunity campaign, he couldn’t help but remember the life he used to live, one full of drugs and crime. Jones started using heroin when he was 13 years old and not long after, became incarcerated.
This year marks the 20th anniversary of Center for Urban Families, which has served 1,400 men and women per year and was praised by the Obama administration.
On Monday afternoon, roughly 45 staff members and graduates of the center’s programs walked almost 2 miles along Pennsylvania Avenue, handing out pamphlets declaring, “We’re all in together,” a message they say needs to be heard in West Baltimore.
The organization focuses on targeting chronic unemployment and family instability.
“We invest so much in prison and police,” Jones said. “We invest so little in families.”
The purpose of the march was to be a visual presence in the neighborhood.
“It’s a sign for hope that you are not forgotten,” said Marilyn Aklin, a spokesperson for the center.
The march was held on the same strip where some protests occurred four years ago after Freddie Gray died from injuries suffered in police custody.
“Freddie Gray, it could’ve been any of us,” said Jones, who describes himself as a “recovering knucklehead.”
“It was a personal attack on him, but it could’ve happened to any community with that level of poverty and people who feel hopeless.”
Said Aklin: “We want them to know there are people who believe they can achieve if they have access and support” .
Aubrey Swann, 24, from the Walbrook neighborhood, graduated from STRIVE Baltimore, a pre-employment training program, in 2017. At the time, Swann was broke, jobless and on probation for a drug charge. “I was mad at the world,” Swann said. “I didn’t trust anyone.”
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Through the help with the organization, Swann was able to find a stable job that allows him to pay both his and mom’s bills.
“There are children taking care of children,” said Swann, who grew up without a dad, “because nine out of 10 times the dad is out of their lives and their moms are either on drugs or working.
“That’s where the problem starts — home.”
ALL in for Opportunity follows the city’s school system’s concerted effort this past spring to forge avenues for fathers to play a bigger role in their children’s education. The nonprofit was one of the organizations selected to work with school officials to draft father-focused initiatives into the education system.
Not long after, in May, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young opened a new office specifically designed to ensure that children and families in the city have the resources and support systems needed to thrive.
“People just need the right kind of support,” Jones said, “and that should not be underestimated.”