Beating drums and carrying banners, dozens of young people marched through West Baltimore Tuesday afternoon in support of the city’s new $12 million youth fund.
The march began at the Penn North Kids Safe Zone in Sandtown — a community center created to protect youth from harm after the riot of 2015 — and ended at Frederick Douglass High School, where the students called for City Council to pass legislation that would direct more funding to programs in their neighborhoods.
Nina Davis, 16, a student enrolled in the Baltimore Intersection program, said young people have advocated repeatedly for the fund since it was proposed by City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young.
Young has said the fund’s goal is to help youth in some of Baltimore’s poorest communities.
“After the uprising of 2015, our city felt broken, youth specifically felt blamed and targeted for the crippling results of years of structural inequalities,” Davis said. “The children and youth fund is a historic opportunity the City Council has taken to invest in us.”
A City Council committee unanimously approved the legislation Tuesday. A full council vote is expected next month.
“This is something we worked very hard for,” Young said. “It’s meant to go to grassroots organizations who are out doing the work.”
Before the march began, Rep. Elijah Cummings told Young that the creation of the youth fund “should be one of your proudest moments.”
“This act will affect the destiny of our children for years to come,” he said.
Kids Safe Zone founder Ericka Alston-Buck, who helped organize the march, said she hopes to raise awareness about the available funding for small community organizations that typically don’t get grants — such as those that meet in church basements, vacant laundromats and people’s homes.
“Our march is to include the kids, so they can ask for their own money and support,” she said.
City Councilman Zeke Cohen, who also helped organize the march, said it shows that while the issue of juveniles committing crimes has dominated recent local news cycles, many more young people are engaged in positive activities.
“Young people are reclaiming their narrative,” he said. “We know the vast majority of children in our city are compassionate, resilient and care deeply about Baltimore. That’s why this march and the youth fund is so important.”
Young has submitted legislation that would bring the city one step closer to distributing money from a $12 million fund for children and teens that was created when city voters overwhelmingly approved the new approach to funding youth programs last year.
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. The size of the fund is likely to increase in future years as property values increase.
For the first year of the fund, Young has proposed, based on a task force’s recommendations, that Associated Black Charities take the lead in distributing the grants and then set up a new organization to do so going forward.
Young’s legislation requires the new organization have “a focus on youth leadership and governance.”
Cohen said that detail is key.
“Young people are not only the beneficiaries of these dollars but they actually will have a leadership voice in how these dollars are distributed,” he said.
Other details are less clear. Information about how often the fund will be audited, who ultimately will sit on the board that gives out the money and how board members will pick some organizations over others is not included in Young’s legislation.
Lester Davis, a spokesman for Young, said more details will be released in a memorandum of understanding between the city and Associated Black Charities that will go before the Board of Estimates for a vote.
He said the fund will be audited by Comptroller Joan Pratt’s office and applicants will have to meet specific criteria to win grants.
A presentation about the fund states that, among other requirements, organizations must have a specific plan for the money to win a grant.
“For consideration for the Youth Fund, the organization applying will need to have a plan outlined on how it will obtain impact for young people in the neighborhoods and communities it aims to serve, especially in Baltimore’s disenfranchised neighborhoods and communities,” the presentation states. “This plan can include a realistic timetable, plan and overall budget.”
Young said he hopes to work with applicants to ensure they can get funding if they meet the mission of helping youth.
Community activist Kim Trueheart, who has watched the process closely, said she supports the overall mission of the youth fund but wants to make sure grant-makers are using reliable data when selecting which organizations are actually helping the neediest students.
“I like the fact that we’re trying to flip the script with the distribution of the funds and attempt to identify the most needy,” she said. “I’m concerned that we don’t have good data on our children and youth, such as the number of children in foster care, the number of children who are homeless and the number of children who live in public housing. I’m trying to define the most needy children.”
Still she said she had confidence that — even though all details aren’t yet finalized — organizers were proceeding in the right direction.