We'll announce The Sun's 2016 Marylander of the Year later this week, but as is our tradition, we take the opportunity now to recognize a few more people whose efforts improved our community this year.
Andrew Foster Connors, Glenna Huber and Douglas Miles
When Kevin Plank's Sagamore Development asked for the city's largest-ever tax increment financing deal to facilitate the massive redevelopment of Port Covington, activists across the city decried the proposal as precisely the kind of corporate welfare Baltimore has engaged in for generations — a boon to the wealthy and the waterfront but no help to those struggling uptown. The leaders of Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development — Clergy Co-chairs Rev. Andrew Foster Connors of Brown Memorial Park Avenue and Presbyterian Church Episcopal priest Rev. Genna Huber, and Co-chair Emeritus Bishop Douglas Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church — didn't just decry the deal; they demanded a better one. After tensions boiled over between Sagamore officials and activists at a public meeting, the BUILD leaders sat down with the developers for an extraordinary 10-day negotiation that led to the most expansive community benefits agreement Baltimore has ever seen. Thanks to their efforts, the Port Covington has the potential to transform not only a section of waterfront but also the lives of thousands of people who might otherwise not have had the opportunity to work or live there. Most importantly, the deal now sets a standard for other developers to follow.
Baltimore sculptor, quilter and performance artist Joyce Scott has long been at the forefront of efforts to expand our the kinds of ideas and expressions that society recognizes as high art. As an African-American woman, she represents a community whose voices were long doubly shut out, and she has infused her work with a sense of identity and social consciousness that touches on injustices past and present. Her visually stunning and often humorous and irreverent work stands up for individuals in a society that even still too often categorizes and marginalizes based on gender and race. That she was recognized this year with a MacArthur fellowship — the so-called genius grant — also puts in perspective Baltimore's recent realization of the need to do more to provide safe spaces for young artists. Ms. Scott is proof that this city is capable of nurturing artistic talent of global relevance. She still has plenty more to say — her work will be part of two major exhibitions next year — and Baltimore needs to make sure the next generation of artists has the same opportunities she did.
When Curtis Bay native Destiny Watford was 16, she saw a play called "Enemy of the People" about the effects of industrial pollution on a community. With plans barreling ahead for the construciton of a massive waste-to-energy incinerator in her neighborhood, a place that had long suffered far more than its fair share of contamination, its message hit home. She co-founded Free Your Voice, a student activist organization that encouraged young people to canvas their neighbors and conduct protests. They used videography and other new media techniques to get their message across, and they succeeded — first, by helping persuade the Baltimore City school district to drop its contract to buy electricity from the plant, a move others followed, and then by convincing the Maryland Department of the Environment to drop its permit for the project on the grounds that the lack of construction activity had made it invalid. This year, Ms. Watford, now a student at Towson University, was recongized for her efforts with the Goldman Environmental Prize, an international honor given to a half-dozen grassroots environmental activists. She says she plans to use the $175,000 award to pursue broader efforts at protecting human rights in neighborhoods like hers.
Presiding over the prosection of the police officers charged in connection with the death of Freddie Gray was a fraught task to begin with, and it got much harder this year when the defendants began asking for bench trials rather than putting their fates in the hands of juries. Baltimore Circuit Judge Barry G. Williams had to know just how closely his every decision would be scrutinized — and he had to know with near certainty that whatever conclusion he drew after hearing the evidence would be decried as unjust by one side or the other, and possibly both. Judge Williams approached his role with extraordinary thoughtfulness and precision, navigating difficult questions about what evidence to admit and unprecedented efforts by the prosecution to compel testimony from a co-defendant who still faced prosecution. Concern about what would happen after he rendered a judgment in each case was so high that police from neighboring jurisdictions were on alert to quell any rioting that might erupt. But Judge Williams concerned himself with the evidence and the law, not public passions or prejudice, and delivered his findings in painstaking yet clear prose. While some believe justice was ill served by the lack of criminal convictions in Gray's death, few argue with Judge Williams' reasoning, and the protests that followed the cases were peaceful. Many argue that State's Attorney Marilyn Mosby prevented additional violence in 2015 by announcing the charges against the officers when and how she did, but Judge Williams can surely be said to have done the same in 2016 by ruling on them with great care and clarity.