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Baltimore’s next leaders need to address city’s race gap | COMMENTARY

Baltimore's race gap means white residents generally live more prosperous lives than black residents.
Baltimore's race gap means white residents generally live more prosperous lives than black residents. (Jerry Jackson / Baltimore Sun)

There are many places in our city that have been allowed to decline into areas of hopelessness — many of them black neighborhoods.

There are many reasons why this has happened. For one there are too many programs that simply aren’t working. Unfortunately, there remains in Baltimore an accepted, failed public and private paradigm that supports the funding of individual programs rather than the funding and building of real and lasting community infrastructures, life-saving institutions and organizational collaborations.

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At the same time, there is little research and few impact statements to examine if what exists is resulting in real and lasting progress. Moreover, there is real need for the implementation of clear accountability metrics, which can consistently be used and shared — at least annually — to show what programs are resulting in positive change for Baltimore’s black citizenry and the communities in which they reside

In a city that has abominable white and black household wealth gaps, unconscionable black male unemployment and incarceration rates, and decades of underperforming public schools, why are there not more organizations like the Center for Urban Families, or other specific, mission-driven centers and institutions that have broad organizational capacity and reach within the community?

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At this crucial moment in Baltimore City, anything less than a serious discussion about the development of a Port Sandtown-Winchester, a Port-Penn-North or a Port Old Town, with price tags equivalent to the $5.5 billion cost for Port Covington will only guarantee the return, once again, to the morally bankrupt discussion 10, 15 and 20 years from now of two Baltimores — one black, crime-ridden and poverty-stricken and the other white, privileged and prosperous.

Lest we not forget — and this applies to everyone in Baltimore, surrounding counties and the state — that one of the major contributing factors to the ignition of the April 2015 uprising after the death of Freddie Gray, and the subsequent rising homicide rates, is the dubious and extraordinary high unemployment and incarceration rates of young black men living in Baltimore City between the ages of 18 and 30. It is a predicament that has existed for decades, which must be acknowledged and addressed forthrightly.

Everyone in Baltimore and the state of Maryland must accept the fact that young black males, those that make up a number of the “squeegee enterprise young men,” will continue to engage in anti-social acts and destructive behaviors as their way of resisting the alienating, emasculating and insulting unemployment and incarceration rates that they are no longer accepting and standing for.

So, Baltimore City and the state cannot at this critical time afford to capitulate or acquiesce to a spate of benign programs, and should not settle for anything less than the creation and implementation of an effective and bold city and statewide plan that is socially, economically and physically transformational.

Such a plan must address and begin the process of dismantling the “soft-bigotry” of low expectations within Baltimore’s public schools; within Baltimore’s poverty stricken, underserved, criminogenic segregated communities; within Baltimore’s stalled and anemic black business and economic development arena; and within the city and state’s criminal injustice system that has destroyed the lives of thousands of black men and has traumatized and decimated thousands of black families for decades.

The kind of caustic, structural racism and psychological traumatization to which black people have persistently been subjected to in Baltimore and others areas of the state can never be dismantled by creating and underfunding more programs. The significant feature of systemic racist presumptions is flagrant disrespect for black individuals, families and entire black communities.

The pain threshold level for black pathology in Baltimore is very high. Several important local and statewide elections will be held within the next few weeks. Unless a different type of elected official is selected this time that refuses to accept the status quo, creates a sense of urgency and that can paint a very vivid picture of a brighter tomorrow for Baltimore City in general, and for black people in particular, then future uprisings will become inevitable.

Without transformational leadership that can and will confront and address the objective realities facing Baltimore, both economic and psycho-social, then black communities will continue to see, feel and experience the grim inheritance of massive socioeconomic underdevelopment and the soft-bigotry of low, and in many instances, no expectations.

Richard A. Rowe (rrowe84@aol.com) is a project consultant with the Black Mental Health Alliance, Inc. and a fellow with the Campaign for Black Male Achievement.

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