When former President Bill Clinton was asked on CNN last year what solutions could work to help cities like Baltimore move forward, he said "Well, first I believe we ought to try to accelerate development opportunities and jobs near where these young people live." He specifically singled out Under Armour as the city's "great shining jewel of a company" with a "local leader" who wants to keep jobs in Baltimore.
"I'd go get that guy from Under Armour," Mr. Clinton said, "... and I'd figure out what to do and come up with a strategy, and you don't have to solve it all overnight. You just have to make it better than it was."
We couldn't agree more. Our city is currently in the process of redeveloping Port Covington, to allow Under Armour to expand here in Baltimore, bring tens of thousands of new jobs to our city and transform a virtually abandoned industrial area of our waterfront into a thriving economic corridor. This is an amazing opportunity for Baltimore. We should embrace it — not chase it away. Critics have said that Port Covington is targeting only the "creative class" and will have no opportunities for African Americans. Since when are African Americans not part of the "creative class"? That assumption is patronizing and demeaning.
New opportunities, new jobs for young people, new investment in Baltimore is what will move our city forward. Baltimore is unique, with a unique cultural fabric and history — and yes, unique problems. The unrest last year was sparked by a senseless tragedy but born from a valid sense of injustice. Baltimore and its citizens have faced decades of unfair treatment and discrimination, and that understandably has generated a feeling, among the young and old, that advancement prospects are not available. But the answer is not to do nothing. The answer is not to get up at a microphone and criticize those trying create new advancement opportunities. The answer is not to alienate those who want to invest in Baltimore and its people.
Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who could move his company anywhere in the world, has not only pledged that his company will remain and grow in Baltimore, but also has put huge amounts of his own personal resources to work to bring significant outside investment into our city. He's done these things because he believes in Baltimore against all odds.
By many objective standards, redeveloping Port Covington will create a thriving hub of opportunity from an area that currently lays fallow and is awash in garbage. The community associations of the adjacent neighborhoods — predominantly African-American neighborhoods — are excited to finally see real investment in the long-neglected Port Covington, investment in which they and their families will share.
We read in a lot of newspaper articles and hear that our communities are "deeply divided" over Port Covington. This is patently false. The team in charge of redeveloping Port Covington has been a partner with our communities from Day 1. We have attended dozens of community meetings on the future of Port Covington. We have asked them the hard questions and demanded answers. They have been honest and forthright with us.
Critics like to talk at length about the state of Baltimore City, calling attention to its ills and diagnosing its problems. Many of these critics have never been to our communities or talked to us about what's needed. They talk about crime, injustice, segregation and housing — but put forth no workable solutions. We have looked at Port Covington, and we see that it represents opportunity and jobs. It's not the whole solution, but for our communities and for Baltimore overall, it represents a piece — a very important piece — of a brighter day.
Kurt L. Schmoke is president of the University of Baltimore and a former mayor of the City of Baltimore. Contributors to this op-ed include: Wayne R. Frazier Sr., president of the Maryland-Washington Minority Contractors' Association; Alvin C. Hathaway Sr. pastor of Union Baptist Church; Joseph T. Jones Jr., founder of the Center for Urban Families; Debra Keller-Greene, chair of the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce; Darron McKinney Sr., pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church; Walter S. Thomas, pastor of New Psalmist Baptist Church; and S. Todd Yeary, senior pastor at Douglas Memorial Community Church.