Over the past 60-plus years, Baltimore has made no real progress in relieving the woes of its disadvantaged communities. Elected and appointed officials of every stripe have come and gone, and so far no one seems to have known how to provide sufficient employment for the disadvantaged citizens here, too many of whom have instead drifted into drugs, alcoholism and crime (”2020 vision: Looking back at a year of pandemic and pain in Baltimore, and casting a hopeful eye toward the new year,” Dec. 24).
What is sorely needed is for disadvantaged people to become more employable — and to be able to build businesses for themselves. Too many now have no way to adequately support themselves.
The problem is not that this hasn’t been known all along, but that nobody has figured out how to make improvements. There have been two prominent schools of thought toward the resolution of this dilemma.
The first has been that if we could only eliminate “systemic racism” and other injustices then the problem would solve itself. Who can argue with reducing injustice? But with years of concentration on this subject, disadvantaged people are no better off.
The second school of thought has been to periodically shower disadvantaged people with special programs, benefits, housing aid and other limited largesse. These things have proved to be enormously expensive and also without the hoped-for results. Instead, the programs have effectively labeled the supposed beneficiaries as victims and losers. And that then becomes a major determinant in disadvantaged peoples’ self-identity. People everywhere need the self-respect of earning their own way.
My family and I operate a manufacturing company in East Baltimore. We manufacture sophisticated (and unsophisticated) products, but we don’t require a college degree of anybody, not for any position, and we have a reputation for being able to train people where others would never attempt it. But, even so, it has been hard for us to find candidates from the disadvantaged communities who can be successful in our business.
The men and women of the disadvantaged communities do not often see themselves as becoming successful in companies like ours. It is outside of their upbringing, and their educational and experience backgrounds. And they are often additionally burdened by needy dysfunctional families. These things need to change. A cultural change within the communities is what’s necessary.
To take all this one step further, companies like ours need suppliers that could come from presently disadvantaged communities. The infrastructure is all here in Baltimore, but few take advantage of it. At our company this costs us money and wasted opportunities. We have to go 25 miles from Baltimore just to get sheet metal work done and that from a company with little real competition.
As a result, we have come to depend on foreign suppliers. We spend many hundreds of thousands of dollars on special manufactured parts from China every year. Does this make sense when all around us are people who could learn to do this kind of work to supply us and others? And build thriving businesses for themselves as well?
The opportunities are already here in Baltimore. What is needed are programs that will provide training for employment, and to build the sense of purpose that is needed to permit people to be successful in their jobs — or in self-employment.
Baltimore’s elected and appointed leaders should learn how to help their disadvantaged citizens to deal productively with these opportunities. The possibilities and rewards would be excellent for everyone concerned.
Jack Wickham, Baltimore
The writer is president of New Vista Corporation.
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