In his Dec. 3 op-ed, Pastor Franklin Lance of Mount Lebanon Baptist Church asks whether anyone cares about West Baltimore. The University of Maryland, Baltimore does care, and we’re proving our commitment to the people of West Baltimore every day.
Long before the national spotlight shone on our city, UMB was implementing a plan to improve health, education and economic opportunity in the West Baltimore neighborhoods close to campus. Of course, change doesn’t happen quickly — especially in neighborhoods neglected for so long — but we’re seeing exciting progress.
Our intensive involvement in Upton/Druid Heights is improving family health and student achievement. Since launching B’more for Healthy Babies with our city partners, fetal and infant deaths have plummeted in the neighborhood, which used to have one of the city’s highest infant mortality rates. More young children in Upton/Druid Heights are now considered ready for kindergarten, and two of the neighborhood’s elementary schools are producing more well-prepared kindergartners than schools citywide in important developmental domains.
Thousands of West Baltimore residents are visiting UMB’s community center in Poppleton for workforce training, job fairs, afterschool activities, fresh food markets and fitness programs. We use the center to help neighbors apply for UMB jobs, and we guarantee any qualified applicant an interview at the university.
We’ve committed to spending more of our university dollars locally. Last year, we directed 15 percent of our catering budget to restaurateurs and merchants in Southwest Baltimore, up from just 0.1 percent three years ago. That’s significant new revenue that our neighbors can reinvest in their businesses and in their communities.
We’re partnering with neighborhood associations to advance their priorities in public safety, education and revitalization, and we’re working to attract private investment from corporations and philanthropic organizations so we can sustain the progress we’re seeing.
We still have a long way to go, and Pastor Lance is absolutely right that we need more collaboration among the institutions able to help West Baltimore. He’s absolutely right that we need a comprehensive plan for investing in the community, along with public goals to which we hold ourselves accountable.
But UMB and its partners are focused on the same fundamental goals: to right the wrongs perpetrated for years in West Baltimore; to restore vitality to its neighborhoods and prosperity to its people.
Dr. Jay A. Perman, Baltimore
The writer is president of the University of Maryland, Baltimore