Craving Opportunity: Baltimore Youth Describe What They Need For a Better Future

Posted July 26, 2017
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
Blog cravingopportunity 2017

Young peo­ple in dis­in­vest­ed Bal­ti­more neigh­bor­hoods long for — but lack con­fi­dence in the city’s abil­i­ty to deliv­er — pos­i­tive activ­i­ties, jobs and safe spaces, accord­ing to research com­mis­sioned by the Casey Foun­da­tion in the after­math of the April 2015 unrest over the death of Fred­die Gray.

To inform the work of its Bal­ti­more Civic Site, the Foun­da­tion part­nered with the Pover­ty and Inequal­i­ty Lab at the Johns Hop­kins Uni­ver­si­ty to con­duct inter­views with 58 young peo­ple liv­ing in the city’s poor­est neigh­bor­hoods. Researchers asked these indi­vid­u­als, ages 15 to 24, how they respond­ed to the unrest and how the sub­se­quent onslaught of neg­a­tive, stereo­type-laden news cycles had shaped their lives.

The report, Set-Up City, The Voic­es of Youth After the Bal­ti­more Unrest, shares key insights from the inter­views, such as:

  • Young peo­ple sup­port­ed peace­ful protests, but con­demned the vio­lence, loot­ing and destruc­tion of prop­er­ty that hap­pened after Fred­die Gray’s death. They were espe­cial­ly dis­tressed by the destruc­tion of impor­tant insti­tu­tions in dis­ad­van­taged Bal­ti­more neighborhoods.
  • Those inter­viewed also gen­er­al­ly dis­ap­proved of the city’s response to the unrest, espe­cial­ly the clos­ing of schools the next day and a city­wide curfew.
  • While they rec­og­nized the Nation­al Guard’s role in restor­ing order, the young peo­ple inter­viewed felt intim­i­dat­ed and even ter­ri­fied by its pres­ence,” researchers found.
  • They also wished for a more empa­thet­ic response that acknowl­edged their anger over the cir­cum­stances of Gray’s death and the dai­ly dif­fi­cul­ties they faced.
  • They craved oppor­tu­ni­ties for recre­ation, employ­ment and oth­er pos­i­tive activ­i­ties and felt that the city was not doing enough to make such oppor­tu­ni­ties possible.
  • They expressed a belief that the 2015 unrest may have prompt­ed action—and pos­i­tive change—in Baltimore.
  • None of the young peo­ple inter­viewed voiced a desire to stay in Bal­ti­more long term. They cit­ed per­va­sive drug activ­i­ty and a lack of qual­i­ty edu­ca­tion options as rea­sons they would leave the city if they could.

This research is impor­tant because it gives insights from youth that no one hears from,” says Kim­ber­ly Spring, the Foundation’s direc­tor of Research and Evaluation.

Tomi Hiers, direc­tor of the Foundation’s Bal­ti­more Civic Site, says that the voic­es of local youth are inform­ing her team’s strate­gies, includ­ing a new work­force devel­op­ment ini­tia­tive in East Bal­ti­more and a peer-to-peer youth entre­pre­neur­ship pilot.

City youth, advo­cates, pro­fes­sors and com­mu­ni­ty mem­bers have gath­ered to review the report’s find­ings and dis­cuss ways to boost oppor­tu­ni­ties for Baltimore’s young res­i­dents. Three promis­ing ideas iden­ti­fied include: 1) giv­ing youth a greater voice in local pol­i­cy; 2) rec­og­niz­ing how pub­lic safe­ty is con­nect­ed to employ­ment, hous­ing, health and oth­er sys­tems that affect qual­i­ty of life; and 3) ensur­ing that non­prof­its and com­mu­ni­ty groups are strong enough to deliv­er need­ed ser­vices and programs.

Learn more about the Foundation’s work in Baltimore

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