Over the past three weeks, I hope the nation has learned more about Baltimore than the images they get when the Inner Harbor glitters in the background during national broadcasts of Ravens games or when television programs so menacingly portray blighted neighborhoods with rows of empty homes.
In reality, Baltimore is a city of proud neighborhoods filled with a rich collection of citizens, reflecting every dimension of socioeconomic, racial, religious and cultural diversity imaginable. It’s a city where most of the 620,000 residents are hard-working people who care about the future of their families, their communities and the “charming” city they call home.
Despite the images of destruction and division that filled national headlines a few short weeks ago, I saw a very different Baltimore than was portrayed in the endless replaying of property destruction. I watched hundreds of residents, led by pastors and other community leaders, literally join hands to bring the unrest to an end and then to keep the peace through the rest of the week. I saw hundreds more come out of their houses very early the next morning, self-organized and motivated by deep community pride, to clean up the remnants of the destruction and to offer help to their neighbors. For days after, I saw thousands of Baltimore citizens marching peacefully but insistently to press for justice.
And in the weeks since that one night of unrest, the city of Baltimore has continued to come together to chart a path forward. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has announced the creation of One Baltimore as a comprehensive public-private initiative to support opportunities for the city’s children, families and neighborhoods. One Baltimore will focus on areas the Annie E. Casey Foundation knows are critical to the long-term success of this community and its citizens such as education, employment, and minority- and women-owned business opportunities.
The Annie E. Casey Foundation is supporting both the immediate needs of our communities and the work with partners to address the systemic challenges made clear by recent events. In the short term, Casey has identified an initial set of new grants totaling nearly $3 million to increase youth employment and summer opportunities. Nearly 8,000 young people between the ages of 14 and 21 have registered for summer jobs under the city's Youth Works program, but the program has money and positions for only 5,000. A significant portion of the Foundation’s new grantmaking is going to help the city provide additional summer jobs. We also have expanded our funding of summer recreational and learning opportunities through grants to community-based organizations throughout the city.
In addition to confronting these immediate needs, we intend to invest in long-term strategies to promote opportunity among Baltimore’s children, youth and their families.
We have expanded our support for community groups that are working hard to bring together young people and other residents in honest and sometimes challenging dialogue about what we all need to do to improve our city. As part of that effort, Casey hosted a meeting on May 11 between local funders and dozens of city youth leaders from community organizing and student leadership groups to raise awareness of young people’s perspectives, gather data and generate ideas for moving forward.
We are just one of many foundations involved. Working in collaboration through the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers (ABAG), local funders are sharing ideas and resources, and aligning strategies. National foundations and nonprofit organizations are offering to help as well, in partnership with the local foundations and other civic leaders.
Beyond financial support and fostering dialogue between concerned stakeholders, we believe we must confront and overcome the deeper challenges facing our city, which are the same challenges faced by many communities across our nation. Changing our trajectory demands reform of deep-rooted policies and practices that have denied far too many of our citizens opportunity and hope. Again, working with others, we are developing and refining ideas that we will explore with key partners in the coming weeks.
For example, for many years, we have promoted sensible, proven policies and practices to advance needed reforms in the juvenile and criminal justice systems, and we plan to expand our work on these issues in Baltimore. We will also join efforts to create pathways to success for our youth and young adults, who too often are disconnected from work and educational opportunities. And we will support the work of One Baltimore to bridge the divides of race, income, geography and background, and to help set this city of promise on a new course.
Baltimore is our hometown, and investing in our community is not new. In the past decade, Casey has invested more than $90 million in Baltimore through grants to more than 300 organizations. We know well how much this community needs support, and we will redouble our efforts to create opportunity and hope through our partnerships across many sectors.
It will take all of us working for Baltimore to make our city live up to the words on benches around town: “the greatest city in America.” And that can happen only when all our children have the bright future they deserve.