Staying woke: The courage to make change manifest in Baltimore

Originally posted on Huff Post 09/23/2017 10:22 pm ET

“Anytime we do the work of love, we are doing the work of ending domination” bell hooks

We had the Uprising in Baltimore two years ago. We said a lot, all of us. We were going to do things differently, make change manifest. We said we were tired of business as usual. We were woke (we understood the necessity for racial and social justice) but did we fall back asleep?

I have been listening to residents in East Baltimore talk about the fact that there has been so little change since the Uprising. Here’s why they feel this way: Children are walking to school past drug houses where people are getting needled in their necks right on the stoop, at 8am in the morning. Police are called but not responding. Baltimore has logged 246 homicides in 2017 through September 13, almost one per day. Twenty-one of those dead were under 20 years old.

Continue reading here

Are we segregating and privatizing our publicly-funded public spaces?

Runners4Justice will run through Middle East Baltimore on September 12 to bring awareness to the 88-acre uneven development of the Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park by Forest City, East Baltimore Development Inc, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the city, state, federal policies. While Eager Park, the new 5.5 acre park in this development was funded by state dollars and previously categorized as a public park, a spokesperson for Forest City recently stated in a public meeting that the park is a private park. When residents in the meeting asked for clarification the spokesperson confirmed that the park is private. The committee which raises funds and controls the finances for security, management, and development of the park consists of no historic Middle East Baltimore resident. The schedule of events occurring in the park has not been available to the public but is announced to the Johns Hopkins Medical community. This lack of accountability and segregation through privatizing function and control of the park continues to exist and only surfaces to the public through listening to residents living in the Middle East Baltimore community.

eager park

Eager Park is a park that sits in the middle of neighborhoods where drug dealing and shooting occurs frequently. The recently hired security services, Broadway Services, a unit of the Johns Hopkins University and Medical System won the bid for the park. This is an interesting development because security for the remainder of the 88-acre  development is provided by a locally-owned security firm, Frontline Management whose offices are located in the 88-acre development. Some local residents are asking why they were not involved in selecting the security services for the park. They are also asking what other decisions are occurring, in which they are not involved.

eagerpark5.5 acre Eager Park sitting in the middle of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park

The quarterly public community meetings held by EBDI and Forest City are the only easily accessible opportunity for local residents to learn about the plans for development in their community. There is little opportunity to meet directly with representatives from these two organizations who control what happens in the 88-acre development for the Johns Hopkins Bioscience park.

This lack of accountability and transparency of how public dollars benefit the public good  is nothing new to Baltimore. Baltimore is a city with more than 65% African American and approximately 20% of family households living below the poverty line- more than half in some neighborhoods like those surrounding the new 5.5 acre Eager Park. Baltimore’s economic elite, like the Johns Hopkins University and Medical System, control the government and therefore what happens in the city. Promises are made by government that its policies and actions will benefit the public but after election or passage of bills that provide tax credits to wealthy developers there’s little accountability of the benefits back to the public. But in spite of this history, there is a growing movement to hold government and ts private partners accountable in the neoliberal1 political machine that exists in Baltimore today.

It’s imperative to hold our policy makers and their private supporters and partners accountable for our public dollars. Specifically we must continue to look  at how the different promised public spaces, financed by public dollars, will actually serve the public. The use of eminent domain to remove more than 750 households to develop the 88-acre Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park requires that a greater benefit to the public occurs. Who will measure this equity of benefit? It may be time for our city council representative for the area to invite Johns Hopkins Bioscience partners to show how benefit is being accrued to the local residents and businesses in affordable housing and amenities, jobs, transportation, and local business ventures.

On a recent walk through the public waterfront park of Harbor Point, also funded by public tax subsidies, I was asked by the restaurant staff adjacent to the park where I was going. This made me wonder how the residents of nearby Perkins Homes are treated as they walk through the park. Accountability as to whether publicly-funded spaces are freely accessible to the public is a critical part of assuring that public subsidies benefit public good. In the past physical walls around spaces was the way to deny access to the public, in effect privatizing spaces and maintaining segregation. Today security guards and attendants are replacing these physical walls. But in effect, the outcome is the same, segregation of public spaces. The accountability to assure that the health and wealth gap in Baltimore does not continue to widen will only occur if we monitor these spaces, listen to the local businesses and residents there, and request that our political leaders hold private interests accountable for public subsidies they receive.

harbor point

Harbor Point is a 27-acre water front property developing a mixed-use site with a projected cost of $1 billion and at least $107 in public subsidies. Included in this development are five distinct public urban parks including areas for both passive and active recreation, culminating in a 4.5-acre public waterfront park space.

 

  1. Neoliberalization is the action of the government to assure that private interests have as much opportunity as possible to grow their interests, regardless of whether this results in decreased benefit for the public good

Politicizing our memories: Have we forgotten the history of Middle East Baltimore?

 

Our memory is also a struggle for memory against forgetting…The struggle for memory against forgetting requires the politicization of memory, distinguishing nostalgia from remembering that serve to illuminate and transform the present” bell hooks

This morning was overcast, clouds suggesting it may rain at any moment. There was a lot of activity on the 900 block of N. Wolfe street, extending down the 1100 block to Chase Street. The activities being planned were part of the newest addition to the re-branding of the neighborhood. The 7-acre park opening today is part of the 88-acre redevelopment of the Johns Hopkins Biotech Park that started in 2001. This is Middle East Baltimore, slowly being rebranded by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its sister non-profits of the ‘non-profit industrial complex’, the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, and the new inhabitants who are slowly moving into the neighborhood. ‘Eager Park’ is the new brand. This re-branding is nothing atypical in a developing area. And it’s not atypical either that the name is chosen, or ‘suggested’ by the developers and their proxies-in this case Forest City and East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI). But the rebranding this morning is something that we must remember. The remembering that bell hooks talks about. Because if we forget again, we will re-live this process of displacement of another neighborhood again. This remembering is a politicization because it recognizes the power of a continuous exploitation of one group to benefit another and resultant  inequity that exists today.

The new 7-acre, $14 million park in Middle East Baltimore, ‘Eager Park’

The flyers touting the parks’ opening celebrations from 8:30am until 5:00pm included a parade, ribbon cutting, and a festival; a DJ and dancing, several marching bands, and the children from the new school-also part of the 88-acre redevelopment. There would be dance and musical performances and fitness demonstrations in the brand new amphitheater in the park. The name of the park was decided by the developers and their design contractors, ‘Eager Park’.  The hope was that the $14 million park would usher in the re-branding of the area. There was no mention of the history of the naming of the area that the new parks’ name was attempting to erase, forget.

Why forget? It is important for the powerful developers of this 88-acre development assure that we forget that more than 750 Black families were displaced to make room for this 7-acre park and everything else being developed. The initial master plan made no mention that residents were being forced off their land to make room for a park. The rhetoric in 2001 was that displacement had to occur to demolish the almost 2000 homes in this ‘blighted’ and abandoned area. In order to use eminent domain to take private land and pass on to a private developer, the city government partnered with the university, like it did in the 1950s. That time the government policy that subsidized this private developer’s wealth gain was urban renewal. The first master plan in 2001 justified the development using eminent domain to acquire resident’s homes through the rhetoric of public benefit via 8000 new jobs in the 5 biotech parks and the various amenities.  Sixteen years later the project has provided less than 1500 new jobs. The plan made no mention of how the displaced residents would be able to return: it was a one-way ticket out of the area to make room for the new race and class that the powerbrokers felt could ‘renew’ the area. For the prestigious medical institutions and its partners it’s important for those moving in to forget this history or never know it.

The ribbon cutting ceremony in the amphitheater of the new park, with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

The ribbon cutting ceremony with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

Why is it important to remember this history? This development happening today is the same type of development that happened in the 1950s. We have mostly forgotten about the 1950s urban renewal project -Broadway Redevelopment Project- where 59 acres was acquired by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and its partners for expansion. It was remarkably similar to this current redevelopment-displacement of more than 1000 majority Black families. There was housing for students and staff, professional buildings (now we call these biotech buildings), a hotel, retail and amenities to support the needs of the new inhabitants. This memory is political and is required if we are to ‘illuminate and transform the present’. If we (SMEAC, Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc, the community organization that changed the way the development occurred) had remembered during our struggle for equity during the early years of this current development, we would have leveraged this history. But we didn’t know and those who knew at some point, those who were actually involved in the struggle in the 1950s and 1960s either forgot or felt overwhelmed by the challenge before us. Our collective memory of this history would have confirmed that the political powers of majority White institutions, in Baltimore the Johns Hopkins University and Medical systems, continue to take what they want without regard for their neighbors. We would have confirmed how this continuous exploitation of land on the backs of poor and Black communities is another part of the history of serial forced displacement. We would have affirmed that yet again, the white powerful elite and the government had partnered to segregate those different from themselves by displacing them. Like this current development, the 1950s developers had no intention of assuring that existing residents could return-none did because the new housing was unaffordable for them. Had we known of this history, we would have used this information in our organizing campaign. We would have proposed policy and legislation that would delineate how development must occur: in partnership and with control from the historic residents currently occupying the space. We would have assured that the legislation to build affordable housing was built had more teeth. Because 16 years later, of the 1200 new housing units planned, there remains no affordable housing for ownership.

Today there is a petition by two different community members to rename the park, in line with the history of the area. One of the names suggested is ‘The Lucille Gorham Park’. Recently deceased, Ms. Gorham (who named the community ‘Middle East Baltimore’) was a long-time community activist who lived her adult life attempting to increase public support for renewing her neighborhood, without displacement of her neighbors. Much of her work focused on engaging with different members of the institution to stop the continuous encroachment and gentrification by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. In the 1980s she received a commitment from the then president of the university that the institution would not expand beyond Madison street. She had participated in a development project in the 1960s –Gay Street 1 Project- where this continuous encroachment was not the only way to change a neighborhood. The Gay Street 1 developed an area of less than 50 acres with a grassroots emphasis, residents made the decisions and participated directly in the master plan and the development. After her years of struggle to stop the university from swallowing up her neighborhood she was eventually displaced for this 88-acre Biotech Park. ‘Eager Park’; the park rolled over the previous commitment by the university not to expand northward beyond Madison. The outcome of forgetting.

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s Broadway Redevelopment Project

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s-1960s Broadway Redevelopment Project

This morning I chatted with several residents, new and historic. Two of them were residents displaced for this new park; both actually lived on the ground that is now being used for a park. Their comments: “why did we have to move for a park, a park?’; ‘this is a sore spot for me, can’t talk about it”. The new residents felt differently, they saw hope: “ I think the kids will benefit from seeing something different than all those abandoned houses that were here before”. Everyone is speaking from their experiences, what they lived and are living. There is no doubt that the development and its amenities will bring benefit. The questions of ‘who must be sacrificed for the benefit of others’ and ‘why must the  same group of people be sacrificed’ remains unanswered. The question of process and outcome remains unanswered. These are not impossible questions to answer but they are questions that beg us to look into the root of the way we have built our society. Our history can benefit us in looking into these roots. Why were these neighborhoods segregated and disinvested in the first place? Why do we continue to feel justified in segregating those who are most affected by this history of segregation and disinvestment. Memory is political because it reminds us of a history that requires attending to, so we don’t keep doing the same things today and in the future.

Reference: Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America . Lexington Books, 2012.  Text is available free here. Click on book content.

Why social justice and trauma-informed education is necessary in East Baltimore schools and beyond

The recent Baltimore Sun investigative series on the consistent segregation in our school systems, in Baltimore and beyond, has been another wake-up call, to some. Focusing in on the investigation into the new Henderson-Hopkins contract school in East Baltimore and why trauma-informed education along with education about the history of injustice in the neighborhood and beyond is my objective in this piece.

DSCF7745

Block of homes demolished to make room for the Henderson-Hopkins School

Per the Sun’s article, Johns Hopkins University in the guise of the East Baltimore Development Inc. and its partners Annie E. Casey Foundation and the city and state, bought out the residents living in the homes that occupied the space of the current school and the growing Hopkins Biotech Park-88 acres known as Middle East Baltimore. Also true is the violation of residents’ human right to keep their land by forcing them to move through this massive public:private development similar to urban removal, this time using eminent domain*. This trauma is part of the foundation of the Henderson:Hopkins school: the physical, emotional, and spiritual foundation of injustice that has yet to be acknowledged, repaired, and healed. The current fair market value paid for residents’ homes came only after residents organized through Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc (SMEAC) and fought for this change. The initial price Hopkins and its partners offered residents for the land that would bring them much profit and prestige was the 1970’s value. This history of disrespect and disregard continues to have profound effects; it’s a continuation of the trauma brought about by gentrification, serial forced displacement* and community fragmentation of African-American people. And this injustice and resultant trauma affects a child’s ability to learn. This history of expulsion and dispossession has yet to be repaired. The children attending Henderson:Hopkins school bring this trauma and therefore healing of this must be a priority. They embody the continuation of the injustice and structural violence enacted on their parents, grandparents, and ancestors, and their land. The cost of a healing education for historic East Baltimore children will be high and requires the officials of the school to invest the dollars and resources necessary to assure that they are ready to learn-the teaching must be trauma-informed* and social justice-informed. But the government benefits received by the Johns Hopkins Biotech and Gentrification Park has been tremendous so translating these government subsidies into public benefit should be an expectation of Baltimore citizens. If not this project is just another neoliberal gentrification project expanding the gap between the rich university and the surrounding poor community.

For the past two years residents’ whose children and grand children attend the school have been complaining about the lack of interest in the needs of their children. One grandparent said she has been sending her child to school with her own toilet paper, a requirement by the school. Not only has the school been under-resourced, but this lack of adequate resources to address the great need of these students have been short-sighted. Adequate resources also include teachers ready and willing to care from a trauma-informed lens when educating children with generational/historical trauma*. If this school intended to benefit the children of the neighborhood, this needed to be part of the design of the educational curriculum and care. While it’s easy to blame the failure of academic performance on ‘concentrated poverty’ and suggest that the only way to educate children coming from homes of poverty and racial minority groups is to integrate the schools, a deeper and more truthful discourse is missing. What would be a more truthful discourse addressing the source of the history of racial, social, and economic injustice is to understand that the entire development of the 88-acre was never intended to benefit the existing residents. It was intended to move the existing residents away and expand the Johns Hopkins University. After organized and systematic protest and struggle to be treated fairly by residents, churches and businesses forced to leave, the ‘leaders’ of Henderson-Hopkins were forced to show how the development would benefit the community. Of course the 2005 supreme court ruling that eminent domain used by private developers must show real public benefit changed the original game of the ‘leaders’ of Hopkins’ expansion plan. Now they could be taken to court if there was not some public benefit from the taking of the homes of East Baltimore residents-and this may still happen if the public benefit promised does not materialize, ie. the 8000 jobs promised, affordable homes and amenities. When residents raised their voices about the school being exclusionary, and quoted the supreme courts’ ruling on the use of eminent domain, the ‘leaders’ of the school had to take note and include more local residents than previously planned. But also important is to recognize that the project has not taken off and new residents are not flocking to the development, even with the re-branding of the area and promotion of a new school. What must be discussed is the displacement of the challenges that were present in the 88-acre, to the neighborhoods just adjacent and the continued crime, substance use and sale, and disinvestment impacting these peripheral neighborhoods.The developments’ security guards now patrol on foot around the 88-acre area, a human wall attempting to keep the crime out, and the neighbors. The development has not benefitted historic residents, simply displaced the ‘problem’ to rehab and re-outfit the place with a more ‘acceptable’ race and class of people: one perceived more worthy of occupying the land. The community meetings held by EBDI provide no real opportunity for input by historic residents. Information promised, like the results of the recent survey on historic residents’ ‘right of return’-conducted by Annie E. Casey and consultants- that they filled out are asked for at each meeting and the response is the same: ‘next meeting’.

While studies show that children learn better in racially and socioeconomically diverse spaces, they also show that the environment that they come from determine if they will succeed in school. Studies also show that not only is the environment a determinant of educational outcome, but the environment of the mother also determines if a child will be successful in school. So to think that integrating Henderson-Hopkins school with children of Hopkins employees and students will bring their academic outcomes on par with their white and middle-class school mates is a superficial band-aid to the history of separate and unequal policies and structures. Because until we begin educating about the de jure segregation that exists in and in the surrounding neighborhoods of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins Biotech Park, we still are not educating all children from a place of truth and equity. The curriculum at Henderson-Hopkins certainly is not teaching them about the history of de jure segregation and why they are part of a history of serial forced displacement.

Serial Forced Displacement in the African American Community. Courtesy of Dr. Mindy Fullilove

Serial Forced Displacement in the African American Community. Courtesy of Dr. Mindy Fullilove

For this school to benefit historic residents in the short and long-term, it must address the generational trauma caused by social, economic, and racial injustice. Along with adverse childhood experiences* that many children growing up in situations of poverty experience, these obstacles to learning require an educational setting focused on these traumas. Trauma-informed education is not new. It’s been around for several years, informed by studies that show the benefit. Several states have mandated trauma informed education and include training of teachers in instructing and preventing negative outcomes of traumatized children, screening for trauma at schools, etc; examples are Oregon, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Missouri, Washington, Wisconsin. This is what we need in Henderson-Hopkins school for the school to attend to the needs of its residents and assure success. Doing so will unlock the true potential of every child entering the doors of the school and not only seek to bring black and brown children of poverty to ‘perform’ similar to children of means. The leaders of a school developed by taking of the land of people in Middle East Baltimore should aspire to offer benefit to the same people of this community. In order to do so it must teach to the needs of the community, not the myth of white supremacy.  Anything else is another deceit of the intention of the eminent domain policy of ‘public benefit’ and continues the history and trauma of serial forced displacement in Baltimore and beyond.

—————————————–

*Terms

Adverse childhood experiences – stressful or traumatic events in childhood that are associated with health and social problems as an adult; include but not limited to Physical abuse, Sexual abuse, Emotional abuse, Physical neglect, Emotional neglect, Mother treated violently, Substance misuse within household, Household mental illness, Parental separation or divorce, Incarcerated household member

Serial forced displacement – repetitive, coercive upheaval of groups

Historical/generational trauma – the cumulative or multigenerational emotional and psychological wounding of an individual, generation, or cultural group caused by a traumatic experience or event.

Trauma-informed care – education and care based on the four “R’s,” – realization, recognition, response and resisting re-traumatization

Eminent domain – power of the government to take private property for public use

http://www.loringcornish.com/home

http://www.loringcornish.com/home

 

Healing from racial injustice and trauma: The path of Mindfulness

The practice of mindfulness helps us to stop and notice what is going on in our body and mind. As we notice, we can begin to take care of the places of imbalance inside. Only when we are moving toward balance inside can we truly contribute to balance outside. Our healing selves offer evidence of the healing that we con contribute to outside of us.

Join Baltimore and Beyond Mindfulness Community on March 3, 4, 5 in Pikesville Maryland for a retreat for People of Color. We will learn and deepen different  mindfulness practices, such as being aware: of our breath as we sit, walk, lay down, stand up; of what we are eating instead of chewing on our worries or our tasks; where our tensions and worries live in our bodies through deep relaxation to release tensions and stress. And build community through sharing from our hearts and looking deeply to see what is nourishing and what is challenging us. Mindfulness practices do not require us to become Buddhist. Whatever faith denomination we practice, or not, we can practice mindfulness guided by the ethical principles of non-harming, truthful speech, non-stealing, non-intoxicants, and right sexual conduct. We find stillness so we can be more aware of how and when we are pulled into behaviors, perceptions, thoughts which do not support these ethical principles and actions we all strive toward. Mindfulness allows us to see clearly, to notice our racing thoughts, and to decide which of these thoughts we will follow and which we will put aside. The practices of mindfulness slowly allows us to take control of ourselves, moving us toward true freedom.

Self-mastery is the supreme victory-much more to be valued than winning control over others. It is a victory that no other being whatsoever, can distort or take away.

The Dhammapada

Whether you are  a beginner or a current practitioner of mindfulness, all are welcome to meet up on this path of peace, love, justice, and community.

healing-ourselves-flyer                                                             JOIN US!!

 

Why does Baltimore need a Black Worker Center?

The thriving of low-income Black workers in Baltimore and beyond is critical for equitable access to housing, food, education, health, recreation, transportation. When someone who works for a living, is still unable to afford adequate food, shelter, clothing and medicine, we remain an inequitable society. When those workers congregate into the same racial/ethnic group, we have systematic racism: racism which is not only individualized but embedded deep within the policies and infrastructures of our society. A Black Worker Center can be a base of organizing to address this inequity for black people in Baltimore*.

The ability to work is the first step toward equity. This means that a person has the physical and mental wellness, health, to support them finding employment. The second step is being qualified to work: has the person had the necessary training to compete in the marketplace for a position? The third step is the availability of work. The fourth step is that the place of employment supports the worker so they can stay in the position and thrive. This fourth step brings us back full circle to the first: a thriving person has the ability to work. It’s a cycle that continues and that either allows a healthy and holistic body and mind to thrive, or not: on a cellular, organ, individual, community level.

Cycle of workAbility to work

Our environment supports our ability to work by supporting or physical and mental well being. This includes having healthy food, adequate shelter, regular and affordable access to preventive health care, a safe community, and a life not burdened by the stress of systematic discrimination. For a Black body, none of these conditions for a healthy life is assured. In fact, being Black increases the likelihood that these conditions are diminished and that an ongoing struggle is necessary to assure one or all of these conditions are in place. The historical trauma of slavery and current racism for Black people in America is a risk factor for diminished physical and mental health. This history includes government policies and public:private partnerships resulting in redlining, segregation and abandonment, urban renewal, and serial forced displacement. This historical and current racial oppression have increased the likelihood of low-income Black communities living with increased crime, drug trade, food deserts, diminished infrastructure, inadequate education, housing, transportation, and health services, and abandoned/boarded housing. These environments increase the risk of diminished health and shorter life spans. Low-income jobs which do not allow a family to leave such neighborhoods and laws and policies which continue community rebuilding that segregate and displace residents continue the risk of diminished health, and ability to work.

black.povertyBlack.mortality

Qualified to work

Being qualified to work requires that a person has had the opportunity to receive training that makes them competitive with others seeking similar employment. But if a low-income Black person, growing up in an abandoned and under-invested community has not received adequate education and training, they cannot compete with a person growing up in a neighborhood which allowed access to adequate education and training. If a low-income Black person has been in a community without role models who have succeeded in the market/workplace, they have not benefited from this type of informal-training. If a low-income Black person has received education that is not truthful about the courage, resilience, and accomplishments of Black people, they can/will internalize these wrong perceptions and believe that they cannot strive or achieve great things. And if the communities in which a low-income Black worker lives is not connected to a functional transportation system, they will be challenged to make it to work on time. Access to the workplace qualifies one to work.

Race.unemployment

black.education

Availability of Work

There must be jobs available for low-income workers. Jobs which provide on-the-job training, apprenticeships, and access to education are important to assure that a low-income person can make their way out of a low-income lifestyle. The people hiring for these jobs must be trained in anti-oppression/anti-racism so they will not discriminate against hiring Black workers. Low-income jobs should not be equated to inadequate-income jobs. This means low-income jobs should pay enough to afford a family to: live in healthy neighborhoods, access adequate health care, access nutritious food. If employers in Baltimore will not/cannot pay adequate income to afford a family to live in a healthy neighborhood, a guaranteed basic income may be necessary to assure low-income families can break this cycle of poverty.

Livingwagebaltimore

Supportive Work Environment

Whether a person remains in a position once hired is determined by many factors. Are they promoted the same as other workers? For a Black worker, are they promoted, paid, and treated the same as White workers? Do co-workers or supervisors aggress Black workers with language and behaviors? Are low-income workers treated fairly, provided health insurance, a living wage, regular raises? If the wages paid do not allow a worker to live in healthy neighborhoods then the work environment continues to contribute to diminished health, decreasing the ability to work and live in healthy communities: the inequitable and unhealthy work cycle for low-wage Black workers continue into another generation. If the work environment does not respect the worker, workers will look elsewhere for an income to support themselves and their family. This type of work can be perceived as not a viable option for work. If there is no work, as occurred during the industrial revolution when factory work left cities and large unemployment occurred in communities, hustling begins (Dr. Mindy Fullilove, Black Mental Health Alliance series, 2016). This results in decreased social cohesion and dysfunctional communities.

The generational impact of unfair low-wage work is detrimental to healthy community rebuilding for all workers; specifically detrimental for recovery from historical trauma for Black workers. Black Worker Centers are increasing across the US with Baltimore launching its center (Black workers share about challenges faced working in sub-contracting positions for big corporations) on Martin Luther King Day, January 2017. Baltimore Black Worker Center  (BBWC) is committed to building a Black worker base to address the conditions of workers and to organize to change unfair policies and introduce new policies which support equitable treatment and healthy living, working, and learning conditions for Black workers. If our most vulnerable populations thrive, all of Baltimore will thrive. The reverse is also true. Stay tuned for BBWC’s first report on the history and current status of Black workers in Baltimore.

*Low income work is defined as less than $35,000/year, gross.

# Maps: http://bniajfi.org/

$ Living Wage Table: http://livingwage.mit.edu/counties/24510

 

Rebuilding East Baltimore: “taking too much”, segregating, and policing

For more than 80 years, as the neighborhoods surrounding the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution in East Baltimore campus changed from white to majority black, the institution has segregated itself, first with walls and then increasing security and off-duty police, and now a K-9 unit. They fear their neighbors and build greater measures to secure themselves from their neighbors. In the 1950s, after displacement of 1000 families and taking the 59 acres they occupied, the institution built physical walls to keep residents out of their newly constructed housing- their “compound”. Displaced residents would have to walk around this compound to get to their destination, previously accessible.

Not unlike the planned exploitation of land for the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), the university has taken land and displaced its neighbors in small (one house at a time) and large ways (more than 1000 families at a time), mostly black and low income residents. During the current ceremony to protect the land and water by indigenous peoples and other water protectors at Standing Rock, the emphasis of white colonialism and its greed to take only for itself was emphasized as the way America began and continues:

“The Lakota word for “white man” is Wasi’chu (Wa SHE choo). Wasi’chu means literally, “takes too much.” …[The story goes, at] a time when the Europeans arrived, a starving immigrant showed up in a Lakota camp. Nutrient rich tallow fat from the sacred buffalo was drying on racks in the sun. Without asking, the man seized and consumed all the tallow that he saw hanging there. “He didn’t leave any for anyone else. The Lakota had never observed that behavior before.” So the Lakota word for “white man” describes this takes-too-much behavior and attitude–a manifestation of his thought process–not his skin color. The term Wasi’chu applies to any non-native.

The “takes too much” behavior of the Wasi’chu encapsulates metaphorically what the Standing Rock movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) is about. As the indigenous peoples of North America come together and pray–creating an historic movement to prevent Wasi’chu’s latest desecration of nature–they illuminate a profound difference between the everyday holistic consciousness that has guided indigenous peoples since Paleolithic times, and the everyday aggressively anthropocentric (human-centered) consciousness that has led to our contemporary world.” (Contemplative Alliance)

This “takes too much” attitude and practice is alive and well in the contemporary leadership of East Baltimore and Baltimore city’s largest employer: The Johns Hopkins Medical institutions. It’s the basis of how rebuilding of the community has occurred for the past 80 years. Similar to the way the DAPL planned its route through indigenous peoples’ land without consulting with them, the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions planned its recent 88-acre Bioscience Park without consultation with the neighbors who would be displaced to make room for the development. After acquiring the land and demolishing buildings through the support of government, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and its proxy East Baltimore Development Inc (EBDI), the shiny new buildings and facilities are slowly being erected- two new biotech buildings, a bioethic institute, a new school, a new hotel, a 7-acre park, luxury and moderate-income ownership housing, and moderate and low-income rental housing.

jhmi-expansion

While the institution expands itself and markets to a different race and class, it ignores the challenges of the historic residents it displaced. The drug dealing, crime, and outcome of decades of abandonment and disenfranchisement were displaced to other neighborhoods. But crime does not stay confined to areas of poverty, crime spreads to areas of resources. And it is spreading into the campuses of Johns Hopkins University and hospital. Instead of digging in and understanding the root cause of the crime-structural inequities- the university again chooses to build greater walls, through increased security. This is reflected in the following excerpt from Johns Hopkins Medicine, Corporate Security, (November 30 2016) in regard patrol strategy, partnership with the Baltimore police department, and security technology:

  • Patrol Strategy

“Our Corporate Security team maintains a robust patrol presence on and in areas immediately adjacent to our campuses. We are continually adjusting our security resources on and around our campuses to best mitigate crime and enhance visibility by increasing our mobile, bike and foot patrols. Over the past year on the East Baltimore campus, Corporate Security has significantly enhanced security coverage with additional protective services officers, who are now posted in the commercial area expansion to the north, with two additional mobile patrols and the assignment of off-duty Baltimore police officers. A new canine program will launch in mid-December. This team of specially trained dogs and their handlers from Corporate Security’s special response unit will patrol parking garages, hospital corridors, the Emergency Departments and other locations throughout the East Baltimore campus to help prevent and defuse volatile confrontations, and to detect explosives. The dogs will also be on call to bolster security at other Johns Hopkins campuses should the need arise. On the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus, Corporate Security has increased patrols on the southeast side adjacent to the residential community where many of our staff members live. Mobile patrols are focused on monitoring staff and community members as they enter and exit the campus.”

  • Partnership with the Baltimore Police Department

“A key partner in our security response is the Baltimore Police Department (BPD). Corporate Security has always had strong relationships with the BPD, including the leadership of the eastern and southeastern districts, where our East Baltimore and Johns Hopkins Bayview campuses are located, and street patrol officers. The BPD and Corporate Security share information and support each other’s work daily, a collaboration that, again, helps in our response as incidents occur. In addition, Johns Hopkins University faculty members are partnering with BPD on the Collaborative for Violence Reduction, a research and practical application initiative informed by the best scientific evidence, by marshalling our academic expertise in public safety, violence prevention and gun control.”

  • Security Technology

“Corporate Security has more than 250 close -circuit television (CCTV) cameras  around  the exterior of the East Baltimore campus. A little over 1,200 cameras in total cover the entire campus (internal and external) of approximately 9.5 million square feet (not including seven garages). The cameras report back to a state-of-the-art communications center. On the Johns Hopkins Bayview campus, Corporate Security has increased our CCTV capabilities to provide video coverage to monitor pedestrian traffic in and out of the adjacent neighborhood and along the public properties that traverse the campus.”

The challenges of East Baltimore are indeed the problems of every one of us who live, work, study, pray, and play in the city of Baltimore. People, and the institutions and systems and structures created by the people, whose value is “taking too much” and “leaving too little” for others, have created the problems we now face in our most disenfranchised and abandoned communities. This value of forging forward while others next door to you are left behind, this rugged individualism is American, white American to be more specific. One can see the jarring result of such individualism in places like East Baltimore where the socioeconomic gap between two geographic neighbors have continued to grow over the years, reflected by the expansion of the institution from one square block to more than seven; and the displacement of historic residents and acquisition of their homes to accommodate these takings. In order to address the root causes we must individually and collectively be willing to identify our role in the cause and our role in the solution. We must acknowledge the structural and individual racism and classism that has built and rebuilt communities of poverty, crime, and drug addiction, diminished life-expectancy, diminished health, diminished housing, education, nutrition, recreation, and transportation. The “taking too much” practice has “left too little” in our communities of color and low income. The resulting crime is a problem of inequity; the greater the inequity the greater the violence.

community-benefit-table

But crime is a problem not only for those behind highly secured spaces like the Johns Hopkins campuses. It is a problem in the same communities that these institutions continue to segregate. And crime is an assault on our freedom and health for those inside these highly secured spaces, and outside. The institution boasts of the number of people it employs and its billion-dollar industry in the state. It publishes regular reports on its community engagement again boasting about its role in being a ‘good’ neighbor, providing economic and social inclusion, etc etc. But what it has not boasted about, in the past or recently, is its perception of the community in which the East Baltimore campus resides and its lack of innovative participation in addressing the decades of disinvestment and exploitation-by itself and the city. It, along with universities nationwide, have attached themselves to the service-learning model of community outreach. This model boasts about the countless hours that students provide to community projects but fails to address the lack of cultural competence, and the colonizing and white supremacist attitudes carried by many of the students who are thrusted upon marginalized communities. These are the same communities that the institution fears, segregates itself from, and demonizes with a police presence.

Race and class segregation has resulted in separate and unequal communities like Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and its neighbors. It has resulted in the increased wealth of the campus and increased poverty of the communities surrounding it through physical expansion of one group and physical removal of another. This continued serial forced displacement of the vulnerable and marginalized communities of low income and color, and its legacy must be addressed to expose the root causes so as to develop effective solutions. Solutions will not come from researchers developing methods unilaterally without advice from those impacted. We must be willing to engage across differences, welcome in discomfort and unfamiliarity of each other, listen to each others stories. Only then can we begin to understand what each other think and why. With these new understanding we can move toward changing our perceptions and heal the wounds of separation and fear and move toward greater understanding and community-informed solutions. Hiding behind guns, walls, cameras, and dogs simply hides the problem and prolongs the trauma and violence of inequity. Many community members fear the institution, this “plantation” presence in their community with so much power to determine whether they will be able to stay in their homes. This is a basic fear for the right to shelter and all that is attached to the human right to housing and health.

Those with power must acknowledge how their power came to be and be humble and wise enough to finally repair the violence enacted by “taking too much”: this has and continues to be a crime against humanity. This requires a recognition that  power enlivened by greed, hatred, and delusion is an abuse of privilege and is oppressive to people everywhere. Those without must challenge the powerful to live into their humanity at the same time living into their own power. Out of this awakening a new value of “taking less and leaving more” must arise and for this to happen, no one can stand aside anymore.

Did Trump wake us up to our “walls” of separation?: Can we stay awake and dismantle them?

In Baltimore ‘water protectors’ rally in solidarity with folks at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protestors demanded that Wells Fargo divest from DAPL and closed down Wells Fargo with a sit-in ending with arrest of 6, on November 25 2016

In Baltimore ‘water protectors’ rally in solidarity with folks at Standing Rock against the Dakota Access Pipeline. Protestors demanded that Wells Fargo divest from DAPL and closed down Wells Fargo with a sit-in ending with arrest of 6, on November 25 2016

As the election results started coming in on November 8 2016, people woke up. In many ways, if Hillary Clinton had won the US elections, we would have continued sleep walking, accepting crumbs from the table of the growing elites. Many would have continued to believe the rhetoric and remain blinded by some of the social policies we’ve seen changed or come into effect during Obama’s administration. We would have continued to ignore the growing income gap and the cronyism and division inherent in all political parties, the militarism expanding into domestic policing, and the war-mongering that defines American imperialism. But when Trump supporters went to the polls, tired of their decreasing wages and unable to understand why their white skin privilege was not paying off-economically-the rest of us woke up. Now the question is, can we stay awake? Waking up to not just the obvious changes that are forecasted under a Trump administration but waking up to our role in conditioning the rise and fall of a “Trump”.
Here some of you may be taking offense-none intended. What is intended is the awareness of how we all must change in order to assure that Trump or a Clinton-like do not continue in four years. How have we been pulled along with the wave of consumption, looking outside of ourselves to find joy and ease our pain, to shape a market that fuels climate change; even while we protest against it? We move too quick, have no time to cook, and eat out so much that we demand the production of plastic containers, cups, utensils to feed us. I looked in my closet a couple days ago and counted how many to-go containers were there: who needs to buy houseware? In capitalism we feed the machine of production by our demands. As students we demand the newest technology for learning, lots of space to do our research while we denounce our universities for expanding and displacing black and brown folks. I remember as a student wanting more laboratory space even while I was protesting Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions forcing people out their homes to build new buildings. We want to live, work, play and pray in new buildings instead of rehabbed old buildings. We all want the new bling, to keep up with the Brown’s, more shoes than we need, one more bedroom, etc. When we stop, breathe, and notice what we are doing each moment, how we participate in the supply and demand of the market, we begin to wake up to our role in this cycle of desire for more and more. We begin to see how our craving for more things and faster results have contributed to climate change and the gap between the rich and the poor and decide if this is really what we want to do and be. When we are awake we become the masters of our actions instead of being hoodwinked by our craving and attachments. Now this is radical change.
Baltimore’s ‘water protectors’ sign November 25 2016.

Baltimore’s ‘water protectors’ sign November 25 2016.

 

What else has been happening besides the presidential race? The consistency of uneven development across the US

While the presidential race has taken up the airways nationally, locally many cities continue to struggle for equitable and sustainable development. In Boston, Iowa, Baltimore, Seattle, Berkley, residents and activists have been organizing and demanding housing and land rights. Read about tenants struggles for rent control in Berkley and Mississippi’s struggle to prevent rolling back civil rights laws at Verso blog. What else has been happening besides the presidential race?

Is peace too radical for activists? Taking time to stop and find calm

The lives of activists are busy. The work of social justice activists, community organizers, and human rights defenders is challenging and almost always leads to burnout.  Through diverse means, we struggle to right the wrongs of unjust systems. These systems maintain disproportionate control in the hands of the powerful, and have marginalized and disenfranchised people of color, low income and working class people, women, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgender/queer/intersex/questioning (LGBTQIQ) individuals, people with disabilities, immigrants, non-English speakers, and non-Christians.

To ensure that we do not perpetuate the injustices we seek to change we must take good care of ourselves, our pain, our conflicts. We must recognize our tensions, our traumas. And we must stop, become aware of the breath, calm the mind and body, and find stillness. This stillness leads to seeing more clearly, who we are, the person on this path of justice. Do we have balance inside of us, as we seek balance and justice outside of us?

Stopping, resting, healing, finding spaciousness allows us peace. We bring that peace, that clarity, that healed self into all our encounters, on the front lines, behind the computer, in the board room or the city hall. We do not only seek peace outside, we are peace inside and that radiates to others.  This is the justice movement, a movement that is radical enough to value peace at its base, and assure peaceful means as we seek just ends. Our means become the goal we are seeking, right there in every moment.

Join us as we stop, and find the space to heal and bring peace inside. Join us as we value ourselves, as much as we value the work. Can we stop?

What: Mindfulness retreat for social activists

When: December 3, 4 2016 (Saturday and Sunday) 9am – Saturday to 3pm – Sunday.

Where: Trinitarian Center, 8400 Park Heights Avenue, Pikesville, MD

Why: Because justice outside cannot happen without balance inside! Come reconnect!

How: Register here!

mindfulness-retreat-2016