Listening, so we can know what Baltimore is for!

As a long-time activist of Baltimore, I am tired of the same ole, same ole. I keep asking myself, “What keeps me here?” Will the racist and classist ways we rebuild our cities continue with a public transcript of “gentrification benefits everyone” even while rents continue to increase, pushing black people out Baltimore but the “creative class” is welcomed in with bike paths and a free circulator bus? Last night I heard a speech that inspired me.

Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance (BMHA) convened its year-long series “Baltimore Rising: Summoning the Village” with keynote speaker Dr. Mindy Thompson Fullilove, renowned social psychiatrist and author who has studied epidemics in poor communities for 30 years. She noted the many ways that racism and segregation are undermining our cities and our health. She told us about urbanists who have been tackling these problems in other American cities and who demonstrated “elements of urban restoration.”

Based on this vast body of research and analysis, her call to action to us in Baltimore was clear. We must: 1. keep the whole city in mind in our planning; 2. identify what we are for; 3: make our mark. These are the first three steps in bringing together a clear and participatory vision by those who plan to stay, one that includes all voices to assure we move away from the historic sorting and segregation that has built Baltimore-and this country.

While grateful for this current and urgent call to action, I started to ask myself questions, “How will we do this? Who should be at the table? Where will the money come from? Can we all put our egos aside long enough to move with humility and grace through this process?”

Dr. Fullilove said, “Start with three tasks. Walk the city, tell stories, and find the remarkable places.”

This made sense to me. We can begin this process by listening to everyone throughout the city: the folks on the corners, in the houses, offices, laundromats, clinics, courtrooms, prisons, jails, cafes, boardrooms, classrooms, playgrounds, exercise paths, car garages, parking lots, and bus stops; the grocery stores, under the bridges, the recreation centers, in the synagogues and the churches, the senior homes, the day cares, the recycling trucks, the taxis, the train stations, and the airports, behind the camera and in front of the camera and microphone, in the kiosks, in the long lines at the city departments, in the yoga and mediation studios. This citywide listening will help us “keep the whole city in mind.”

We will also be able to identify what connects us all, across all neighborhoods, understanding what matters to us. We will find out what we are FOR. Then we will be able to “make a mark,” and we will move with intention and skill toward rebuilding a Baltimore of inclusion not expulsion, of economic redistribution not hyper-profitability. Baltimore is resilient and Black Baltimore is strong. Thank you, BMHA and Dr. Fullilove, for calling us to task, and reminding us that it takes a village to rise up, with understanding and dignity.

Let’s do it! DSC_0209

Submitted July 24 2015 to the Baltimore Sun’s Letter to Editor/Op ED.

No peace, no justice!

How do we cultivate a justice movement, based in peace? Could it be that peace must start in ourselves, to spread into the movement? Join us for a space and time, to rest, reflect, and fellowship with others on the healing path of peace and justice!

Mindfulness two-day residential retreats for People of Color and Social Activists
August 7, 8 Friday, Saturday People of Color
August 9, 10 Sunday, Monday Social Activists

More information at www.baltimoremindfulnesscommunity.space

flyer-image-500

Public health and community rebuilding, healing

Examining the effect of public health through the lens of environmental factors, mental health, and healing in our community: today on the Marc Steiner Show WEAA 88.9 FM in Baltimore. The host Dr. Kaye Wise Whitehead and guests, Dr. Martha Wharton, Dr. Marisela Gomez, Dr. Rita Turner explore the interconnections of lead poisoning in our abandoned and low income communities of color, the reasons for these conditions and the other systematic causes of health, and the spiritual and body depletion. Solutions are presented.
Podcast here:

Courtesy Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance

Courtesy Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance

Resources pertaining to these topics:

July 21st, 2pm Eastern time. First in a series of webinars on “The Impact of Racism on the Health and Wellbeing of the Nation” with Shiriki Kumanyika, PhD, MPH, and Camara P. Jones, MD, MPH, PhD APHA link

July 23rd, 6pm. Call to Action by Baltimore’s Black Mental Health Alliance “Baltimore Rising: Summoning the Village” Join Dr. Mindy Fullilove for causes, conditions, and solutions. Carter Memorial Church of God in Christ Church. 13 S. Poppleton. 21201 Email for information bhealthall@gmail.com
bmha

Office of Environmental Justice (of the Environmental Protection Agency) A site that provides information on what is happening in your community in regard environmental justice screening: Environmental Justice Screen; BLog reference

Resources on environmental pollution and health outcomes in neighborhoods:environment and health

Spiritual healing and social justice: Spirit and healing

flyer-image-500

Social, environmental, economic and health impact assessments are critical tools to determine the effect of rebuilding communities, on existing community.
Environmental impact assessment
Health Impact Assessments
Social Impact Assessment
Economic Impact Assessment

NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Initiative NAACP

The role of hyperprofit-making on expulsion of people from land. Expulsion and hyperprofits

“We cannot dismantle the Master’s house with the Master’s tools”

This quote of Audre Lorde’s is timeless, has been interpreted and re-interpreted countless times, and still pertains to the way we rebuild communities today. It may be a good time to revisit this penetrating truth, in light of the heightened awareness of the need to “dismantle the Master’s house”.

The Master’s tools, The Master’s house

We have been using the Master’s tools to build and rebuild communities of the United States and beyond, in the image of the Master’s needs. This fundamental truth and its legacy continues to unfold in ways most of us do not fully comprehend. The tools of a belief system of race and class oppression, gender and sexual oppression, and all the other power-generated means of separation, control, exploitation, and oppression have been used to build and rebuild communities over the centuries. Focusing in on racism, white supremacy and classism, these tools imprinted and evolved the genetics of this nation. These tools justified wiping out the Native American population, slavery, Jim Crow, redlining, urban renewal, mass incarceration, and segregation as “normal” ways to build and rebuild communities of Black, Brown, and low-income peoples. Indeed even the current president of the United States acknowledged: “It is incontrovertible that race relations have improved significantly during my lifetime and yours, and that opportunities have opened up, and that attitudes have changed. That is a fact. What is also true is that the legacy of slavery, Jim Crow, discrimination, in almost every institution of our lives, that casts a long shadow. And that’s still part of our DNA that’s passed on. We’re not cured of it. Racism, we are not cured of it”. The nation’s slow and long-awaited acknowledgement of this truth is prodded by the recent heightened awareness of killing of Black lives: killing of 9 Black lives in Charleston, SC by a white teenager, police killing of Black lives in South Carolina, Maryland, Missouri,New York, Ohio, Chicago…the list goes on. The uprisings against such acts of violence, highlighted the intricate ways community disinvestment and abandonment, community fragmentation, police violence, and wealth and health inequities, interact as causes and effects and continue to create conditions prone to violence of all forms. Listening to residents in East and West Baltimore before and after the uprising confirmed the way the Master’s tools, driving the machine of structural racism, continue to perpetuate these conditions:

“When I worked on Monument a police was stopping a woman walking down the sidewalk with her dog. Back then, you couldn’t walk you dog on the side walk. He was yelling at her, calling her black B. Sheila Dixon was walking by, was on the City Council at that time. She said to the officer something about not talking to the woman like that; the officer said she should shut up and keep walking. Next thing you know, he called Sheila Dixon a black B and started calling her name, grabbed her, cuffed her, and had her sitting on the side walk. [Sheila Dixon went on to be Mayor of Baltimore]. Another time, I was on Jefferson street in the afternoon. This police got out the car and told everyone standing on the sidewalk, sitting on their stoops, to get into their houses because this was his street and nobody was allowed outside. I don’t know what to think about that…felt like this could be a german gestapo, know what I mean?”

“Yes [been harassed by police]. We’re just standing in front of the Chinese carry out…just waiting for our food…and the police come and tell us to move along. Move along?…we’re waiting for our food…thought the side walk was public property…we can’t stand on the corner in our own community? they want to pat us down…ask us if we have guns…we call it “SWB”…you know what that means? means “standing while black”…if you black you can’t stand on the corner…did you know that? Not the first time I been harassed or seen other people. Too many times to count… yes it breaks up our community…you know why? because we can’t just stand around and talk…they think we’re selling…we can’t even talk to each other…more than two of us and they scared…you know where this comes from? from slavery…when they saw two or more of us talking they thought we were trying to do something…since then they been scared…”

“Yes, of course [been harassed]. First time was 16. Since then I get harassed/ stopped at least once every year. This is all a system problem. What happen with Freddie Gray is not a one-time occurrence. Last time got harassed, was driving and pulled over, profiled. Some guys walked past and distracted the police. They just left me there, told me to go. Didn’t pull me over for anything. They have to meet that quota.

“police all about themselves. take money for themselves when they raid drug houses, take the drugs too. Then people get killed because drugs missing, money missing”

Our belief systems embed and nourish systems of structural racism and white supremacy, built institutions that maintain racial oppression in place and continues to perpetuate violence against our communities of color, more physical and brutally severe in our low income communities. These are the “houses of the Master” eerily reminiscent of the past times, times we like to think are gone. When we compare the neighborhoods that were redlined in Baltimore (Black neighborhoods characterized as not worthy of investment by banks, supported by the Federal Housing Administration) from the 1930’s and the neighborhood maps of current day Baltimore we see a consistent pattern of disinvestment, almost 100 years later. Many of these neighborhoods disinvested in the 1930‘s remain the neighborhoods with the highest amount of poverty, low educational attainment, highest rates of parole, lowest rates of employment, lowest life expectancy, high rates of infant death, highest amount of abandoned and vacant houses, lowest rates of homeownership (maps courtesy of Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance).

baltimore redlining map
Figure 1.PopAA

Figure2.PovertyUnemploy

Figure3.HSVacant

Figure4.Ownviolat

Figure5.InfMLifEx

Figure6.GunhomPapro

Many of the neighborhoods disinvested in the 1930‘s remain the “houses’ created by the Master’s tools. Those currently with moderate or majority White populations are also the result of the separation and resultant community investment using the tools of the Master: creating communities of inequity, in all aspects of life. Why? because we continue to use the Master’s tools to build and rebuild communities: communities of separation by race and class. Listening to the voices of residents:

“Get the people some jobs…people can’t find jobs…and jobs that pay good money.”

“gentrification cause police brutality…the brothers don’t have anywhere to go now, they hang out on the street corner and get harassed and arrested for that”

“Ain’t none [referring to changes in the neighborhood]. govt gonna do what they want to do not mater what. if they did, they would be done help people. Look at Johns Hopkins, buy up houses and kick them people all out. “

“Less police, more schools, better housing. we need jobs. how can you support your family without a job. No job, you get into trouble. Been clean for a long time now…the job keeps me clean. Got something to do everyday. Things for the kids to do. They get in trouble because they got nothing to do after school”

“t’s not the money, it’s who the money is going to. If the money goes to the same three benefactors, who do the same thing every year, nothing is gonna change. I call it a “pipeline”. They the ones in the pipeline for all the funds for all these things [policing, education, housing, workforce training, recreation, street repair] get allocated to the same ones. We have to allocate our funding more broadly. We need more community oversight. More than that, we need community based organizations in the community doing the work, not outside the community. The money need to come to the community and stay in the community.”

“They giving the police so much money but they not doing their job.Need money to clean up the streets. I love Baltimore, don’t want to go anywhere else. start with this house, they need to fix it. I rent, he’s a slumlord. but I have to try and fix it myself.”

“Took away the rec centers, day care so people ended up having to work two jobs for $8/hr. mothers have to work, so they become prostitutes, then they lock them up. get some jobs so we can live. then we won’t get locked up for living. Now want to stop foodstamps; keep the foodstamps going. are you being fair to people, or just trying to get over?…How come you won’t hire an ex-convict? why can’t give them a break? Ex-convicts have a lot of skills, some of them really smart. Can’t find a job…How bout those ones they falsely accuse, then 20 years later they say “oh sorry” you’re not guilty, and want to give them money. They lost 20 years, can’t make up for lost time, money can’t heal yourself.”

“Need jobs here…That Hopkins project, 2 people working over there on that new project. They talk a lot about giving people a chance, helping people in the hood. but what I see is they don’t hire people from here. EBDI doesn’t hire the local people. But they talk big…tell you you got a record…don’t help you cause you got a record? thought they suppose to help you even if you have a record, don’t call you back”

“Need housing, places for the kids to play…so they don’t keep doing the same things. see those kids over there? they bored on a Saturday afternoon.
when I was a kid we use to play over there, now there’s Johns Hopkins…now the kids they make up their own games, like “steal the smart phone game”…So they get creative, make up games like that, and other ones”

“Nothing changed in this community all the years I been here. Only thing change is the rent, it keeps going up and the management don’t tell you why just that the rent will go up in a month. If you can make it you stay, not you out. Need affordable housing and better landlords. People need to make sure landlords do right by us. Nobody watching them. but they watching us. Who gonna help us?
Need safe places for the kids to play so they don’t go join them gangs and run from school to house because parents don’t want them on the street corner. hard for kids these days. Lucky with mine, she just went to college, so proud of her.

Why change our tools, change our houses?

So what tools are we to use, to dismantle this “house” of oppression and separation, and build communities of equity? How do we as individuals and societies, use the tools at our disposal to rebuild communities in line with peace and justice? Perhaps what Ms. Lorde was leading us toward, was the need for us to re-interpret the use of the tools used by the Master to build communities of fear and hate. Perhaps her guidance was to reconsider not only the use of different tools, but the transformation of ourselves so we could re-interpret the use of the tools at our disposal-previously used to build “houses’ of separation, fear, and anger. Take the knife for example, it can be used to peel a ripe and delicious mango, to offer joy and satiate the taste buds. Or it can be used to cause harm. And so it is with any tool at our disposal. The use of construction labor, justly compensated can benefit those rebuilding communities-developers, corporations/universities/hospitals, other private and non-profit interests- and those doing the actual building if they receive a living wage. Just compensation for any type of work, can benefit those with the means to pay for the work being done and those doing the work. Building homes which are affordable to those with low incomes or subsidized incomes along with homes for the middle and market rate earners benefits everyone, not just those with the means to live where they choose. Health care access and benefit for everyone, regardless of race and class, not limited access for some and excessive access for the rich and majority white population moves us toward equitable health. The tools of community building and existence is at our disposal; unfortunately, based on our belief systems of separation of race and class, we have been using them to benefit one race and class of people resulting in accumulation of good health and wealth aggregated into communities of majority White and professional classes. The children and grandchildren of these groups-the supposed “creative class”- continue to benefit today, while the children of Black and Brown peoples, working class and low-income continue to be disenfranchised, individually and as communities, physically and mentally displaced. Changing our belief systems will be necessary to change the ways we use the tools of community building at our disposal.

Individual transformation, of the ways we perceive those different from us, is necessary. Why? Because we don’t only separate based on differences, we compare and judge, demonize, exploit and oppress using notions of inferiority and superiority. These are the tools of the oppressor, the Master. The stories we hold in our mind, the perceptions and thoughts passed on from our ancestors and kin folk, neighbors and friends, places of worship and education, employment and recreation, these are the fundamental tools, the building blocks of words and actions which justify our use of the physical and mental tools of economic violence, social violence, political violence, and health violence against the other. And these are the tools that lead to justifying the continued neglect and abandonment of communities of color and low income. This justification to demonize results in actions that build communities abandoned not only of physical resources, but abandoned of love, compassion, patience, understanding. This fear of the “other”, often unspoken, spins stories in our mind of the inferiority of Black people. As the White teenager in Charleston admits, even when the Black congregants of the church were kind in words and actions toward him, he had to do what he had been mentally trained to do: remove those who he was fearful of, the other, the “demons”. Such a mind was cultivated to believe these tapes and fear Black people; such a mind justified actions of violence. And it is such a mind, aggregated en mass as White Supremacy which built this country and continues to enact implicit and explicit bias against Black and Brown people, continuing the gap between the majority of White and higher income communities and majority of of-color and lower income communities. Returning to the the insights on the streets of East and West Baltimore:

“The big people know this has been going on. All the time. They don’t care and they turn their backs on it. Turn their backs on this community. If they decide that it has to change, from the top, it will change. Finally someone at the top did the right thing [referring to the indictment of 6 Baltimore police officers involved in the killing of Freddie Gray]. See what happened. The police stop working. [referring to the non-responsiveness of police officers during the month of May after the indictment of the 6 Baltimore police officers] We need them. Just need them to stop harassing black people.”

“The media, don’t get me started…they orchestrate all this. they gonna get me on the news for a night, then something else important come up… but we still here. got to get City paper to see what’s really going on.”

“They took away a lot of stuff, left us here with nothing. Nothing but a little part everyday. so everybody get equal opportunity to leave…they say. But some of us can’t leave…now, we black people, don’t like to see any of us get ahead. If i buy a new car and park it there, someone gonna come along and scratch it up. Just cause they don’t have one. We don’t let each other get ahead because we jealous of them. If we see someone get ahead, we try to bring them down…been left too long”

The gentle steps of change

So what will it take for this shift in our minds, the ultimate tool of oppression, the ultimate tool that fuels the building and rebuilding of the Master’s house. The Master’s house is a house of separation, oppression, and exploitation, in all aspects of life. Therefore in any aspect of our daily life we have the ability and opportunity to change these tapes of the Master. In every step we place on the earth, whether we are walking from the bed to the toilet, the car to the store, the apartment to the restaurant, the bus stop to the barber shop, each step can be a transformative act when we are conscious and aware. And what does this awareness do? Simply being aware of the thoughts passing through our minds, is already a step toward transformation. We can begin to notice the thought that comes to mind when we see a person different from ourselves, or whom we perceive as being different from ourselves, based on some physical appearance. We note what goes through our mind. Maybe we start noting a pattern of thoughts that come to mind when we see a Black person, a White person, a person dressed in older clothing, a person dressed in clothing just off the rack, a woman, a man. Then we notice how these patterns shape the words we use with these perceived others, the actions we engage in with the other. Just this mere awareness, when connected to the understanding of love, of compassion will make us question ourselves: “how am I perpetuating division and discrimination when I have thoughts like this; is it in line with the love and equality, peace I speak about, of the patience I say I want to offer to everyone”. Noticing in ourselves first, how we participate in acts of separation and violence, is a big step toward changing the way we interact with others. When we become more aware of ourselves we become more aware of the interactions we engage in and how others act similarly or different. The individual gentle steps of transformation is a major path of change toward dismantling the Master’s house of exploitation, separation, violence, and injustice. A transformed self transforms all the interactions and spaces we engage in and with: after all houses, communities, societies are made up of individuals. A house of aware and non-violent individuals builds communities and societies of awareness and non-violence. Such collective communities are powerful forces for change, to recreate and rebuild communities of justice and peace, equity and sufficiency.

When we listen to residents of East and West Baltimore, we have an imperative to change:

“Hope things change, want better for this place. I’m a part of it. I just live here, want better cause I live here. Got people growing up, tell me you wanna raise the next generation in something like this? I wouldn’t want to be a child right now, too hard. that’s why I dont have not right now”

“People have to come together, coming together, changing each other.”

“Community is already fragmented-the mentality-The generations before us didn’t inform everyone how the system works, they didn’t tell the kids. Life is a game, change the whole game. lots of people don’t care anymore. know the cause but don’t care about the effect. they say don’t get involved.”

“I learn to stay by myself. If you talk to the ones on the corner drinking, even if you not drinking, they’ll harass you, arrest you, make you sit on the curve. That’s why I stay by myself, stay out of trouble, sit here and drink my beer. Safer that way.”

“Can’t fragment what’s already fragmented; already broken. can’t get any worst. 38 bodies died already in May-more bodies than the days in a month. The police took the month off. Police not making it any better, not worst. It’s a cop out to say they cause the community to fragment. [referring to the number of deaths occurring in Baltimore City in the month of May 201]”

“yes, they [referring to police violence] break up the community. anybody loose someone they love, of course they grieve. They harass people and don’t think they have families.”

“Don’t get involved, keep to self and keep block clean. Don’t socialize. Up and down this block I clean up. I play with my grandkids, raised all 5 of them. My grandaughter graduate from college tomorrow. So proud of her. I teach them to get a job and hold a job. As long as you clean and smelling good, you’re okay.
These my boys [referring to several young men 3 stoops down who come over to ask for a light]. They respect me, I tell them to get jobs”

“Yes, community fragmented b/c they don’t know which way they should go. don’t know which way to go, don’t know if they for us or against us. Fragment, when they should get involved…when police are wrong. don’t know if should get involved. don’t know if it will hurt them. should get involved… we come together as one people. if I say or do something it can be wrong. got everything so enclosed like…one guy thought I was snitching, cop at my door. my [family member] is an officer.”

“Feel like not wanted in the hood. feel like I don’t fit in that area.
Feel like they don’t want no criminals involved, make me feel like I can’t get no job either. Cause once you arrested, you can’t get a job. I got into the Jericho program for ex offenders just come home. They do some training, like cooking. Does it work? see where I’m sitting now? you get a certification in cooking but you got to find you your own job.”

“Get excluded cause have to be on guard. you know. don’t want to talk to the police and don’t want to talk to the gang either, then police think you doing something with them too. Keep to myself, just go and come, say hello, smile, that’s it.”

“The parents don’t teach the kids respect. They allow them to go buckwild.
Never believe in whipping, you can sit down and talk to your child. Don’t have to holler at them. I don’t care how bad they are, even autistic kids you can sit and talk to them. Kids act like this because they weren’t bring up right.
When I was brought up, if I didn’t go to church I couldn’t go outside. 8pm be on the step, 9pm inside the house. playing was fun, that’s it. But now parents they got so much on their mind. The kids running around and throwing stones at cars for fun, little kids..not nice. I just tell them God don’t like ugly.”

If ever there was a time in our society, for change, it is now. Unfortunately, our history has offered us many periods, when change was the only solution. And this is one of them. The tools of oppression must be dismantled, must be transformed; this tool of the mind must be transformed toward understanding, peace, non-violence, justice, and equity, in a breath, in a moment, in a movement. The process of change will recreate and rebuild our house in order and truth. Peace is the way.

Full report of resident voices on policing, community fragmentation and change, by Social Health Concepts and Practices, Inc. will be available soon.

Building equitable communities: Black women and girls lives matter

Fragmentation of community affects policing and is affected by policing: the lost of black lives to violence, and black women and girls lives to violence continues to fragment our communities. Recognizing, respecting, celebrating to rebuild communities toward equity, the matter of black women and children lives is a critical part of this transformation.
Join us to create a powerful collective energy that will assure change in Baltimore, and beyond!

Saturday June 20 3pm Rekia’s Rally
Sunday June 21 2pm Natasha’s Jubilee

Rally and celebration for black women and girls lives

Flyer.BlackwomenandgirlslivesmatterSolidarity through spirituality

Insights on Right View from Change makers and Liberation Seekers

Join the discussion on how we seek to maintain a “right view” as we move through our daily lives, seeking change for liberation from the a world of chaos

As organizers, healers, frontliners, educators, mothers, community leaders, artists and students how do we build and create sustainable change that honors our well being, our time and livelihood? How do we create and act with exactness and strategy that preserves our stamina and reinforces or affirms our cause? How do we act with accountability to our many communities seeing the intersections of where all our suffering begins and where our liberation lies? What tools and resources are available to help us find a sense of grounding and clarity in our work towards social transformation?

In many spiritual, religious and secular practices across the world the foundation of wakefulness or awareness is a core and principal dynamic present in the many ways one or many speak, act and live their lives. It is this awareness, this mindfulness that comprises a contemplative way of being.

For this community round table discussion we have asked seasoned organizers, religious teachers, and professors committed to telling the stories of the often silenced to share their spiritual practices that root their work and themselves in the effort to support their ability to see, hear, act, work and live with a clear mind, present heart and grounded sense of direction.

June 12, 2015
630 pm – 830 pm

Brooklyn Zen Center
505 Carroll Street, Suite 2A
Brooklyn, NY 11215
(718) 701-1083

DSC_0030

DSC_0059

Police brutality: Using the mud of chaos to move toward an equitable tomorrow

DSC_0497
Baltimore is not burning only these past two days…it has been burning for decades. And the flower that can grow from this mud of chaos and attempt at reparation for atrocities past and present is possible: a more equitable tomorrow. Unfortunately what we are witnessing by the media sensationalization in effect is an attempt to narrow the protest and killing of a black man in police custody to an “event”. A picture of black men rioting and stealing is exactly what white-dominated media persists in selling to its majority white audience. Images that continue to perpetuate the myth of “unruly people, unlawful people, and a necessary police presence to manage these people”. To change this myth is to bring a white-skin-privileged America to acknowledge a history of disinvestment in our black and low-income communities. Disinvestment which has led to lack of the amenities which allowed middle and market rate communities to flourish and compete for the resources available for all. But without the investments in communities to assure education, health, living-wage employment, and competitive skill sets we have allowed our low-income communities to disintegrate, fracture, and turn inward. The perpetuation of black people as “unruly” affirms the mind of America and supports their continued neglect of the grave disconnect and gap between those with and those without. It allows the sanctioning of police and military means to “control” the “savage” communities. What the media and majority America fails to understand is that when the injustices of Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Freddie Gray lives’ are finally revealed, it is a reflection of a history of brutality against black and brown people: a reality decades in the making since a whip was the means of control. Current day police brutality simply continues the “master/slave” dualism, now supported by uniforms and laws. Our current rates of incarceration of black and brown men evidence this truth and the plantation of “prison and jails” houses the masses. Policing with brutality in the past using overseers and slave masters has mutated over the years. Today we have a legal system with police officers, lawyers, judges, parole officers (and others) who have replaced the overseers. While the whips may not be evident, the effective means of “control” continue to brutalize the lives and communities of black men, women, and children-the significance of this is seen most dramatically in low income communities.

rose3
But waking up to this reality is possible, IF we can take the discourse and action on the current police brutality of Freddie Gray- who suffered a spinal cord injury leading to death while in the custody of police-to a truthful level. The reality of our segregated America can be finally discussed fully, acknowledging a history of segregation which continues today and the devastating consequences to all Americans. This segregation results not only in damage to our communities of color, but to white America as well. The “interbeing” nature of our humanity is fact and the gated communities and high rise luxury condominiums cannot protect those walled away from the “eyesores” of America. The time is now, the place is right here in Baltimore. If we take the time to look for the alternative media coverage of the larger number of people peacefully protesting and the gathering of community groups to pray and hold peace for Freddie Gray, and all those who have been brutalized before him, we begin to move toward a path of justice. This change in the perceptions embedded in the consciousness of America can be the seed that will bloom into the flower of justice. America has grown to its current stage of accepting police brutality of black and brown people due to a myth of black inferiority and the resultant necessity of disrespect and disregard. In order to move toward equity for all, we must recognize that equity for some is not sustainable to assure equity for all. Instead it further separates us and allows white America to condone brutality in all forms: disinvestment in communities of color which leads to substandard food, amenities, education, employment, transportation, housing, recreation. Poverty of resources results in a poverty of the ability to compete in society. It’s time to heal and bridge the gap of benign neglect and accepting of injustices against black and brown Americans. Moving with intention toward equity and sustainability is a path available once we recognize the benefit not just to black Americans but all Americans-we inter-are.

Re-Building communities: separation or sustainability

Community rebuilding as a means to separation

windowplantUrban rebuilding can be a dualistic/separatist undertaking, benefitting the rich only or one which incorporates the community and benefits all-sustainability. A recent article out of Hagerstown Maryland offers Baltimore city and its cadre of urban rebuilders some great advice: include the community in planning for our community rebuilding or continue rebuilding that leads to divergent paths: those with and those without. In regard the lack of social services for the existing community in current rebuilding plans those working at Hagerstown area nonprofit agencies said: “…they were disappointed that a Philadelphia firm that helped the city come up with a downtown revitalization plan did not address the issues with which that the local organizations deal. Ostoich said Urban Partners, which recommended an eight-part revitalization plan for Hagerstown, has certainly observed situations in other cities that are similar to Hagerstown’s challenges…Ostoich said she would like to see a partnership formed between the nonprofit organizations, the City of Hagerstown and the city’s office of economic development to address issues like homelessness and substance abuse.” link1 Each non-profit providing services for homelessness, housing access and affordability, recovery, mental health and substance abuse treatment, post-incarceration issues, employment reported an increase in their clients and the need for revitalization plans to address these needs.

This is the same pattern of urban rebuilding occurring in Baltimore and beyond: revitalization projects which turn a blind eye to the existing social conditions, many of which are brought about by unemployment and under-employment. Plans do not address the need for recovery programs, or re-entry programs, or mental health programs, or job training, or interview skills, or stress reduction. These conditions are present in Baltimore and other cities which have seen the massive loss of jobs since the 1970’s industrial revolution (substituting machine for human power) and the downturn in the economy since neoliberalism-government joining with private investors to grow their wealth using public subsidies. The outcome of such policies and practices has been the increasing gap between the rich and the poor and the inevitable way vulnerable communities become ill when facing increased stress and little resources to address it. The story in Hagerstown offers a glimpse of what Baltimore has been experiencing for decades: an increase in homelessness, drug use and recovery, mental illness and recovery, unaffordable housing, crime and incarceration. Ostoich speaks about a dual path that revitalization is bringing to the city, one which includes the well-off and those not so well-off. Here in Baltimore we continue to experience the same. Door-knocking and listening in the periphery of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins/EBDI/Casey Foundation/Forest City Bioscience and gentrification project confirms the dual pathway of revitalization. Long time residents share about a fear of not being part of the development as housing prices increase and new neighbors move in. They fear being priced out with property tax increases and rental hikes. New residents are happy with the prices of housing compared to NY or DC and like being in an area marketed for “change” for them. Those with skills and education that allow them to work in corporations and jobs which subsidize housing cost (Live near your work, etc) are mostly happy in their new homes as they wait for more change to manifest around them (one question to ask is how is government subsidizing the employer to offer such housing assistance). Families of generational East Baltimore residents talk about returning from areas north and east but lament the high cost of housing “can’t pay that much but would be nice to come back now that it’s finally changing”. Perceptions of why some locals are home during the day, why some are hanging out on the corner at nights, and the safety of the area persist for the new residents: “I wouldn’t let my mom walk in Patterson Park at night”; while the majority of long time residents don’t mention issues of safety as a concern. Both long time and new residents alike talk about the lack of a place to grocery shop: the type of store will be another tale to tell whether it is affordable for low income residents or not. The new Early Learning Center at the Henderson-Hopkins school is also an issue on people’s mind, especially for those long time residents told they have to be on a waiting list because their income is too high to qualify for admission: “all those Hopkins people have high income and they’re there”. For new residents who are fighting the city about paving an alleyway, they don’t understand why this has to be a struggle: “this is infrastructure of the city, why wouldn’t they pay?” IMG-20121020-00685Indeed, why wouldn’t they pay for this while updating the infrastructure for big development projects in the amount of millions of dollars in tax subsidies is normal, with no effective claw-backs or evaluation as to how the public benefits- Johns Hopkins Medical Institution/EBDI/Casey Foundation/Forest City Developers 78 million, Harbor Point 100 million, Poppleton/La Cite 58 million.

But the marks of a dual path in the rebuilding of Baltimore city goes beyond East Baltimore and West Baltimore. The increased cost of parking across the city is another piece of this dualism as well as the extended times meters are in effect and having to pay to drive the Express Lanes on I-95 (in the White Marsh and 695 region). The Express lanes are accessible with payment only, and in the form of EZ Pass only. These are examples of the separation of those who can afford to participate in what the city has to offer, and those who cannot. If you don’t want to be late you can pay to get on the Express lanes and avoid the merging traffic but when a monthly income is stretched very thin, that extra $3.50 (round trip) can be a significant challenge: in paying your bills and in getting to work on time. Baltimore-20140714-01535This dualistic path of community rebuilding tells the same tale in DC’s 20001 zip code where one shopowner of 40 years posted a sign: “Due to ‘gentrification’ and mixed emotions Jak and Company Hairdressers will be closing”: the landlord would not renew the lease.Link2 Here the white population has grown from 6% in 2000 to 33% currently and the new residents require a different set of amenities. We see the same happening in Harbor East where new development continues while the owners of a local fried chicken and pizza take-out-Kennedy- was told their lease would not be renewed. Just across from the Perkins Homes on Eden and Bank and serving this community for over 15 years his product is not what the new race and class of people being enticed to this area are seeking to buy.Baltimore-20140714-01541

Changing the game for sustainability: community ownership and social movements

This “mixing” of the old and new is a challenge that will not go away today but can begin to be addressed if existing community is at the community rebuilding table. The needs of existing residents and businesses can be addressed in the planning, as well as the needs of the new residents usually represented by the developers whose aim is to attract a class of people able to afford moderate and market rate housing and amenities. Such separation of the old and the new is an age-old challenge of rebuilding and continues today because we continue to ignore the outcomes of previous unhealthy and unequal community building strategies and practices. This chronic disinvestment in low-income and African American and of-color communities has resulted in communities unable to compete in the current market-place for decent employment, over-burdened households with little access to resources, and health burdens that limit access to competitive opportunities. Community rebuilding involving the people as well as the place is crucial. This means assuring equity in not only housing but in employment and resources that will remediate and ready existing communities to benefit from new opportunities. It is not enough for developers like East Baltimore Development Inc. and Forest City to say we cannot hire locally because the people do not qualify (due to incarceration records, drug use, or lack of skill sets). This type of minimalist and separatist community rebuilding is unsustainable and what we have been doing for decades. Like Ostoich said, everyone must be at the table so that the needs of the existing community are incorporated into the plan and not displaced away from sight and sound of the new people. This is why the false type of advertising perpetuated by developers about their rebuilding being “game changers” is misleading and simply provides a narrative for the part of Baltimore with access to resources. In East Baltimore, developers should be ashamed about their contribution to this same ole game of segregation in line with Jim Crow and the removal of Native Americans to reservations. Our policies created our current social challenges and therefore current policies must remediate them. Now that would be a real game changer!

Of course, waiting for government to change, while important is not our only option for change. Organizing and building small and large social movements that challenge the current way we address our most vulnerable is important. Local organizing is key. Many new and old residents alike are unaware of their neighborhood organizations in East Baltimore which is a significant risk factor for not having strong neighborhood cohesion. It is this neighborhood cohesion that offers strength and power to resist government’s plans to rebuild communities without local input. Community fragmentation is an outcome of past and current segregation tactics of community rebuilding. However, it is also a cause of continued segregation and a big obstacle to community power. For example, when a 20-block area has neighborhood associations that don’t communicate with each other or when foundations such as the Annie E. Casey Foundation publicly announces it will only fund one of them (the one with whom it has close relations) collective community power is difficult. Difficult but not impossible. In fact, these same conditions existed in East Baltimore in 2001 and allowed Hopkins/EBDI/Casey/Forest City to come into East Baltimore and expect easy exploitation of land and people. Their expectations were not realized only when the number of people organized exceeded the handful which claimed representation -gate-keepers- of the entire community. The gate-keepers who were willing to stand aside and allow mass exploitation of people and place in the form of unhealthy demolition practices, minimal relocation benefit, minimal payment for existing property were simply outnumbered. The creation of a new organization-Save Middle East Action Committee- then allowed a new vision and practice of community leadership, sisterhood and brotherhood, and mutual respect. Strategies and practices for the people by the people resulted in a powerful force which presented the desires of the impacted people, not a handful with close relations to those with power. We are at a critical impass again almost 15 years later, in East Baltimore, greater Baltimore and beyond.

DSCF6084
Water bills are increasing across the city with little accounting as to why by the city government while private corporations are dictating to government what efficiency looks like, here and across the world. Link3 Private and non-profits are increasingly poised to take over the role of government programs in public education as the new head of Baltimore’s education is leading the way with the promotion of charter schools and privatization. Link4 Using public funds in charter schools skims the little resources away from public schools while private funders manage and dictate educational reform according to their political view. Social service programs are increasingly operated by private and non-profits companies even while race and class-based equity is lacking and little accountability and transparency exists due to their status. This re-distribution of the public wealth into private and the non-profit industrial complexes’ pockets should bare close scrutiny and transparency. We require social movements from below to balance the growing social movements from above and from those with unchallenged power: we need to change the game, truthfully and not leave it to being co-opted by non-profits and private corporations competing for public subsidies. The upcoming social movements gathering/ forum in May in Detroit is one to check into as it will bring together different movements addressing housing access/affordability and water privatization and water as a human right in the US. Link5 Equitable and sustainable community rebuilding requires everyone at the table: to bring about balance and accountability in planning, processes, and implementation, to redistribute power long favored by the few, to move us toward a peaceful co-existence that will heal our segregated communities, and to end old strategies and practices that lead to greater separation and dualism of those with and those without.

Role of public health institutions in public health justice

PDF of slides from talk at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
SPH2015march.2
__________________________________

MariselaGomez
…In these times of historical and current accounting of the effect of anchor institutions in community, at home and abroad, how do we speak truth to power and forge new alliances toward justice? As the field of public health grapples with the social, political, and economic determinants of health, how has a powerful institution like JHU been influential in determining neighborhood health in East Baltimore? Has the development of the institution (and others like it) contributed to the growing wealth and health gap in East Baltimore (and elsewhere)?

Come join us for a discussion with Dr. Marisela Gomez this Wednesday, April 1st at 12pm in Room E6159 for a challenging discussion critical to the past, present, and future of health equity in Baltimore and beyond.

The history of prestigious institutions and their power to exploit those most vulnerable to grow power is vast. To be truthful participants in changing this history we must account for this history and repair it. Transparency begins to hold accountable the past transgressions and find solutions beyond what our fragile human nature has succumbed to thus far. Inequitable health outcomes, arrest rates, educational achievement, income and housing value are symptoms of inequitable communities, of power and privilege. Bridging within and across all our systems-community and economic development, education, criminal, housing, recreation- of society is a large task. How do we forge a path towards equity, while assuring everyone is at the table, and contributing?

Establishing values of inclusivity, accountability, transparency,and reflection/reflexivity in all processes is important. These values must infuse and be embedded in the tools of planning/policy development, practice/praxis, evaluation, public relations/media. And most, most importantly, WE THE PEOPLE, must be involved in all steps of the process toward justice…

_______________

If interested in any slides of presentation, send a contact.

Contemplating peaceful and skillful means to justice,
Marisela

Connecting our struggles across identity politics: a powerful force for justice

Broad-based political organizing

While only 3 months into the Western year of 2015, we have experienced more discussion of the reality of anti-blackness in America than the entire year of 2014. For that matter, 2013 as well. The new media engagement and willingness to report on racism suggests a couple of things: they finally “get it” or there are enough folks standing up and testifying to racism openly. It is unlikely, though wishful, that the media has experienced an abrupt period of enlightenment. We are hearing more about anti-blackness because of the heightened attention of the epidemic of police brutality after the Trayvon Martin case and more recently Michael Brown and the #BlackLivesMatter movement.(1) The movement immediately offered a broad platform which galvanized support from different segregated identity politics: police brutality, criminalization and discrimination of women and children, poverty, community dis-investment, lesbian/gay/bi-sexual/transgendered rights, immigrant rights. The recent outcry from several colleges on black student isolation/segregation is the most recent witnessing of the individual and institutional anti-blackness legacy in the US. But the attention to a culture of anti-blackness is broader and deeper than we may realize: the conservative bastion of medicine in America, the New England Journal of Medicine, published a commentary on “Black lives matter”; faculty members at academic institutions are speaking out about their institutional evidence of anti-blackness; pro-black equity speakers are highlighting at various universities across the US; health departments are documenting the effects of racism and poverty as factors detrimental to health equities. This broad net of protest against the dehumanizing ways society has treated black people and other marginalized communities witnesses-state sanctioned violence, the chronic dis-investment and segregation, the anti-blackness of America. Through policy and practice anti-blackness has enforced segregation and inequity which continues today. The #BlackLivesMatter campaign, formed by three women, invite a coalition of historically oppressed populations to uplift the struggle of each other to build a stronger network of support for each struggle.

Another broad-based social movement has been growing in North Carolina since 2006, increasing public protests after the Republican take-over of the legislature in 2013: Forward Together Movement/Historic Thousands on Jones Street (HToJ). (2) Their platform includes: high-quality public education, living wages, healthcare for all, racial justice, voting rights, affordable higher education, fairness for state contracting, affordable housing, criminal justice reform, environmental justice, collective bargaining and worker safety, immigrants’ rights, a new civil rights act, and bringing the troops home. Their focus has been to challenge and change the state legislative and executive body and political machinery which recently passed legislation inhibiting voter rights and slashing of public funding for social, educational, and health programs. Their movement has spread to Georgia, South Carolina. Tennessee, and Missouri and has impacted the legislation and voting turnout. Consisting of more than 150 coalition partners they continue to stage protests called Moral Mondays at the state assembly in North Carolina.

Identity politics, their connections, and why

These broad-based coalitions emphasize the interconnectedness of identity politics: injustice and oppression mediated through those with power against those without. Communities are segregated by race, income, education, housing, employability and access to recreational and transportation resources. The chicken and the egg argument can be used to describe the segregation of communities of color and its resultant economic segregation. Cities continue to gentrify and segregate by housing cost and education. (3) Here in Baltimore we rank 13th out of 50 large cities in gentrification and the resultant segregation between those with low and higher incomes; Washington, DC took a stunning 3rd place. Even though we see the direct negative outcome on funding for public education from recent public subsidies to wealthy developers who invite more racial and economic segregation, our local and state governments continue to directly and indirectly discriminate against the marginalized. These neoliberal practices of community development: policies and practices which grow the gap between the rich and the poor, drive development in the US and beyond leading to greater segregation. As reported by The Atlantic’s CityLab recently “It is not just that the economic divide in America has grown wider; it’s that the rich and poor effectively occupy different worlds, even when they live in the same cities and metros…Race is a significant factor. Economic segregation is positively associated with the share of population that is black, Latino, or Asian, and negatively associated with the shares of white residents.” (4,5)

The growth in income inequality and the resultant segregation over the last 10 years has raised awareness for some, but most are still asleep to the causes and effects. Scientific American recently commented on the reason for this “dream-like” state that Americans are in: “At the core of the American Dream is the belief that anyone who works hard can move up economically regardless of his or her social circumstances…Sure enough, people think that moving up is significantly more likely than it is in reality…..By overemphasizing individual mobility, we ignore important social determinants of success like family inheritance, social connections, and structural discrimination…We may not want to believe it, but the United States is now the most unequal of all Western nations. To make matters worse, America has considerably less social mobility than Canada and Europe.” (6)

In the 21st century, we continue to live the myth of meritocracy, that we are equally rewarded for our hard work, there is a level playing field that values each person and community similarly. One glaring example of this is the difference in housing value in black and white neighborhoods. The Brookings Institute published a comparison of wealth in white and black neighborhoods showing “wealthy minority neighborhoods had less home value per dollar of income than wealthy white neighborhoods”…“poor white neighborhoods had more home value per income than poor minority neighborhoods.” Of the 100 metropolitan areas studied, even when homeowners had similar incomes, black-owned homes were valued at 18% less than white-owned homes. In effect, the higher the percentage of blacks in a neighborhood, the less a home is worth. This correlation begins when there is greater than 10% of black residents in a neighborhood. (7) Another example of race-based development and housing value is evident by public and private investments targeted to communities which are not majority black (less than 40%) as documented in a recent study by Harvard researchers. (8) This study confirms previous studies on race-based discriminatory community development practices. Development of areas with majority residents of color do occur. However, the displacement of the existing residents and racial gentrification usually result in the neighborhood achieving a majority white status. These practices are well documented through urban renewal in the 1950’s and subsequent government housing programs like HOPE VI and Promise Zones. The 1950‘s and current Johns Hopkins Medical Campus expansion in Baltimore into almost 150 acres are examples of mass removal of more than 1500 black families using eminent domain and tax subsidies as public support. The re-population with a different race and class was the intention of both projects, further displacing low income and black residents for majority middle and market rate residents.

Power of collective resistance

Indeed the marginalization of various political identity communities do not occur in a vacuum, separate from each other. The #BlackLivesMatter and Forward Together movements remind us that the legacy of state-sanctioned violence in all its forms continue to segregate and penalize the less powerful residents of our society. A higher percentage of black-descendant people are poor and live in communities disinvested of healthy foods, competent schools and health facilities with salaries to attract competent staff, healthy environments, safe and sanitary homes, and recreational centers. Low income people of all races/ethnicities are living in similarly disinvested communities. Low income people are employed in high-turnover jobs with little job security, career opportunity, living wages and paid sick leave or time off. The criminalization of people living in low income communities far surpass those living in moderate and higher income communities. The oppression of women, those with disabilities, and sexual minorities occur across all social and economic systems. The power of coalitions to connect across the commonality of discrimination and oppression is great. When each struggle is aware and directly and indirectly support the struggle of another, there is a stronger force moving forward against all oppressive norms and practices. From state-sanctioned segregated and disinvested communities, to disinvested schools, recreation centers, public and social services, health services, to mass incarceration, the thread is a systematic violence against people deemed inferior, of diminished worth. Broad-based movements can offer a platform for various local and national issue-specific or identity political movements to connect and coalesce. Then each small act of daily individual resistance becomes the foundation for building resistance and organizational power across multiple issues; individual organizations/movements collect together to build larger networks of resistance connecting all vulnerable and historically and currently oppressed groups. This type of network of resistance reinforces resilience – I am my sister’s keeper and she is mine. This network of resistance is necessary to resist and change the network of violence currently enforced against all our marginalized communities.

1. #BlackLivesMatter

2. Forward Together Movement, North Carolina

3. Governing. Gentrification

4. The Atlantic.City Lab. Economic segregation

5. New York Times. Income inequality is bad for your health

6. Brookings Institute. Segregation and housing value

7. Scientific American. The myth of the American Dream

8. Jackelyn Hwanga and Robert J. Sampsona. Divergent Pathways of Gentrification: Racial
Inequality and the Social Order of Renewal in Chicago Neighborhoods. American Sociological Review 2014, 79(4) 726–751