Rebuilding Baltimore: How will we acknowledge and repair our history?

Today I was part of a panel discussion on the role of reparations in rebuilding communities (Marc Steiner Show, WEAA 88.9 FM); specifically Baltimore’s historic and currently dis-invested communities of color. There was a lot of wisdom on the panel, various suggestions. We acknowledged the historic structural racism that led to building chronic disinvested communities in many parts of Baltimore today. These are communities chronically disinvested in education, workforce development, social skills, transportation, health access, housing, recreation, and other core building blocks of healthy and thriving communities. Our conversation identified common threads which were consensual and built on each other. In summary we agreed that the 700 million Governor Hogan announced for demolition of vacant houses in historically abandoned communities should be:

1. secured and committed to this effort
2. used in accordance with a plan by impacted communities
3. used to rebuild Baltimore for existing residents and not only for the 10,000 being enticed to move here
4. used to create co-operatives and entrepeneural opportunities for impacted communities
5. distributed into organizations and projects working in cooperative and solidarity economics and worker-owned, and not the same neo-liberal non-profits who fill their pockets with dollars intended for impacted communities
6. used to build infrastructure to help communities organize themselves to be decision-makers
7. used to create opportunities to address the current social and health needs of impacted communities, instead of displacing these needs into other neighborhoods
8. used to build affordable housing for existing residents and new working class and middle class residents
9. used to create jobs for impacted communities, specifically for returning citizens, hire locally
10. used to ensure the people involved in rebuilding Baltimore are coming from a place of love to build a beloved revolution in our communities that would benefit all

Nothing here is new or unique to rebuilding communities. However, as a collective, such strategies would be new to Baltimore and acknowledge and begin to repair its history of race and class-based injustices. There has been one or two of these strategies used in past rebuilding efforts. But as a whole, a rebuilding plan incorporating such strategies would be revolutionary. In Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America, the last chapter provides a similar framework for rebuilding abandoned communities. The lessons came from the experience of a 2001 top-down, displacement-driven gentrification plan to accommodate the power of Johns Hopkins Medical complex in East Baltimore. This was a repetition of a similar plan in the 1950’s (Broadway Development Plan), the “highway to no-where” in 1970’s. There have been other urban renewal and “negro removal” strategies-serial forced displacement- since the early 1900’s in Baltimore and beyond. We know how to build inequitable communities.

Now, can we move in a direction of equitable community building? Can we get it right this time? Can we also come from a place of truth and acknowledge how white determination and superiority have dictated all aspects of community building? This truth drives and is embedded in how we have built and rebuilt communities of color, and white communities. This acknowledgement can begin the process of healing as we understand why we must take care to assure equity exists in process and outcome as we repair and rebuild impacted communities. For example, can we build on the model of the Gay Street 1 rebuilding project of the 1960’s in East Baltimore? In this majority African American and low income community, residents were surveyed for what they would like to see, housing was built to accommodate existing residents before their existing houses were demolished, residents organized and managed one of the housing developments (still standing today), residents planned for their high school. The parts missing from this community-driven plan was a robust social program and employment strategies for building employment training and opportunities. Ms. Lucille Gorham was a key community organizer and self-made planner for the community at that time. In later years she said she didn’t understand why vocational training schools was not incorporated in rebuilding communities: “not everyone wants to go to college”; and why social programs such as trash prevention and removal and housing rehabilitation and penalty to slumlords were not incorporated into these efforts. She saw these as basic rebuilding strategies for all communities. What was also missing was the competition from the powerful stakeholder of Johns Hopkins Medical Campus, encroaching on the land for gentrification. This allowed the city government to serve the needs of the public, and not the private giant. It was also a time of civil unrest after Dr. King’s assassination and the truth of racial injustice was glaring across the news and hearts of America. No doubt it affected government’s support of an African American-community-driven rebuilding plan. But what continued in community rebuilding in East Baltimore and elsewhere after the redevelopment was completed, was the same perceived superiority of white people and the inferiority of black-skinned people and the necessary segregation that this required. This truth was not acknowledged then, during the repair of the Gay Street 1 neighborhood. So the aftermath would naturally continue in line with inferior services and disinvestment in this majority African American community, with superior services provided in majority white communities.

We know what works and what doesn’t work to build equitable communities and inequitable communities. We first have to decide which we want to build. Let’s get it right this time and rebuild, repair, our Baltimore toward equity and sustainability! There are many issue-focused organizations on the ground already organizing toward equity: around community land trusts, affordable housing, living-wage, anti-grentrification, public housing, accessible health care, emotional healing/emancipation, transforming racism, transforming systemic police brutality, building worker-owned cooperatives, felony/returning citizen rights, environmental justice, mindfulness and social justice, arts and activism, and others. When we affirm the intersectionality of these issues and recognize how they all address building equitable and sustainable communities, we have the tools for transforming our communities. Can we find the space to see the interbeing nature of our struggles and connect across perceived boundaries? Acknowledging our historic struggle to address the human nature to hold one group superior to another, can begin to repair not only racial oppression. It will help us to dig out the root of the interconnection of all oppressions, our path to healing and liberating ourselves and our communities. Let’s rebuild Baltimore in a true and right way.

Two upcoming forums to continue this Beloved Revolution!

Community + Land + Trust: Tools For Development without Displacement
Thursday, January 28, 2016 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM
UMD School of Social Work Auditorium
525 W Redwood St. Baltimore 21201
Questions? Contact and Rachel@unitedworkers.org

WORKER COOPERATIVE JUMPSTART
A One-Day Training to Help You & Your Community Start a Worker-Owned Cooperative Business or Convert an Existing Business into a Democratic Workplace!
Where: IMPACT HUB* 10 E. NORTH Ave
When: SATURDAY JANUARY 30 10AM — 5PM
RSVP: contact
SLIDING SCALE $1 — $25

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.

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

Participatory democracy: right-to-vote, right to participatory development, and the right of government to prevent foreclosure

Right to vote in Hong Kong

Assuring democracy in countries which claim democratic governments is already difficult! What about countries which make no qualms about non-democratic systems of government? The current struggle in Hong Kong for voting rights in Hong Kong’s upcoming election is just that. Residents of Hong Kong are demanding that they have representative vote of their region’s interest in the new chief executive-governing leader- and have been ignored by the powerful government bodies of China and Hong Kong. (1) In response students in Hong Kong have taken to the streets and occupied them, initially called Occupy Central. This has expanded to the general public now called ‘the Umbrella Revolution or Movement’. Their intention is to gain support for their demands for some form of participatory democracy. This past weeks’ demonstrations witnesses this struggle and has garnered solidarity across the globe-from US to Germany, Australia to Belgium, UK to Canada. (2) In spite of such massive turnouts and show of people power protesters have met with violence from the police authority as well as anti-democratic thugs. The occupation of public space continues today with people camping on streets as Hong Kong demands public / human rights to determine their lives-participatory democracy. (3)

Right to equal participation in development in DC and Baltimore:participatory development

In the District of Columbia, public housing residents have been organizing and demanding that the city government and housing authority stop development which threatens their displacement and continue gentrification. OneDC, a local grassroots organization has led the momentum for resident-owned and -driven development for many years. Now they confront city officials to demand that they are part of all development plans which involve their community. (4) Such a demand, representation in decisions that affects your life, seems quite reasonable and certainly would be an assumption for those in power. But for these same individuals who make decisions for public housing residents, their exclusion of residents from planning seems to suggest that these rights should not be afforded to low-income and of-color communities. Such blatant discrimination in housing and community development and urban planning in the US is meeting greater challenge as evidenced by OneDC’s challenge to the powerful stakeholders’ deciding the faith of public housing residents in the ‘People’s Platform’. (4) They are demanding participatory development.

In Baltimore, RHA (Right to Housing Alliance) and residents have led the charge to assure HUD’s recent program to privatize public housing (RAD, Rental Assistance Demonstration) does not leave residents with no rights. While some have called for minimizing or removing private capital from this demonstration project, Baltimore has demanded that residents remain a direct party in the decision-making between management and tenants. (5,6) Even though everyone would expect such a right, HABC appears to feel that public housing residents should relinquish their rights to decision-making in their homes. Such discrimination by Baltimore’s city leaders, supported by neo-liberal policies and programs of the US continue to assure that those without power remain separated from and at the mercy of those with power. RHA has organized and rallied in support of more transparent decision-making and negotiation on contracts being formulated for private developers-demanding participatory development. (6, scroll down for full article by Cohen).

The development for community equity has not found a foothold in Baltimore as yet, but we have hope that participatory development will rise up in Baltimore. The recent project announced in Sharp Leadenhall could potentially lead to more gentrification or equity: dependent on resident’s organizing and assuring a place at the decision-making table with a Community Benefits Agreement in hand for negotiation. (7) Anything else would leave too much dependence on the developer to make a ‘good-faith’ effort to accomplish in regard benefit to existing community. In the past, these ‘good-faith’ efforts, whether in legalize or verbal, have amounted to nothing. This is evidenced by the current Hopkins/EBDI/Casey development in East Baltimore which continues to project moderate and market rate housing, more Hopkins buildings, a school to attract higher income residents, a hotel and a park intended to benefit new residents while affordable housing or permanent employment for local residents remain missing. East Baltimore residents may well heed West Baltimore’s lead in suing the state of Maryland for development of transit-Red Line train system- which excluded their participation in deciding on a route which will disrupt their community and cause harm. (8) All of these development projects continue to receive large government subsidies in the form of new market tax credits, state grants and loans, TIFs, and PILOTs. The city of Baltimore could easily assure that these government subsides make their way back into the pockets of residents by legislating affordable housing in each development is assured for 99 years, a living wage is paid by all new businesses which receive government subsidies, and mandating local/co-op business ownership in each development area. New York City recently legislated a realistic living wage mandate for development and businesses which receive more than $1 million in city subsidies. (9) The current wage of $7.25/hr required by law in the state of Maryland will do absolutely nothing to lift working class people out of poverty, if they benefit from employment in new or ongoing development projects-some ongoing development projects are exempt from recent local-hiring mandates exempting major developments that have benefitted unfairly from public subsidies such as the Hopkins project in East Baltimore. Until we revolutionalize the accepted unjust and neo-liberal policies and practices governing housing, community, and economic development in Maryland we will continue to grow the health and wealth disparity gap in Baltimore, already ranked in the top 10 (of 50 big cities) in regard income inequality. (10)

Government can prevent foreclosure

Across the US citizens affected by the foreclosure crisis-an outcome which was enabled by the banking industry and real estate groups- are demanding their rights through legal strategies. Several cities are challenging the courts to allow city governments to use eminent domain to take late or default mortgages and negotiate with residents for a more affordable rate. For example, New Jersey admits that this strategy may force banks to negotiate with owners for fear of their mortgages being taken by the city through eminent domain. (11) Richmond, California has already implemented eminent domain to seize mortgages greater than the value of homes with San Francisco pending a decision next week on similar strategies. The two cities are considering pooling resources and promoting a national movement toward taking underwater mortgages back from lenders and offering home owners a more affordable mortgage. (12) The use of eminent domain in this way forces lenders who participated in driving up the housing market through loans based on ghost collateral to re-negotiate in more just ways with those they offered credit. City governments willing to stand up for public rights welcome in a new era of democratic participation through public offices. Cities which continue to document foreclosure challenges, like Baltimore, would benefit from similar strategies for participatory democracy. (13)

participatory democracy

1. Live stream from Occupy Central / Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong
2. Solidarity for Hong Kong across the world
3. Ongoing coverage from Hong Kong news sources
4.People’s Platform for an Equitable DC
5. Rental Assistance Demonstration Program
6. Right to Housing Alliance, RHA
7. Proposed mega-project in Sharp-Leadenhall get tentative support
8. W. Baltimore homeowners sue state to block Red Line
9. DeBlasio to raise living wage
10. Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity.
11. New Jersey Mayor address foreclosure problems
12. San Francisco to decide on eminent domain to prevent foreclosures
13. 2007-2013 foreclosure data in Baltimore, MD