Reflections from Chicago: Resourcing the Village

Recently the Ingoma Foundation and theCONNECT attended the Aspen Institute’s Opportunity Youth Incentive Fund (OYIF) grantees convening in Chicago. We were one of 24 sites present, while there we visited sites in Chicago that are doing great work with  youth. We attended many panel discussions, and workshops, that were led by business leaders like CVS, and well as Chicago based youth groups like Chicago Youth Authors. Below is reflections from Nehemiah Hall-Youth Support Specialist for the Ingoma Foundation and Paulo Gregory Harris-Executive Director of the Ingoma Foundation.
Resourcing the Village
Nehemiah Hall and Paulo Gregory Harris, theCONNECT/Ingoma Foundation
Chicago and Baltimore share challenges both with engaging youth who are disconnected from viable pathways to prosperity, and the pain of urban communities with significant portions of their populations falling into economic deserts. As we listened to the OYIF 2016 April Convening opening plenary “Perspectives on Chicago from System & Local Leaders”, we couldn’t help but reflect on how the lessons lifted up by the panelists translated to our community and work in Baltimore.
It was poignant as Melody Barnes acknowledged the young lives lost in Chicago at the start of the plenary. It was also noteworthy that Michael Strautmanis from the Obama Foundation stated that it is rare to see young people at the table where the decisions impacting their lives are made. These realities are not disconnected, and are reflective of patterns we see in Baltimore and around the country, that not only exclude young people from the table, but exclude the community, and individuals of color, from even the most fundamental decisions that profoundly impact us. What naturally flows then is that this pattern is mirrored in access to the substantial resources that create the capacity to do the work at scale, and to influence what is measured, prioritized and fiscally recognized as having an impact.
As youth and communities struggling for survival, no one knows more about our experience than us. What we as youth need is the emotional outlet to breathe beyond our pain, and the support, built on an understanding of who we are, that meets us in real and tangible ways to help us create our own pathways to sustainable futures. How do we measure what really works without being at, or even more, owning, the table? For example, when I first started work with the Ingoma Foundation, I wasn’t getting paid for anything. The only reason I came was because someone I love and trust aimed me to the opportunity. Another young man, Huey, was looking for a job. He came in and we asked, “What makes your soul sing?” Huey later told us, “When I heard that, I knew this place was different because no one ever cared to ask me that before.” There was an outlet here, and direct relationships that I couldn’t find elsewhere. There were groups of young people my age – some just like me, some not like me, who worked together to create a program designed by us, for us. Those kinds of supports don’t get funded unless you have some magical data person and the resources to translate those intangible elements into “evidence-based practices”. That part of the story is difficult to quantify, yet it is the most important ingredient in the transformation of a life.
In Baltimore we see scaled and well-funded programs having trouble attracting young people. We have been in dialogue with funders and other system players to raise the level of consciousness of these issues, and are starting to see change. This week is the anniversary of the Baltimore Youth Uprising that took place on April 27, 2015. It took this level of youth expression to open the eyes of those who hold the major purse strings to look at resources aimed at youth differently – but the distance between youth, community and the resource flow is still a chasm. As an Ethiopian proverb warns, “If the youth are not initiated into the tribe they will burn down the village just to feel its warmth.” We on the ground in Baltimore have known this, and since the uprising, we are now seeing innovations by our system colleagues.
The Mayor’s Office of Employment Development, in partnership with the Annie E. Casey Foundation, have recently released an RFP that insists that community partners not only be at the table but, even more, must be compensated for their work within the project. They know that it is the relationships that exist in the community that are the real pull for young people, and those relationships are a commodity that needs to be funded. You have to have a balance between looking at people as objects and numbers – and the human element that actually pulls in, and leverages the growth in youth.
If we shift to a system that is more responsive to youth, and one that youth lead and are part of the quality control, we will begin to find new ways of measuring, and creating real impact. Just as the Chicago Cook Workforce Partnership held local programs to performance standards that had teeth and raised the bar for the overall system, equal or greater standards need to be upheld for the other side of the impact spectrum. As Julius Robinson from Becoming a Man (BAM) shared, “I had a safe haven to go to, to talk about my feelings about what I was going through in my life.” One clear and powerful measure will be the lives saved as youth are wrapped in the love and support of the entire village.
See the Panel Discussion:

OYIF April 2016 Convening System/Local Leaders Plenary (April 12, 2016), Part 1

OYIF April 2016 Convening System/Local Leaders Plenary (April 12, 2016), Part 2

Youth Unlocked launches Monday Funday

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This summer has been a busy one for the Ingoma Foundation; besides our current Youth Unlocked Summer Session and our current #OutoftheBox Tour. We have added something new. We have decided to engage our community by having workshops that get people moving, laughing, being, and getting to know each other outside of formal meetings. Giving people the opportunity to let their hair down and have fun.

We’ve partnered with neighboring community organizations, OC250 and North Barclay Green Community Center, to launch Monday Funday. Last week we kicked off our Monday Funday series, we partnered with our neighbor Paradise Nail Shop and did facials, manicures and pedicures.Today we’ll be parting with the Baltimore Wisdom Project for our Music, Movement and Martial Arts workshop.

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There are more events planned. So if you are age 14-24 and are in the neighborhood, and want to get out, or cool off from the scorching sun, come JOIN US for:

MONDAY FUNDAY

Every Monday

The Ingoma Foundation

933A. N. Caroline St. 21205

(our door is between the nail shop and the Great Panda)

5-7pm

Look Beyond What You Perceive: Introducing “The Gem of Oldtown”

Written by Nehemiah Hall, Youth Unlocked Youth Leader

“We had everything! We ain’t have to leave this community for nothing!”, he said proudly of his neighborhood: Oldtown in East Baltimore. I stood behind the camera conducting an interview with my Youth Leader coworker for our Youth Unlocked Summer 2014 film project. In front of the camera he stood, enthusiastically pissed. His body language was eager to tell us the story of the community where he grew up, and where he still lives. His face was stressed – enraged at the city that had abandoned this former staple of Baltimore. I understood his frustration. I knew what people thought of Oldtown. I knew community residents were and still are being pushed out. Police occupy the streets while trash scatters across them. Drug dealers take up the formerly popular mall – now in shambles. Johns Hopkins is buying up space like the community is a penny store.

I share the anger because I know that Oldtown is not the only formerly great community now labeled as “ghetto“ and “hood”. A common impression is that the Black residents who live in this neighborhood are solely responsible for making it into a present day wasteland. We make assumptions that these communities were forever destined to be this way. These assumptions are flat out wrong.

The universe that we occupy didn’t just come into being. Neither did Oldtown nor communities like it. These communities were the glue that held Black America together. When Black parents went off to work and black children went to school in an oppressive, racist, white-supremacist system they had their communities as a refuge to return to. “We had a bank. We had nice clothes (nice, clean, sharp). We had different places for the community to go,” explained elder resident Mrs. Jean Booker -Bradley. Sitting beside her was another elder resident, Mrs. Devon Wilford-Said, who, like the gentleman mentioned above, had seen her beloved community decline. This decline was not solely by the hands of the residents, but in part by investment choices made by developers and facilitated by City government. “With the demolition of Somerset, Flag house, Lafayette Courts and things of that nature, and Belair Market. When the Market left, so did the people.” Mr. Keith

The grounds of what use to be Belair Market.

The grounds of what use to be Belair Market.

said about the City’s choice to divest from Oldtown. According to a Baltimore Sun article published on September 27,2014 “Nothing New with Old Town”. “In 1995, the City tore down six high-rise housing projects south of the Mall, to be replaced with safer, low-rise units. Thousands of residents were displaced while the city rebuilt – and many never returned. Such a sharply eroded customer base was devastating to the already struggling businesses that remained.”

The assumptions we make may ignite our curiosity to seek and learn. But when we state — and believe — our own assumptions as facts we often end up ignoring the truth. Recently, city residents were quick to run to Baltimore’s defense while national and international media made assumptions about our city. People highlighted their truths about Baltimore. This film project was produced to share the real story of what happened to Oldtown and to open the possibility for a future that does not equal the past.

Watch the film below to take a look at Oldtown’s past, present and aspiration for a future.

Gentrification in Baltimore: An alternative model

Gentry map

According to a new article published in Governing Magazine titled “Baltimore Gentrification Maps and Data” The gentrification around the Inner Harbor is creeping toward Oldtown. Surrounded on the South,  East, and West by gentrified neighborhoods  Oldtown is poised to become one of the next neighborhoods to gentrify.

What does this mean for Oldtown? It depends…

According to the article, gentrification brings “significant growth in both home values and educational attainment,” definite positives for any neighborhood. However, gentrification implies the replacement of the current decay with fresh, new wealth — not the elevation of the current neighborhood to amass wealth and achieve ownership and educational goals.

Instead, Ingoma would like to foster a process of Regeneration and Rejuvenation. Rather than allowing the tide of change to sweep the neighborhood clear, we would like to utilize the tide of change to attract investment into rebuilding the economic infrastructure of the neighborhood. This means ensuring that housing is affordable and inclusive, that infrastructure is created to seed new low-cost startup enterprises, and that supports are integrated and enhanced to allow families and individuals living in Oldtown to enhance their education. So, rather than the standard model of investing in condos to attract single, wealthy thirty-somethings or high-end national chains that siphon profits to far-away corporations we must develop models that encourage investors to build quality, affordable family housing and provide capital to low-cost local start-ups who provide goods and services to their own communities. By changing the investment model this way, wealth can be generated to benefit both the developers and investors AND the current residents of Oldtown while simultaneously improving the quality of life.

Oldtown Developers Selected – Partnership Begins

Beatty Development Group and Henson Development Co. have been selected as the development team to redevelop the Oldtown Mall. The developers proactively reached out to the Oldtown Development Team, facilitated by the Ingoma Foundation, to engage with the community, and have committed to remaining actively engaged as the plans for redevelopment are developed. Ingoma and its  partners in the Change 4 Real Community Corporation, Brown Craig Turner Architecture Firm, the Douglass Homes and Somerset Tenant Councils and Sojourner Douglass College are committed to ensure that the new construction in Oldtown will honor the collaboratively-developed Oldtown Redevelopment Plan, which issues a new era of “holistic-development” which ensures that existing residents share in the economic and social development that is spawned by the project, and sustainable jobs and community-owned enterprises are created through the process.

The community has evolved it’s vision of the development with the support of Brown Craig Turner Architects outlined in the summary presentation below:

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We have collaboratively developed a plan for development in Oldtown that will create new pathways for current Oldtown residents to start businesses and rent or buy homes RIGHT HERE IN OLDTOWN . Thank you to the community leaders who have remained committed throughout the 9-year planning process, and the Youth Unlocked Youth who have taken leadership in the last two years to ensure the future of their community. Now is the time to engage in the finalization of the plans, and the future of Oldtown. Stay tuned for announcements about upcoming scheduled Change 4 Real meetings. To get on the mailing list for Oldtown redevelopment activities, Click Here>> Oldtown Redevelopment Mailing List

Check out the link to the Baltimore Sun article here.

Youth Unlocked Hosts the Lifelines to Healing Bus Tour in Baltimore

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Of the forces undermining urban community stabilization are those aimed at the youngest, most vulnerable of our community. And of these, the most devastating to our youth are gun violence and mass incarceration. The PICO national network convened the Lifelines to Healing Bus Tour, a direct response to the outcry following the unjust killing of Trayvon Martin. The national bus tour was organized to build awareness around the persistent disparities that exist between King’s dream and the realities of being a person of color in 2013. The Mid-Atlantic leg of the tour began in Boston and made stops in Hartford and Newtown CT, Harlem, New York, Philadelphia, PA, Camden, NJ and here in Baltimore on its way to the commemoration of the 50 anniversary of the 1963 March On Washington.

The Ingoma Foundation, through its Youth Unlocked initiative, hosted the Lifelines Bus Tour at the Historic Sojourner-Douglass College for a 5 hour  story sharing and training event with a group of 50 young people and adult allies from the Baltimore area. The session  featured young people mastering the telling of their own stories of experiences through story-telling and spoken word performance, about the impact of gun violence and mass incarceration on their lives. Participants documented their stories on film, and learned how to create a powerful public voice on these issues. Said spoken word artist and youth organizer Slangston Hughes, “The Headlines to Healing bus tour event at Sojourner Douglass this past friday was amazing, powerful beyond words! So grateful for the brothers and sisters from all over the country i got to meet, and the incredible stories we got to hear. Shout out to Paulo Gregory Harris, Alvin Toussaint Herring, and everyone who helped to organize the days events and to Dre Jackson for being the lone representative from the Baltimore Citywide Youth Poetry Team, and for his powerful performance. As poets, these are the kind of events that we must be present at more than anything else, slam is fun and can even be transformational and all that but moving forward it MUST be a bonus not the focus. Are words have TO MUCH WORK to do beyond that.”

The Lifelines tour kicks off the Youth Unlocked fall organizing efforts to bring youth, police and community members together to take on community challenges and in the process divert youth toward streams that will carry them sustainably and productively through their lives. “If we are going to make any headway at all in reducing gun violence and stemming the rising tide of youth incarceration in this country we are going to have to hear from young people. Their stories and their experiences matter and have the power to move us to act. This day will bring that voice to the Tour.” said Paulo Gregory Harris, Director of the Ingoma Foundation.

View the WBAL Story on the Baltimore Stop on the Lifelines To Healing Tour