The ‘Baltimore Uprising’ put a national spotlight on our city and the systemic issues of injustice and disenfranchisement that have festered here for generations.
We concluded our #GNBLive series with an interactive discussion between city artists, business leaders, and you, about how to—one year later–drive action and finally create change in Baltimore.
Our panelists convened at the Walters Art Museum for the 60-minute conversation. They included, Devin Allen, Photographer and Youth Mentor; Joe Jones, CEO of the Center for Urban Families; Sharayna Christmas, Founder of Muse 360 Arts; Kathleen Sherrill, President of AIA Maryland; and Aaron Bryant, curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture. Topics ranged from support groups for Baltimore fathers to the need for more African American students to study abroad.
Devin Allen, whose powerful images of the uprising intrigued the nation and landed on the cover of Times Magazine, said Baltimoreans don’t need structured organizations to make an impact in their communities.
“I went out as a concerned citizen because I felt as an artist, I had to reflect the times,” he said of his decision to photograph the uprising. “I was obligated to…use my God given talent to document it and tell a true story because I knew the media couldn’t.
I would literally be dead if it wasn’t for photography,” he added. “I lost both my best friends and both times when I was supposed to be with them, I was doing photography.”
After investments from Russell Simmons and the GoFundMe creators, Allen launched a program that has placed 50 cameras in the hands of Baltimore students, and he is still collecting cameras from all over the world to donate to youth.
In addition to giving young people creative outlets, to ease tensions, Baltimore also needs to create more speaking platforms for those who have historically felt devalued and ignored, according to Aaron Bryant of the Smithsonian.
Joe Jones, CEO of the Center for Urban Families adds that it is important for organizations to actively reach out to people in the community. His fatherhood program provides a supportive space for roughly two dozen African American fathers to talk. Many of the men, Jones said, are raising children but have not had relationships with their own fathers.
“That experience is painful and when we give them the opportunity to let it out, you have adult men crying and hugging one another over that pain, over that absence, over that sense of abandonment,” Jones said. “But they are also fathers and they are responsible for their own children, so we are really trying to work to make sure they have the capacity to parent from a male perspective and give them the voice– the platform–to be able to grow into who they want to be.
”Jones went on to say that many Baltimoreans live in disadvantaged communities, “but we can challenge ourselves and try to make connections to try to get people to move forward. We want to change that narrative of Baltimore.”
Kathleen Sherrill, President of AIA Maryland says a large part of changing that narrative, is learning and taking pride in our history. She is working to raise awareness of the historical significance of the Upton community, which is one of the oldest continuous African American communities in the nation.
“The children that now live there–even the adults that now live there–don’t know the ground they’re walking on,” she said. “They don’t know who has tread in that community before them because it’s been erased.”
During the event, panelists also discussed the need to support–not just special events commemorating the uprising– but the initiatives and organizations that have been staples in Baltimore for years.
“If you care about the future of Baltimore, if you care about the legacy, the history of Baltimore, then you would make an effort to bridge that gap and really find out what people need,” said Sharayna Christmas of Muse 360 Arts, naming Baltimore organizations such as Arena Players and the Eubie Blake Center. She also talked about the importance of exposing young Baltimoreans to other parts of the world through travel programs because less than 5% of African American students study abroad.
The panelists applauded Jared Johnson-Bey, a youth activist and member of the Baltimore Urban Debate League, who urged Baltimore’s older generations to have more faith in the city’s youth. The speakers agreed that the media and the city as a whole is slow to recognize the positive attributes of the Baltimore’s youth.
Watch a video recap above, and let’s continue these conversations as we work toward progress.
#whatisprogress to you?
Written by: Shernay Williams