At a time of record violence, the proposal would award millions annually to community-led organizations working to uplift Baltimore youth and address the root causes of violence
JAISAL NOOR: On Tuesday, November 12th, more than 100 students, parents and advocates marched in support of the proposed $12 million a year Baltimore Youth Fund. The march began with a press conference at the Penn North Kids Safe Zone just blocks from the epicenter of the Uprising in West Baltimore to the historic Frederick Douglass High School, led by the school’s marching band. Shahem McLaurin is student leader and executive director of Baltimore Star Project. SHAHEM MCLAURIN: I’m here today to advocate for the Youth Fund, which is 3% of the mayor’s budget going to youth in Baltimore City youth programming, and I just think it’s really important to invest in our youth as a whole in the city. I am born and raised in Baltimore. I have gone through the process of growing up in Baltimore, seeing how rough it can be and how necessary programming is. I have my own program and I think it’s really essential that people from the community get to be in control of these programming dollars and get a say in who gets them. JAISAL NOOR: 12 million a year Youth Fund comes at a time of a record homicide rate and skyrocketing violence. While there have been many calls to increase funding for police, advocates say spending on youth helps address the root causes of violence. SHAHEM MCLAURIN: It’s just as simple as this: If we invest in our youth, our youth wouldn’t have any reason to do anything other than succeed at what they want to succeed at. One of the problems is that we’re so quick to throw our youth into prisons and jails that we refuse to look them in the face and see them as human beings. That’s why it’s important that community members who have lived the lives of these youth can be in control of like these programs that will help them better their lives, because people who can look at them and not relate to their backstories, their backgrounds, what they’ve been through and what they go through currently will never be able to fully understand and help these kids. JAISAL NOOR: Zeke Cohen is City Councilman and chairman of the Education and Youth Committee. ZEKE COHEN: Baltimore is not broken. Our children are not thugs or super-predators. What’s predatory is the system that has devalued their lives. If we want peace, we need more than thoughts and prayers. If we want to end the violence, we need work, not words. JAISAL NOOR: Ericka Alston-Buck leads the Penn North Kids Safe Zone. ERICKA ALSTON-BUCK: A Kids Safe Zone is a drop-in safe center for children. Nothing like it has ever existed, so we don’t qualify for any, we don’t fall into the wheelhouse for any foundation. All we do is create a safe recreational place where a kid can be a kid during out-of-school time. So, we’re open every day, and when school is closed, we’re open at noon because we know that a lot of kids go to school for gas and electric. They go to school for a hot meal. They go to school for air condition. They go to school for heat. So, when those schools are closed, we need to provide those same services. So, what we do is provide mentorship, organized sports, a computer lab, homework assistance, recreation, all of the things that children around the city have and deserve. Well, our kids deserve it, too, but our neighborhood, our communities, have been overlooked, abandoned and neglected for centuries. So, here we are, decades later and just a stone’s throw outside of the Uprising, and nothing has changed or things have gotten worse. JAISAL NOOR: Jack Young is City Council President. “JACK” YOUNG: This is very important. It’s historic. I think we’re the only third or fourth city that have targeted funding for our youth, and I’m excited about that. Are you excited about that? Marchers: Yes! “JACK” YOUNG: Okay, and Ericka just spelled it all out. It was meant to get to grassroots organizations that’s out doing the real community work. It’s not going to exclude anyone who has a 501(c)(3), but everybody is welcome to apply to get this funding as long as they’re looking to take after our kids. JAISAL NOOR: The city voted overwhelming, voted to, a previous mayor’s veto was overridden. Now this is moving ahead and, in a city that’s often criticized for investing- ERICKA ALSTON-BUCK: Investing in the streetlights? JAISAL NOOR: Streetlights and a city where, you know, they spend half a billion on policing and on ports, this is sort of a new way to approach the role of the public sector. ERICKA ALSTON-BUCK: Absolutely, our kids are the most important investment. Our kids should be at the top of the list, and for so long we’ve been at the bottom of the list where people that can write good programs that don’t have children are receiving the funding. So, yeah, this is needed. JAISAL NOOR: Like the Black Butterfly and the White L, the disparities between employment, even life expectancy between this neighborhood and Roland Park is something like 20 years today. So, how can this fund help address those really stark disparities that we know are a result of more than 100 years of public policy? SHAHEM MCLAURIN: Well, one major part of that is just social equity. I remember, like I talked about social capital and the ability to move up the social ladder, and the city being drastically lower than a lot of other places in this country. These programs help to invest in youth in the ways that the city schools can’t do, and it gives students the tools that are necessary to be able to build themselves up and build their communities up around them. A lot of the downfalls and life expectancy and things like that such as poverty come from the inability to be properly educated by our systems that are in place to educate us. One of these things that this fund does is give students the ability to invest more in themselves and their communities as a whole.