Baltimore’s $12M Youth Fund Gives Community the Reins (2/2)
Many public officials myopically think the only way to stop crime in Baltimore is to increase arrests, but the best way to deal with crime is to invest more in the people, says Adam Jackson, co-chair of the fund’s task force. “We should invest in our institutions and our ability, as black people, to change our condition”
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: I’m Lisa Snowden-McCray of the Baltimore Beat and you’re watching The Real News Network. I’m here with Adam Jackson of the group Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and Adam, we talked a little bit in part one about what’s going on now, what your theory, and the way that you wanted to approach this youth fund.
ADAM JACKSON: Mm-hmm.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: But now, I want to talk a little bit about where we are. What still needs to be done and where are you guys, as far as the process?
ADAM JACKSON: Yeah. So, I can just kind of take people through the timeline of what’s happened so far. In the beginning, in November of last year, voters approved the youth fund. And then, there’s been the actual task force that was convened by the Council President’s Office, and that was convened from January to May of this year and we produced recommendations. And so, as a result of those recommendations, there’s a few important pieces that people need to understand. One piece of it is is that we suggested that there be a new intermediary organization created and that that be the ultimate entity that will manage the fund. And it will have citizen participation, resident participation in that organization, both from the board and in terms of allocations via the assembly of Baltimore City residents.
And so, a part of that was figuring out what institution would anchor that process and the recommendation from the task force was Associated Black Charities be the institution to do that. Primarily because it has a racial equity frame when you’re talking about public policy and just general approaches around issues pertaining to people of color, Black people. And so, we suggested that they be the anchor institution and so far, the city has been working with ABC to figure out the arrangement that they would have in the first year of disseminating funds and also building out this new intermediary group.
And so the first year, ABC will be the one distributing resources from the youth fund, but they’re gonna be integrating the recommendations from the task force. And so, that’s being done at the moment. That’s a final step that has to go through the Board of Estimates through the Mayor’s Spending Panel. But already, there’s been an ordinance that has been approved by City Counsel, I believe about two to three weeks ago, in November. And so, that was approved and that essentially authorized an entity to start doing that process and hopefully our goal is to make that ABC so we can begin the process of distributing money and getting it to community youths.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Okay. And I know with so many things that are going on in the city, we need people. We need people to be educated and to be kind of like proactive and understanding that this is, basically none of the people in power are going to do anything unless people make them.
ADAM JACKSON: Mm-hmm.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: So, how are you guys going to kind of, because you’re reframing something and we are a city of people who have been hurt by the status quo. Have you thought about the challenge of getting people passed maybe their feelings of saying, “Oh, that’s not gonna work.”
ADAM JACKSON: Mm-hmm.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: “This is just like, some crap.” How are you getting people engaged and getting on board with this?
ADAM JACKSON: Well, there’s two different approaches. So, with Black people, most of our energy is being focused on training our minds to think differently about how we engage in community work. Because a lot of the time, we think that Black people don’t have assets in our community and don’t have institutions and organizations that can really transform our conditions. The problem is, we just suffer from disinvestment and not enough focus on the institutions in our presence, in our ownership already, that we can just invest more money into.
So, part of that with Black folks is just making sure that we can retrain our minds around that, and also understanding that we have approaches and methodologies to dealing with youths in our community. And so, instead of seeing it from a deficit-based framework, we should see it from an asset-based framework. And so, for Black people, that’s the issue. But when you’re talking about white folks, I don’t care about their thoughts and feelings on it. Most of them are gonna have to be dragged. Like dragged physically to be like, “You have to change how you operate if you are actually trying to transform the conditions of people who are suffering.”
And also, people need to be called out. There are a lot of white people in Baltimore that get six figure salaries working for major nonprofit organizations, claiming that they serve Black people and in reality, they’re just hustling off of our backs and hustling off of our suffering because no one calls them out. And in Baltimore, it’s a very particular problem because white liberals have run Baltimore in terms of resources from the philanthropic entities and in public dollars. And because we don’t see it as an industry, we don’t see it as a method that people are using to make money for themselves to benefit themselves, we just see it as some kind of benign accident. People are getting called out. But it’s over. And people need to understand that they can’t hustle off of the backs of our children just because they get a six-figure salary and they have good intentions.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Yeah. So, one of the things that I think about and we’ve talked about off-camera, is your group, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle for people who maybe are watching this, not in Baltimore, maybe not even in the US but you guys are a grass-roots organizing group via the system.
ADAM JACKSON: Mm-hmm.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Via legislation and this youth fund and other things that are going on in Annapolis. You kind of seem to straddle this line between activist, you’re not afraid to verbally call people out, but also working within the system. How do you create this lane for yourself? Or do you think that you’ve created a lane for yourself?
ADAM JACKSON: I think our approach has always been of the Black, and the Black Freedom Struggle, in terms of how Black people have always organized to transform Black people’s material conditions. And I don’t see anything that we do as particularly innovative. I just see it as a new machination or a new iteration of what people have already been doing. And in terms of working within the system, versus without, just to be clear to the viewers because I’m a Pan-African Nationalist, people think when you call yourself a Pan-Africanist or a Pan-African Nationalist, that you have to have, your approach must be one where you have to work completely outside the system. You have to go onto a reservation, buy some land and plant, and be a survivalist basically. And that’s an approach. And I see value in that approach. But the problem is, is that right now, today, Black people are suffering under the guise of white supremacy, under the system of white supremacy.
And so, the question to me isn’t, “How do I create this revolutionary fantasyland?” It’s like I’m actually trying to change people’s conditions. I want Black people to eat. I want Black people to live quality lives today. And part of Pan-Africanism, if you understand it, you know the first question isn’t, “What’s your thought?” It’s “What did you do? What did you build? What did you create?”
And so, for us, when we think about LBS, we don’t see it as a fantasy. We don’t see it as something that we have to, it has to be 10, 15 years down the line. That should be the goal but in the here and now, there are systems in place. There are government structures. There are people who run those structures. And so our perspective is, if we can figure out a way to get public investment into Black people and that will make black people’s actual lives and institutions better, then we’ll do that.
But there’s always value in an inside and outside game. I would hope that most Baltimore politicians know that our group is one that will have a meeting and will talk and we’ll go through the process but the second you out of step with community, it’s on. Because you have to go left. But it’s a matter of the political process. And so I think people sometimes see that as abrasive or they can see it as too aggressive, but to me, it’s a matter of Black people’s conditions. We’re gonna always be aggressive for Black people. So, just because a certain legislator doesn’t like us, it ain’t about being liked. It’s about being effective. And so, if people dislike our approach, that’s fine but ultimately if we’re effective for Black people, that’s all that really matters.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: And getting back to the youth fund. What do you guys say to people, like Larry Hogan, when he was in Baltimore last, he kind of, I think poo-pooed the mayor’s approach to stopping crime because he’s like, “We’re not gonna see results from focusing on kids.”
ADAM JACKSON: Mm-hmm.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: So. what do you say to that? Or what do you and the other people in this organization say about that?
ADAM JACKSON: The problem when you’re having conversations about crime with elected officials and public officials generally, is that everyone treats crime in a vacuum. Like it all happens the same way. And it only comes up with the murder rate is high or certain kinds of violent crimes are high. And what’s always missing is the systemic analysis about how we got to this point. Baltimore just didn’t end up with over 300 murders a year because Black people are savages and that we need to lock more Black people up. It ended up this way because of the systemic problems and it’s from a variety of areas, housing, education, a whole variety of areas in civil society in Baltimore that Black people just have not gotten the sufficient resources or investment. And so, understanding that as the history in the systemic analysis, it means that you can point to the places were you need to improve people’s quality of life.
And that’s not what elected officials do. What they say is, “More police now. We need more police to lock up more Black people now.” Even though we had a zero tolerance policing from 1999 to 2005 or 2006 with Martin O’Malley. He had over 757,000 illegal arrests and crime went down and people were “safe.” But ultimately, that’s what caused the uprising.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Right.
ADAM JACKSON: And so, now we’re under a consent decree that basically says that those approaches are illegal and shouldn’t be done and now everyone’s stuck trying to figure out how do we decrease crime? The only logical conclusion you can have to fixing crime in Baltimore is to invest more in the people. You can’t just arrest people. You can’t arrest your way out of crime in Baltimore. And so, I think that’s the problem, is that all these elected officials have a very limited scope around what it means to decrease crime and violence, and I think even when people say that we’re gonna invest, it’s very short-sighted. The youth fund is an opportunity for people to invest in our young people on a consistent basis because it’s a rolling fund.
And so now, we can have a strategy and an infrastructure for investing in an ecosystem of Black people and institutions as opposed to some groups get 50,000 a year for their program and one time. We should invest in our institutions and our ability as Black people, to change our condition. Most of the time, these elected officials are talking about one-trick ponies. Let’s arrest a bunch of nonviolent offenders, which is fine, for the time being. But if you don’t change the conditions, those conditions will always breed crime and violence.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Right. Thank you so much for coming to talk to me today, Adam.
ADAM JACKSON: Absolutely.
LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: I’m Lisa Snowden-McCray and you’ve been watching The Real News Network. Thanks for watching.