A Recollection of ABC Leaders2000Plus

A Recollection of ABC Leaders2000Plus

By
John H. Morris, Jr.

 For them, the year started on the Titanic.  They were consigned to steerage.  They started knowing that there were not enough life boats in the event of a catastrophe, knowing that there were icebergs in the path of the boat.  Unlike everyone else on the vessel, they were not so arrogant as to believe that the ship was unsinkable.  They were sobered by the realization that a catastrophe would leave most of the women and children in first class alive while most of the people in steerage will die.

They know the captain to be a fool who will pilot the ship too fast to avoid icebergs in order to get to New York in record time.  They, however, have the vision to foresee that the ship will hit an iceberg on the second night of the journey.  From steerage, they ironically possess all that is needed to save the people they care about together with the all too arrogant folks in first class – who have no reason to listen to them.  What they lack is the agency to translate their unique insight into a program of action.  What then do they do?

The above scenario, a metaphor for Black leadership in America, greeted each new class of Leaders2000Plus from 1999 through the last class in 2006-2007.  From 1997 until the program ended in 2007, 10 classes of young men and women, all African American, made their way through the program administered by Associated Black Charities.

 In all, more than 150 people shared a one-year commitment to explore resolving the many dilemmas of Black leadership.  During the course of that year, they struggled to capture a vision of Black economic prosperity, framed what success for our children requires, probed the seeming contradictions of public safety and community development, and took on the limitations inherent in any conversation about the soaring aspirations of Black folk in a world of limited expectations for us.

 More than 4 years before a then unknown Black state senator from Chicago burst on the scene at the 2004 Democratic National Convention, and 8 years before he would become the first Black President of the United States, a Leaders2000Plus class retreat developed a demographic model for electing the first Black Governor of Maryland.

This special program remains significant today, 8 years since it concluded.  Its alumni constitute a leadership pool waiting to be tapped.  They have already explored the pressing issue of our day – how to build Baltimore City as the site of a thriving Black community where poverty is unimaginable and the abuse of its citizens by any authority is simply too unthinkable to be sustained.

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Now More Than Ever

NOW MORE THAN EVER

Baltimore’s Economic Future Must Include Us All

In these difficult weeks, Baltimore’s communities – resident, business, nonprofit, and government – have been rising up to make a difference in the repair and “healing” of the city.

Most of these efforts have been focused on clean-up and ways to ensure that needed and immediate resources are available to those communities that sustained visible and physical damage. Our focus has now shifted to ensure that our young people have real opportunity this summer and many of our investments have deepen in an effort to pay attention to economic access – employment.

We also anxiously await the full roll out of OneBaltimore.

Associated Black Charities understands that we must focus on the immediate. We are adding our energies to these immediate activities including helping community based and faith based groups prepare to fully participate in the provision of services to “their” communities especially those related to increasing citizens’ economic outcomes.

In Baltimore, ABC will continue our research based transactional work to increase the economic outcomes for low wage earners by giving them the tools to change their future; we will continue to work with employers in STEM to change the on ramp and retention for middle skilled workers; we will continue to support professionals of color so they have voice in making a difference in Baltimore; we will help workforce providers understand the nuances of behavioral competencies as a disconnection for workers of color and we will partner to change the retention and graduation rate for students of color as they enter higher education.

However, no matter who does what in the provision of services for youth, their parents and their neighbors, especially those services focused on changing their economic outcomes, there will still be a need to address the systemic issues that are at the core of the pain in our community.

We must speak about racialized disparities and their impact on our collective economic futures. Maryland is swiftly becoming a majority-minority” state – and, in fact, is for Marylanders 40 and under. We cannot be afraid to have these conversations.  And we must be better skilled at having them.

Associated Black Charities is committed to working to provide the tools needed for these critical conversations and the work needed to realize our collective futures, in the following ways:

  • Expansion of facilitations around our document “A Policy Application of a Racial Equity Lens.” This document was introduced during the 2015 Legislative session and to some civic leaders.  It educates on creating and supporting preventive policies — those policies that incorporate the impact of race-based systemic barriers rather than playing catch-up to remediate policies that do not incorporate the impact of these basic realities;
  • Convening conversations with civic and policy leaders to move the effort forward in expanding investments in marginalized communities through a new distribution and/or redistribution of resources.  In the past, policy and other efforts have resulted in a gentrification that has not taken advantage of the assets of individuals or communities.  We must work to change that;
  • Increasing our “Community Conversations” to provide a bridge of common understanding and common action.  Baltimore is not unique in the systemic issues we face; not unique in the groups that are most detrimentally impacted by them, nor unique in too often turning a blind eye toward them.  Many of us believe that systemic challenges are too large to impact; that the journey is too long; that surfacing the unfair racializations inherent in “doing business as usual” is “too divisive.”  And quite frankly, many of us are intimidated because we don’t want to be called racists and/or we just don’t know where to start or how to start the conversation.  For the last three years, ABC has, with its partners Aspen Institute and Baltimore Community Foundation, involved more than 100 leaders in continuing conversations about racializations and their detrimental impact on our economy. With our partner Baltimore Racial Justice Action, we are active in monthly meetings that have a multi-racial audience and that begin conversations and understandings about institutional and structural racism; and
  • Continuing to work at a policy level and to support grassroots actions that squarely address racialized impacts;

Associated Black Charities has long been in these efforts; we have given voice to the words “institutional and structural racism”; we have urged others not to be afraid to have these honest conversations about systemic challenges so the core issues can be addressed and we have all intention of meeting this moment by moving forward and expanding our efforts.

We invite you to join us, our collective economic future depends upon us doing this hard work together.