Businesses owners, community organizations, policy makers, and area university faculty and staff have come together to form the Better Maryland Committee, a conglomerate of leaders concerned with issues affecting first, the Baltimore African-American community, as well as residents statewide.

The newly formed committee first gathered on Nov. 29 and has since picked up roughly 20 members from an array of organizations including Associated Black Charities, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle and Pleasant Hope Baptist Church.

Last week an official agenda for the year was formed by the participants who are viewed as “conveners” with equal say in matters brought to the table.

The proposed juvenile jail in downtown Baltimore and adequate funding for the state’s four historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) were the two key topics of conversation.

Committee spokesman, Dr. Charles W. Simmons, president of Sojourner Douglass College, said along with putting a permanent halt to the proposed youth jail and advocating for treatment centers, the way in which youth are indicted should be revamped as well.

“Youth should not be charged as adults- they should be charged as youth irrespective of their crime,” said Dr. Charles W. Simmons, president of Sojourner Douglass College and spokesman for the committee. “There should be programming in place to address the needs of these young people- education, work force training, entrepreneurial training and mental health support,” he said.

Simmons said that wrap-around care needs to merge with public policy to address the underlying roots of the criminal activity that will continue among juveniles “no matter what we do.”

The group plans to do more than simply protest the $70 million dollar project, already approved by elected officials in a series of funding authorizations dating back to 2005.

With the help of lawmakers, in 2013 they will begin pushing for the start of the legal process that will set aside money for the treatment centers they want to see instead.
In May 2011 the National Council on Crime and Delinquency (NCCD), in a report commissioned by Gov. Martin O’Malley, proposed a number of alternatives to a new jail for youth- especially when crime among juveniles in Baltimore has continuously declined.

Among its recommendations, the NCCD proposed that all youth charged as adults have bail release hearings within two days, and their actual hearing within thirty days, thus cutting down on over crowding and the amount of space needed at any one point in time.

Currently, youth offenders can wait as many as 19 days to be told whether or not they will have a bail set, and as many as 88 days for their hearing.

“There have been 10 juvenile homicides and 15 juvenile shootings this year compared to 15 homicides and 29 non-fatal shootings last year,” said end of the year reports released by the Office of Mayor for 2012. “Juvenile homicides are down more than 61 percent since 2008.”

Aside from funding treatment centers, better funding of Bowie State University, Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and University of Maryland, Eastern Shore (UMES) was discussed.

The committee’s concerns fall in line with those of Delegate Aisha N. Braveboy (D-25), chairwoman of the Legislative Black Caucus of Maryland (LBCM), who said in an earlier interview with the {AFRO} that HBCU funding was a top agenda item in 2013.

Some members of the committee believed that the underfunding stemmed Americans questioning whether HBCUs are even necessary.

“HBCUs are under attack because they represent the unfinished business of eliminating racism in American society,” said Raymond A. Winbush, director of the Institute of Urban Research at Morgan State University. “Why do we have these institutions? Because blacks couldn’t graduate from the University of Maryland and America doesn’t want to be reminded of their racial past.”

Citing the range of Black leaders that have been shaped at HBCUs, from former Ghanaian leader, Dr. Kwame Nkrumah to actor Samuel L. Jackson, Winbush said that “just like women’s institutions graduate leaders among women and Jewish institutions graduate the leadership in the Jewish community, HBCUs have historically educated the major leadership within the African American community.”

Diane Bell-McKoy, leader of the Associated Black Charities of Baltimore (ABC), said part of the HBCU question comes from Black institutions being slow to gather and publicize information to back up the term “anchor institution,” used and validated often by traditionally white institutions.

“We don’t lay out what our economic impact is in these communities,” said Bell-McKoy.

The committee called on HBCUs, to develop their own economic impact statements.
“Even a small institution like Sojourner, is making a $99 million dollar impact when you look at the salaries and the expenditures in both construction and supplies,” Simmons told committee members.

All four state HBCUs are currently awaiting a decision in the lawsuit the Coalition for Equity and Excellence in Maryland Higher Education argued against the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) early last year.

A $2 billion award for an outcome in favor of the plaintiffs hangs in the balance.
Braveboy told the {AFRO} that adequate funding is needed to not only build up-to-date facilities on the campuses, but better fund full-time faculty and staff, thus, improving services to meet student need.


Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer