House of Delegates Majority Whip Talmadge Branch (D-45), is pushing a bill that would expand the Safe Streets violence deterrent program, which has demonstrated strong success in the four Baltimore communities where it has been implemented: Cherry Hill, McElderry Park, Park Heights and Sandtown-Winchester.

The legislation, which passed the House last Friday by a vote of 125-13, would add 10 new sites for the program. The bill now moves to the Senate.

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh engaging Baltimore residents, including grassroots leaders, during a “Call to Action,”meeting. (Photo courtesy Mayor’s Office)

It is the type of grassroots program Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh embraces; one that has produced empirical evidence that it works.

“It is a program that works,” Pugh told the AFRO. “Instead of being grant funded, we’re making it City funded. In fact, they are celebrating 500 days with no murders in the areas that Safe Streets patrol.” The program was originally implemented in Baltimore in 2007, under the umbrella of the Baltimore City Health Department, with a $1.6 million grant from the U.S. Department of Justice, to replicate Chicago’s CeaseFire program. Now, Safe Streets will be housed within the Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice.

Pugh has also moved to bring the Boston-based Roca anti-violence program, which targets young people 17-24, who are most vulnerable to violence and crime. It currently serves 21 communities in Massachusetts. Roca was founded by Molly Baldwin (a Baltimore native), in 1988, initially as a program for HIV/AIDS prevention.

“So, before I came on board, there were a lot of conversations about Roca being on board,” said Pugh. “There was a commitment from the philanthropic community and the State and others to get Roca moving here.” Pugh said the program should be up and running fully in Baltimore by April or May. For the implementation of Roca in Baltimore the mayor emphasizes, “The executive director will be a local person, the staff will be all local,” Pugh said.

There is little dispute about the efficacy of Safe Streets or Roca. However, there are individuals who have birthed organic organizations in Baltimore, that are doing vital, often life saving work, who also seek the City’s fiscal largesse. Some feel they have been systematically shut out of the non-profit funding process and these grassroots groups wither and sometimes die when little or no non-profit resources trickle down.

“I think there are a lot of issues with how the money trickles down or moves around,” said Nneka Nnamdi, founder of Fight Blight Bmore, an economic, environmental, and social justice initiative, informed by data to address the issue of blight. “Those with political collateral or an established non-profit connection seem to get all the rhythm. But, some of the most effective ideas are being conceived by and implemented by those who have neither.”

Other grassroots leaders suggest it is necessary to “revisit the bureaucracy around funding.”

“Roka and Safe Streets have a history and track record that is healthier and more robust than ours,” said Letrice Gant, one of the co-founders of Baltimore Ceasefire 365, which asks Baltimore residents to not commit murder for 72 hours during Ceasefire weekends. During the first one, in August 2017, there were two homicides. During the second, in November 2017, there was one homicide and during the third, in February, there were no murders.

“I honestly don’t know what goes into deciding who and what to fund, so I don’t think I could make an educated statement about that part of the process. I can say that there are grassroots efforts who have the attention and the respect of the people they serve and they deserve funding to support and amplify their efforts”

Others argue relationships, perhaps more than results, determines where non-profit funds flow in Baltimore.

“It’s who is in proximity? What do they look like?” said Maurissa Stone-Bass, director of innovation at The Living Well, a center for social and economic vibrancy in Baltimore. “What keeps the grassroots out is, we typically do not meet the threshold criteria for funding…it is one of the real issues around funding.”

However, there is consensus among the grassroots, fund what works.

“Baltimore…needs to fund, support and spotlight the people on the ground doing the work,” said Nnamdi.

“Fund what the people support and rally around. It doesn’t have to be Ceasefire. There are plenty of organizations and movements that the streets and their clientele co-sign,” said Gant.

Ultimately, Pugh said she is driven by results that translate to saving lives and reducing violence when it comes to funding programs in Baltimore.

“It is a program people across the city are asking for to be in their neighborhoods and their communities. Something that proves that it reduces violence…that is data driven,” Pugh said.

“No one individual group or organization can take credit for reducing violence in this city, because all of us are working together.”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor