By Megan Sayles,
AFRO Business Writer,

Baltimore-based Innovation Works, which works to create sustainable neighborhood economies in Baltimore City, is hosting a free game night led by equity scientist and author, Lawrence T. Brown, on Feb. 23 at Baltimore Unity Hall at 5 p.m. 

Attendees will get the chance to play Brown’s board game, Urban Cipher, which allows players to learn more about society’s structural inequities and understand how economic policies and practices, like redlining, have deepened the wealth gap between Black and White communities. 

“In 1937, the Federal Home Loan Bank Board, through its subsidiary agency entitled, the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, partnered with Baltimore City’s Bureau of Plans and Surveys in the Department of Public Works to color code neighborhoods and determine which neighborhoods would receive access to bank lending in the future,” said Brown. 

“The game Urban Cipher reveals the effects of this devastating federal-city partnership and highlights how red and yellow neighborhoods were structurally disadvantaged, while blue and green neighborhoods were structurally advantaged. We are still living with the impacts of this map over 85 years later.”

An urban Afrofuturist, Brown heads the Black Butterfly Academy, a virtual racial equity platform. It offers various courses to help residents, teachers, community leaders and policymakers understand topics, like community health, historical trauma, the Baltimore apartheid and strategies for racial equity 

Lawrence T. Brown’s Urban Cipher board game is based on this Baltimore Residential Security Map. In the past, neighborhoods were color-coded to indicate whether banks should lend to communities there.

He is also the author of “The Black Butterfly: The Harmful Politics of Race and Space in America,” which was released in 2021. Brown chose to design Urban Cipher to help make information about structural inequities more accessible and digestible.

“I developed Urban Cipher after realizing that people learn more effectively when they are engaged with hands-on and participatory experiences,” said Brown. “With Urban Cipher, players have the opportunity to literally experience the effects of federal and city policies.”

Innovation Works’ CEO and President, Jay Nwachu, decided to team up with Brown for the Urban Cipher game night to provide people with a deeper understanding of the causes of the racial and neighborhood wealth divides that exist in Baltimore today. 

The organization’s central mission is to reduce the racial wealth divide in the city by supporting social enterprises and impact investing in order to bolster neighborhood economies.

After supporting underserved entrepreneurs, the organization hopes they in turn will have the capacity to provide basic goods and services, as well as employment opportunities, in neighborhoods that have suffered from historic underinvestment. 

In accordance with its hyperlocal neighborhood strategy, Innovation Works is currently focused on serving communities in Southwest and West Baltimore, like Harlem Park and Sandtown-Winchester, as well as economic corridors, like the Pennsylvania Avenue Black Arts and Entertainment District. 

“The more they are all in the same neighborhoods, the more dollars flow into that community and the more jobs and people come to work in that community; therefore, we start seeing this renewal of communities in Baltimore that have been left behind,” said Nwachu. 

Megan Sayles is a Report for America Corps member. 

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