Leon Pinkett, winner of the April primary, says District 7 needs the help of the community to revitalize the area. (Photo by Deborah Bailey)
Leon Pinkett hopes to trade a post in Baltimore City’s Executive branch for a seat on the City Council representing Baltimore’s 7th District in November. Pinkett, who was appointed assistant deputy mayor, Mayor’s office of economic and neighborhood development by Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in 2014, won the Democratic Council race in District 7 in April. He is already using his background and experience in economic development to envision a “comeback” for the storied District that was at the heart of last year’s urban unrest.
In an interview with the AFRO, Pinkett expanded on his vision for District 7. “One of the reasons that I ran is because prior to getting in the race, most people, when they talk about the seventh district, specifically in West Baltimore, they always talk about the detriments and the deficits, but never acknowledge the strengths in this community”, Pinkett said.
District 7 is known as the epicenter of the burning, looting and mass unrest experienced in Baltimore in May 2015 in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death from injuries sustained while in police custody. But beyond the infamous footage of the burning CVS sign that introduced District 7 to America, the District is a diverse and expansive tract of land with many areas, including Druid Hill and Mondawmin Mall; Sandtown, Liberty Square, Penn North and Reservoir Hill. Though the District’s central communities have fallen on hard times in recent years, The Old West Baltimore Historic District is centered in District 7. It was one of the wealthiest Black communities in the nation at the turn of the century, and home of Cab Calloway, Thurgood Marshall and other African-American luminaries.
Pickett, a native Baltimorean, sees the strength in District 7’s heritage as he imagines its future.
“West Baltimore features some of the most beautiful architecture not just in this city, not just in this state, but on the entire East Coast. The commercial rents are right; the residential prices are right. We have the Maryland Institute College of Art to our East, we have Coppin to our West,” Pinkett said. “There are so many strengths that are right here. We just have to be intentional in the way that we allocate our resources and articulate a vision about how we change West Baltimore, and I want to be a part of that.”
Representatives from the Office of the President at Coppin State University agreed with Pinkett’s call for anchor institutions to support the revival of District 7 communities. “Coppin State University fully embraces its role as an anchor institution and is invested in the continued growth and development of west Baltimore and beyond,” the school said in a statement. The University, spanning 53 acres of land on North Street on a central intersection in the 7th District is a resource Pinkett says has yet to be fully utilized. “There are some businesses and some firms that should be coming out of those institutions that aren’t and we need to be intentional about how we do that” he said.
Pinkett said he got a clear message from constituents during the campaign. “From what I’ve heard from the community, the mandate is in three areas. Public safety, which is key to us being able to do anything in West Baltimore. Economic development; we have to bring more jobs in to our community. Some of the issues that we face in public safety are related to the lack of employment opportunities for residents of West Baltimore. Third, we’re not doing enough to provide enrichment and quality academic opportunities for our children. We must have resources for in-school and after school that aren’t all reliant on city and state resources,” he said.
Pinkett asked all of Baltimore to pitch in and support District 7’s renewal. “This is a time where nobody can be on the sidelines. Every resource no matter how small is essential in moving our community forward. I’m calling on everybody who considers themselves part of our community. Whether you used to live in West Baltimore and you now longer live in the 7th District or you just call Baltimore City your home and you have an affinity for our community; it’s time for everybody because what happens in the 7th district impacts the entire city,” Pinkett said.
“Providence Baptist Church has been part of this community for more than 80 years and in our current location for over 35 years. It will take everyone, including those of us in the faith community to help with the renewal,” said the Rev. Douglass Summers, co-pastor of historic Providence Baptist Church on Pennsylvania Ave. in Upton. Providence plans to start a job training program at the church to support Pinkett’s goal of empowering District 7 residents.
“The issues that we’re facing didn’t happen overnight, so they won’t be resolved overnight. There will have to be patience,” said Pinkett. When the challenge of transformation seems daunting, Pinkett said the charge given to him from one of his 10-year old constituents keeps him going. “What I want you to bring back to our community is hope,” Pinkett quoted the youth as saying.