A new federal report on Baltimore City touts the successes of initiatives undertaken in the wake of civil uprising in Charm City following the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody in April 2015.

Eighteen months ago, President Obama established a special Taskforce for Baltimore City comprised of federal, state and local agencies and local leaders which he tasked with leveraging federal resources to tackle some of Baltimore’s deeper social and economic issues that were laid bare by the unrest.

“You have impoverished communities that have been stripped away of opportunity, where children are born into abject poverty… if we think that we’re just going to send the police to do the dirty work… then we’re not going to solve this problem,” the president said April 28, 2015 when asked about the unrest.

“If our society really wanted to solve the problem, we could,” he continued. “It’s just it would require everybody saying this is important, this is significant — and that we don’t just pay attention to these communities when a CVS burns, and we don’t just pay attention when a young man gets shot or has his spine snapped. We’re paying attention all the time because we consider those kids our kids, and we think they’re important.”

The task force identified three priority areas into which it would invest: jobs, public health and safety, and creating long-term prosperity. And, together with city and state agencies and non- and for-profit organizations, the Obama administration initiated efforts to address those issues.

To address Baltimore’s relatively high 7.4 percent unemployment rate, for example, the U.S. Department of Labor awarded a discretionary $5 million grant to launch the new One Baltimore for Jobs Initiative, which has to date enrolled 650 people in training programs, awarded 419 new workforce credentials and placed 208 people into jobs. City, state and federal agencies also worked together to boost the youth summer program by 60 percent, employing 6,000 more young people over two years; provided training and loans to existing and potential small business owners and organized a new “Made in Baltimore” campaign to promote Baltimore-created brands across the country, among other steps.

To address public health and safety, the Department of Justice launched an investigation into the Baltimore Police Department and provided additional support to aid in its crime-fighting; worked with the Education Department to provide millions in funding to address violence and aggression in schools and provide counseling for children who witness violent crimes and other agencies also provided funding to help sustain the city’s current Safe Streets program, which tries to interrupt the cycle of violence in certain at-risk neighborhoods.

To help create a foundation for lasting prosperity, according to the report, the Obama administration invested $20 million in TIGER grants to streamline transportation operations at the Port of Baltimore and North Avenue; the American Communities Trust worked with the U.S. Economic Development Administration, Baltimore City and the State of Maryland to launch a new food hub in East Baltimore to support workforce training and entrepreneurship and federal and city agencies are funding the first comprehensive park plan  for Charm City since 1926; among other initiatives.

The report noted that the work accomplished over the past 18 months reflects efforts by the White House to re-imagine federal-local partnerships.

“Far too often, the Federal Government has taken a ‘one-size-fits-all approach to working with communities and left local leaders on their own to navigate Federal resources and programs,” the report noted. However, the work in Baltimore reflected a more collaborative approach that sought solutions from the bottom up.

Read the entire report here.


Zenitha Prince

Special to the AFRO