By Richard Norman
Special to the AFRO

Black families across the country are an amazing resource for a greater understanding of resilience and perseverance in the face of centuries of racially motivated violence, structural inequality and marginalization. “And still I rise”, the words of our bright and ever shining star Dr. Maya Angelou extend directly to the black families everywhere, and hold so true for those Black Families who call Baltimore home. My experiences in Baltimore City over a 40-year career have made the reality of existing strengths of Baltimore’s Black Families undeniable. Acknowledgement and active support for the full manifestation of these strengths and the ultimate sustainable wellbeing of our Baltimore Black Families is a central reason for being the Legacy Alliance of Child Welfare Agencies.

(Courtesy Photo)

Members of the Legacy Alliance are Michael Sinclair PhD, MSSW, Zack Dingle LCSW-C, Al Laws BS, Dermell Brunson PhD, Dianne Nelson MS, Delores Ford-Edwards LCSW-C, Patricia Cobb-Richardson MS and Richard L. Norman LCSW-C. The Legacy Alliance started as an alliance of community based Licensed Child Welfare (foster care) Agencies. It was founded to serve children and families who have been historically rejected, neglected and poorly served by the past and current discriminatory and paternalistic systems of care.

In 2005 the Legacy Alliance was formed. During this time they sought a special relationship with Morgan State University (MSU) School of Social Work. The Legacy Alliance was welcomed with open arms by Dean Anna McPhatter PhD and her faculty. It is important to note that in 2017 MSU was re-designated by the Maryland General Assembly as “Maryland’s Preeminent Public Research University” conferring “a unique mission to serve the state’s urban population” including “instruction, research and service”. Dr. McPhatter was assigned as staff liaison to the Legacy Alliance. Dr. Michael Sinclair, Chair of Urban Youth and Families Specialization at the MSU School of Social Work, trained and worked in intense urban communities.

Even after a decade of our influence the sad events surrounding the death of Mr. Freddie Gray in 2015 served to shatter any lingering illusions of a good enough system to service the Black Families in Baltimore and the Region. To be clear the intent was present, and the problem is not the system of funding in the large government agencies. These large systems must be seen for what they are; blunt instruments, that organize their approaches to service in a bureaucratic manner that perpetuate at best competition, siloed efforts and inefficiency. The Legacy Alliance members has experienced years of what appeared to be an attrition approach to the preservation and enhancement of African American led resources in Baltimore City and throughout the region. We concluded our sustainability as legitimate, fully qualified and proven service resource with unique affinity. The black and brown families and children especially in Baltimore required a collective action response. The Alliance envisioned a systematic response that would address bringing fundamental shifts in power relationships between those served and those serving. Innovative catalytic service relationships and solutions are possible, and required to meet the needs of both functioning and fragile families, children and their communities.

To catalytic we must first change the way we work together to achieve and model mutuality, concrete support and sustained growth by bringing positive change to all. The “collective impact” strategy of the Legacy Alliance prioritized developing the relationship with a key institution like MSU School of Social Work. Our vision called for partnering as a training ground for MSU MSW and BSW social work students. Many of these students are the products of  urban socio-economically oppression in Baltimore City. The Alliance believes these students form a vanguard of a new breed of social work students who are committed to return to these neglected and oppressed communities as true change agents. We have found these students are no longer content with the status quo “office-based treatment models”. These Students, in concert with the Legacy Alliance, are intent on rigorous development as professionals, strength-based prevention and early intervention work in these communities.

The Alliance is committed to approaches that maximize community engagement and their expression of “needs” in order to direct and inform professional efforts in a collaborative process. The Alliance has transcended its original agency-based identity. It is now a growing collection of individuals with a unique mix of experience and skills who stand supported and connected to but not controlled by agencies or institutions. We feel the “Urban” orientation of the MSU School of Social Work together with the Alliance’s commitment to action can unleash the power of student citizens of Baltimore. It will facilitate a joining to secure the future of the Black communities of Urban Baltimore.