Guest Editorial: Message to the grass-root millennials from the Baltimore diaspora! By I. Rap Brown

By I. Rap Brown (irapbrown63@gmail.com)

(ATLANTA – JANUARY 27, 2018) – Hey, Homie, can we talk? It’s time we got serious and really took a look at our problems in Baltimore. Nothing personal and nothing to get defensive about, let’s talk about our home town. I pulled you up because you are the future and may not understand that this situation we are in can be corrected. You are standing on the foundation of a tremendous amount of history and many would like you to believe certain set-narratives, but I am going to give it to you from both the streets and the ancestors. I’m doing this to inspire and challenge you to be a part the recovery.  We can fix this, but I need you to know a few things so that we can be on the same level or at-one with Ma-at.

What if I told you that Baltimore’s economic and political problems are historic? What if I also told you that they are inextricably tied to fear, racial intolerance and the same fear of reprisal that created the Second Amendment?

What if I told you that Black indentured servants accompanied Captain James Smith in 1619 on his expeditions from Jamestown up the Chesapeake to an inlet and lagoon, bordered by a hill (Federal) in what is now Baltimore’s Inner Harbor? Yes, we were there from day-one. Would you deduce that there should have been many freed Blacks in the latter founded Baltimore, due to the seven-year contract for servitude? What if I went on to tell you that the Maryland Colony Council in 1638 wrote and passed the Maryland Doctrine of Exclusion that states the following, “Neither the Black population, their descendants nor any other Blacks should be permitted to enjoy the fruits of White society”? What if I noted, that the doctrine was created to ensure that Blacks would remain, “a subordinate, non-competitive, non-compensated workforce?”  What if I told you that each of the rest of the colonies and states to come adopted similar statutes and laws that subjugated, marginalized and suppressed Blacks? What if I told you that it was the practical application of White Supremacy and indicative of the sentiment that spawned Jim Crowism? It can be depressing, but it gets worse.

What if I told you that Baltimore was a bustling metropolis by the early 1800s? What if I told you that if it were 1815 through the 1860s and you lived in Georgia, Kentucky, Tennessee, or Virginia the preferred place to legally purchase a slave was Baltimore?  Based on an article written by Baltimore historian Ralph Clayton in the City Diary of the Baltimore Sun, “one of the first major pens was built behind a white house near Cove and Pratt streets near the intersection of what is now Martin Luther King, Jr Blvd. The Pen belonged to Tennessee native, Austin Woolfolk. Georgia native, Hope Hull Slatter constructed his pen in 1838, several doors east of Howard and Pratt streets. During his 14-year stay, Slatter was ably assisted by his male slave, a jail steward.  By the late 1850s, Joseph Donovan, who had used pens on Pratt and Camden streets near Light street, had a new pen constructed on the southwest corner of Camden and Eutaw streets, near where the Babe Ruth statue now stands in Oriole Park at Camden Yards.  Many other traders made their mark in Baltimore during the height of the slave trade; James Franklin Purvis, whose pen name was on Harford Rd. near Aisquith; Bernard M. and Walter L. Campbell, whose pen was on the south side of Conway Street, near Hanover street; William Harker, several doors south of Baltimore Street, on the west side of Calvert Street; and John Denning, on Frederick Street, several feet behind the current site of the Holocaust memorial.” What if I told you there was more?   What if I told you that on July 24th, three weeks after the Battle of Gettysburg, Union officers freed inmates of a slave traders jail on Pratt street in Baltimore?  What if I told you that ships left the Chase Street wharf in Baltimore with hundreds of slaves headed for New Orleans never to see family members again? The history of Baltimore is lined with slavery because it is and was undeniably a slave state and undeniably the gateway to the South.

What if I told you that Jim Crow was alive and functioning in Maryland from the late 1860s to the 1960s? What if I told you that in 1865 the Emancipation Proclamation (also) placed a 0% (zero) immigration quota on people from Africa or any country that had freed or enslaved people of African descent?  That block stayed in-place for 100 years and was raised to 1% in the 1960s when Blacks from Jamaica, Trinidad, the Bahamas and other Caribbean islands were allowed into the U.S. What if I told you that America opened its doors to European immigrants to come to the United States and obtain free-land to cultivate just to brighten the population of this country and dilute Black population growth. I guess I don’t have to tell you this was a tactic of controlling Black population growth? What if I told you that Jim Crow existed in the form of “red-lining,” “block-busting” and “separate-but-equal?” What if I told you that the United States passed the Homestead Act to offer the opportunity to U.S. citizens to become home owners and obtain the wealth and credit that comes from maintaining mortgages?  What if I told you they placed a disclaimer saying that the only people who could not qualify for those loans are people who were once domestic workers or tenant farmers? Do I have to tell you that that disqualified more than 95% of the Blacks in this country at that time?  Am I hitting home yet?

What if I told you that America’s police departments grew out of the slave patrols organized to capture runaway slaves?  There was not a police force, initially.  People were deputized to protect the transport of commerce but not to necessarily uphold the law. I guess I don’t have to tell you that the Emancipation Proclamation brought an end to the triangular slave trade? But, what if I told you that it did not end slavery in the United States? That if you were convicted of a crime, you were placed back into a form of slavery that was worse than prior to the emancipation! Yes, when you are incarcerated by definition you are enslaved. What if I told you that police training and behavior has remained the same for more than a century?  What if I told you that Police-Reform is desperately needed?  What if I told you that until the police, community and government develop a plan that the problems will fester and give life to more problems. This has been a problem for quite some time. When do we begin to really address the problems?

What if I told you that Baltimore was robbed of a sustaining tax-base and growth-potential with the fleeing of the city by White Flight in the 50s and 60s? What if I told you that the city was left with a population of Blacks that were cheated out of decades of wealth due to the execution of the loop-holes in the Homestead Act?  What if I told you that bad deals were done between the races that exploited small Black businesses? There is a “disconnect” between cultures in the city. There is distrust and mistrust. It’s as if no one wants to address the long-term effects of disenfranchising and abandonment.

What if I told you that blight and decay are cancers that eventually spread if not managed and re-developed? What if I also told you that politics and economics will redistribute that blight and decay?   What if I told you that a city is the anchor and soul of a metropolitan area? It’s ability to sustain a healthy tax base and credit rating is essential to growth and its ability to attract new business. What if I told you that the valuation of the property in the city of Baltimore indirectly effects the valuation of the property of those who moved outside of Baltimore?  Was it the Temptations that said “run, run, run but you sure can’t hide?”

Can you see the problem? Let’s peel it back a layer! A city is judged by how well it serves the community and provides the necessary needs of the citizens, to include jobs.  What if I told you that Fortune 500 companies have diversity and “fairness-in-hiring” programs embedded in their human resource functions? What if I told you that hundreds of Fortune 500 companies have moved their corporate headquarters to new cities over the last 20 years.  What if I told you that having Fortune 500 companies headquartered in a city provides high-paying professional jobs and stabilizes the economy? They are potential partners with the community and help sponsor projects with the school system and civic organizations? What if I told you that having those companies in a city is vital to growth and curbing crime?  Does it hit home yet?

What if I told you that New York City has 72 Fortune 500 companies headquartered there?  What if I told you the Chicago has 33, Dallas 21, Houston 25 and Philadelphia 20, Los Angeles 13, Atlanta 16 and Denver 10, Miami 8, Jacksonville 3, Orlando 1, Tampa 5, New Orleans 1, Monroe LA 1, Baton Rouge LA 1 and Pittsburgh has 6 Fortune 500 company headquarters? What if I told you that Cincinnati has 4, Cleveland has 5 and even Akron has 2. What if I told you that the two cities most closely compared to Baltimore are Richmond, VA which has 8 and St Louis MO has 9? What if I told you that the state of North Carolina has 12 Fortune 500 company headquarters and the state of Maryland also has 12.  What if I told you that the city of Baltimore has 0 (zero) Fortune 500 companies headquartered there?  Does that not tell you that there is a serious problem in Baltimore, much more serious than we are willing to accept?  Sometimes you have to step away and look back from a higher altitude.

Baltimore was once one of the largest and fastest growing cities in America.  Now the school system and its facilities are in decline. The infrastructure is crumbling and the city’s leadership is forced to react to issues that stem from years of neglect and deflect. The police department is in need of reform, but that is true all over the country.  There is a lethal disconnect with police and the community. Problems are being passed from one administration to another. What if I told you that there needs to be alliances-made with the community, police and city government?

How do we fix it? Baltimore needs a PR over-haul. The city needs a long-term Public Relations solution that equally blends existing maritime projects with new cultural arts projects that redevelop culturally significant inner-city neighborhoods. Every moment, meeting and dollar-spent should be used to create projects that are tied to a new PR (Public Relations) plan designed to reverse the damage done to the profile and character of the city of Baltimore. For more than a decade before the recent Freddie Gray uprisings, Baltimore has taken a beating in the national media.  Writers like David Simon, Ed Burns, George Pelecanos and David Mills have smeared the city’s image by characterizing the citizens, government, bureaucracy, schools and the news media in a deeply damaging way with the HBO TV series, “The Wire.” The show ultimately associated Baltimore with a drug-culture so out of control that it was only matched the corruption portrayed in the police department.

It came on as a fire-storm.  Baltimore began to get recognition across the country. It was as if the city was a new star, a TV star.  Actors launched careers and the writers made tremendous amounts of money. When the smoke cleared what is left has Baltimore scrambling for a new national/global image and some people don’t realize how bad it has gotten. Stop making excuses. Until you leave and look back, you have no idea what the city looks like in the eyes of the rest of the world. The Wire has developed a profile of Baltimore that is so negative that Baltimore can’t present itself as a city that a Fortune 500 company would want to move its headquarters to. The uprisings surely don’t help but are only recent. They carry little blame. It’s no secret!  Just look around, or better yet ask somebody from another city what is their opinion. You say Baltimore, they say, “The Wire!” Birmingham, Akron, Baton Rouge and Monroe Louisiana are cities with no professional sports teams

The Amazon HQ2 opportunity didn’t have Baltimore in the list of finalists. It’s time we take a good look in the mirror and start developing a plan to CHANGE people’s impression of Baltimore because PEOPLE are making decisions. Baltimore’s biggest problem is with jobs. The new questions we must ask is, “What is Baltimore doing about changing its image and becoming attractive to companies that are changing homes?” What is Baltimore doing about replacing its commercial and residential IT-infrastructure?  What if I told that a gigabit-serving IT-infrastructure converts a once bustling shopping district into a silicon-alley business district with incubators housing young app-developers, IT consultants and entrepreneurs? What if I told you that a gigabit-serving IT-infrastructure converts a once remotely-attractive inner-city neighborhood to a desired community that is smart-centric, safety-centric and adjusted to fit the lifestyle of E-centric millennials? What if I told you that it could be done in West Baltimore? What if I told you it could either partner with a Port Covington or stand alone as a project that addresses the re-development of the West Baltimore community into an urban multi-use business district with historic significance. What if I told you that YOU were the one Baltimore was waiting for?

Let’s sit down and talk about how to marry Baltimore’s rich cultural arts history with its maritime past while implementing a “change-centric” public relations campaign.  The world needs to know that Baltimore is committed to CHANGE.  It has to be declared from within that CHANGE is needed.  It has been said that you can’t change what’s going on around you until you change what’s going on within. Look around, the music has changed.  “When the music changes, so does the dance!” What if I told you that re-developing inner-city Baltimore is the nucleus of a change-centric PR and marketing plan?  What if I told you the use of public money for private projects that don’t repair infrastructure, schools or neighborhoods in Baltimore is evidence of a municipality operating without a plan and partnerships?