New Year, New City: The people of Baltimore offer resolutions for the city in 2020

Lisa Snowden-McCray, Baltimore Beat editor-in-chief

Last year I was asked to be a participant in Creative Mornings’ early morning lecture series. The message I gave there was similar to the message I gave when we did our New Year, New Us project in 2018: pass the mic. Continue listening to the people who aren’t being heard. Continue pushing marginalized voices to the front and center. The good news is that I see it happening. I see people pushing for funding and resources for squeegee kids, and not just condemnation. I see city lawmakers listening to victims of police brutality by passing legislation that makes it easier for them to speak out and by doing what they can do in their limited scope to hold the Baltimore Police Department accountable. In 2020, I’d like to see more of that.

Brandon Scott, Baltimore City Council President

New Year’s resolutions aren’t my thing. In fact, I never do them. But as we close out one decade and move into another, I’m compelled to share my vision for how we can be a better Baltimore.

My first wish is for our city to finally start attacking the disease of gun violence comprehensively and holistically. Ten years ago, we seemed to finally be turning the tide against violence. Now, we’re ending the decade with the worst homicide rate in Baltimore history, paired with population decline year after year. I know we can end gun violence, but it will require a unified vision and transforming how our city operates.

This decade, I want us to pledge to build our city and its people up. I hate the constant tearing down of Baltimore and Baltimoreans by anyone, especially our own people. Enough with the attacks on our youth, our public schools and our neighborhoods. We can’t forget the contributions of everyone who works to be their best selves and improve our city on the daily.

I want all of us to do more with our hands and less on social media. With the realities we face, we can’t afford to have anyone on the sidelines. The only thing that will transform Baltimore is true, all-hands-on-deck approach.

With all we’ve been through as a city, I know this can be the year we rebuild and reimagine the structure of our government. Let this be the year we depart from the status quo and collectively build a government that works for the people — from changing outdated structures like the Board of Estimates to making the public policy process more accessible to all of our residents. We have to be a 21st century city, instead of one stuck in the 1970s.

And, our city agencies will finally start operating through a lens of equity as the Equity Assessment Program gets implemented.

In 2020, the old guard in Baltimore City will finally give way to the next generation of leaders and visionaries. While we appreciate the foundation we’ve been given, we must adopt new approaches for Baltimore to be the greatest city it can be. It’s past due.

This year, we’ll watch the MVP and the Ravens win the Super Bowl. And the Orioles, after rebuilding, will surprisingly make the playoffs.

Lastly in 2020, I hope we can bring back club music.

Jacq Jones, Sugar owner

This year, I’d love to see Baltimore take steps to decriminalizing sex work. Sex work is legitimate work. Criminalizing sex work increases exploitation of the worker by both individuals and by our criminal justice system. Would you like to see less people turning to sex work? Or do you have concerns about human trafficking? The only legitimate, ethical way to reduce the occurrence of street level sex work is to address the issues the made that work the best choice for that individual. That means increasing access to living wage jobs, providing subsidized childcare, reducing discrimination agains trans & LGBTQ people and people who have a disability, supporting teens who are kicked out of their parent’s homes, creating living wage jobs that have flexible hours and can accommodate a person living with active symptoms of mental illness and substance use disorder, providing trauma informed care, providing comprehensive access to health care including treatment for mental health, trauma and substance use disorder, subsidizing housing for people who need it. Essentially, fighting poverty and inequity. Everyone deserves to have a job that allows them to meet their basic needs without harassment or abuse.

Johns Hopkins University Garland Occupation

In 2020, we will continue to act as part of broader struggles against exploitation by Johns Hopkins (JH), which began long before with its establishment on a former plantation built on stolen indigenous land. Though a non-profit institution of higher education and state-of-the-art hospital system, JH has failed to challenge corruption and demonstrates an insulting disdain for its neighbors, patients, staff, and students. JH senior administrators have been active participants in the continued pillaging of Baltimore City and brutalization of its residents while extending the geographic reach of its violence across the globe.

From policies and practices aimed at forcibly displacing Black and Brown Baltimoreans to suing poor patients for medical debt to contributing to the abysmal asthma and mortality rates around JH Hospital to aiding in the medical abuse and torture of detained migrants, and undertaking military research at the Applied Physics Lab, JH functions as the architect of great violence locally and globally. However, no list would be complete without also noting that JH actively profits from this violence while enjoying non-profit status, making only a symbolic payment in lieu of taxes to Baltimore City. Our group of students, neighbors, faculty, alumni, and supporters occupied the main executive building at JH for 35 days to protest conditions in and around the campus. We built spaces for people to come together to learn about our shared struggles and fight fascism on our campuses, in our neighborhoods, our city, and around the world. We will continue to fight against the JH armed private police, as well as its contracts with ICE and CBP, as well as forced displacement in East Baltimore. We will fight for justice for Tyrone West and all victims of police brutality.

In 2020, we must remember that it’s not just the corrupt mayor, dirty cops, uncaring hospital CEO, or out-of-touch university president: it’s the whole damn system. Changing individuals won’t change the system, but these bad actors gotta go. We will initiate change in Baltimore by removing these bad actors and coming together against supremacy, classism, and inequity. Let’s organize events that bring us together and hold more marches, rallies, and sit-ins. Let’s work together to disrupt the system and bring business-as-usual at JH and in Baltimore to a screeching halt.

Rajani Gudlavalleti, Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition

Earlier in December, a friend sent us a note: “as Black and Brown people working together to fight white supremacist bullshit and all the covers to letting people overdose and die, it is fierce we support each other. Much love and respect from your comrades in ACT UP Philly.” From the moment we received it, this note has provided supportive, fertile ground for how we at Baltimore Harm Reduction Coalition plan to realize change in Baltimore in 2020.

We will continue to work to uncover histories of violence that continue to play out today while offering paths forward rooted in radical love. But, we cannot achieve these goals in isolation; isolation divides and kills us. We all, every one of us, must do the challenging vulnerable work of understanding and addressing the stigmas we each perpetuate. While that work will continue beyond the next calendar year (and likely forever), it is urgent that we publicly and actively work to end stigma. We cannot rely on any election or public official to end overdose or criminalization. It must come from a drive towards health, safety, justice, and dignity for all people. Especially those of us targeted by the racist War on Drugs and anti-sex worker policies; people who use drugs, prisoners, sex workers, trans people, and Black and Brown women. From here on out, our humanity will be respected.

In 2020, we are raising our expectations. Of ourselves, our capabilities, our dreams, and our city. We are expecting our neighbors to have the dignity to look each other—including those asking for assistance—in the eyes. We are expecting our public officials to expand their understanding of safety beyond relying on the racist police state and actively move towards community-run, justice-oriented options proven to save lives. We are expecting ourselves and fellow harm reduction workers to take moments to breathe, hydrate, rest, laugh, and make sure they are carrying naloxone. We are expecting everyone to unwaveringly progress towards liberation.

Bill Henry, Baltimore City Council

It hasn’t been an easy year in Baltimore. We have seen headlines of violence and tragedy, corruption and indictments. We’ve struggled with a governor that withholds aid from our schools and a president who would rather call us names than work with us to help solve our problems.

But despite the turmoil, we’ve also had some remarkable wins in 2019. We started enforcing rental inspection and licensure of single family homes, in an effort to improve the overall state of our housing supply and ensure that no one is forced to live in squalor and decay. After numerous attempts, we finally passed a plastic bag reduction bill, in its most effective form ever proposed. We passed legislation that made water bills more affordable for thousands of residents—after years of rate increases and chronic billing errors. We passed public campaign financing—starting in 2024—which will ensure a government that more fully represents the people. And with the City Council’s new Equity & Structure committee, we’ll be having a robust public conversation about a number of proposed government reform measures. We have a lot to be proud of this year.

In 2020, Baltimoreans need to keep doing what we have excelled at this year – demanding more from our government. Baltimore can be better – but being better means doing things differently. Doing things differently means being more involved in our own governance. We need to argue, and research, and lobby and rally harder than ever before. We need to keep looking for the truth. The best disinfectant in sunshine. It’s the duty of all of us, from block captains to elected officials, to create a more equitable and accountable government.

Todd Oppenheim, Public Defender

As a public defender, I’m constantly critiqued. Challenged. Debated. Whether it’s a judge with whom I’m sparring back and forth or a prosecutor or even a client, it sort of comes with the territory. I sometimes lose these “debates” even though I know I’ve got the more sensible (and correct) argument. And even though losing might not be right, or it could actually be unjust- like the loss of freedom kind of unjust- the world continues to revolve. The sun still rises in the east. Those judges and prosecutors are, for the most part, not totally evil, soulless beings. They may differ in opinion or interpretation of whatever we’re arguing over from me, but they are people too. What they’re saying might even deserve consideration, god forbid. They are also going to be there waiting for me the very next day to deal with again. So it’s important for me to remind myself of that regularly to keep sane.

Perhaps we as a city, state and country should do the same when confronted with political criticisms or opposing viewpoints. Whether it’s verbally nasty or actually violent exchanges on Twitter, Facebook, in person, or whatever medium you prefer, nothing is accomplished in the realm of persuasion when debates eclipse substance and get ugly. Our divides only deepen. Further, silencing the opposition in legitimate arguments and denigrating others does nothing but undermine one’s position and credibility as well. Shutting the other side out can also destroy fundamental American principles of free speech and any semblance of a marketplace of ideas that’s left. This stuff even happens among dissenting points of view within progressive circles, which seems crazy.

Meanwhile, most folks spewing venom on the internet wouldn’t last a day in court, with its required (air quotes) rules, hierarchies, and supposed decorum. Court also provides no anonymous internet-like escape hatch from which to quickly depart after dropping incendiary remarks. So, in 2020, as we approach the most important local and national elections, maybe ever, if you are trying to convince someone to see an issue your way or someone challenges your position, try to be civil about it even if you are impassioned. Take it from a criminal defense attorney. You’ve got a better chance at being heard and we all may grow from the experience.

Rahne Alexander, writer, musician

Sometime in my teens I went to an optometrist to see about outfitting me with contact lenses for the first time. He put them on me and the world around me changed drastically. Suddenly, I could see the definition on tree leaves down the block. It blew my mind. I wore them around for the day, experiencing miracles at every turn. When I returned to the doctor’s office, he removed my lenses and casually tossed them out, assuring me was ordering my real contact lenses and I’d be able to wear them soon. I was pissed. I felt betrayal pangs. Why did I have to wait, I wondered. Why not let me just have those contacts too? Why did he throw my ability to finally see in the trash. This quickly led me to larger questions. How did I get by into my mid-teens without recognizing how near-sighted I really was? Who made it all so prohibitively expensive? And who decided to base the standard of visual acuity at a distance of 20 feet? Why so distant?

2020 will surely be awash with marketing campaigns relying on a visual acuity metaphor. I say let’s embrace them all; give ‘em a big old bear hug. If people and organizations are going to claim clarity of vision, let’s hold them accountable to their vision statements. Let’s not them get away with carelessly dropping those lenses into the trash with a promise to order more. The world has changed, and the old methods are no longer adequate.

Right now, we need commitments to accountability, and better tools for holding each other accountable. We need better apologies, better restitutions, better compensation.We see all sorts of things that can’t be unseen: mundane harassment, quotidian violence, salary disparities, “CATS.” We carry these things with us until they become a part of us, a second skin. This awareness makes it difficult to repair betrayals and build trust. If you have a vision statement, this would be a good year to really revisit it. Cut out the jargon. Maybe think about updating your assessment standards. If you don’t have a vision statement, whether you’re an individual or an institution, maybe it’s time you developed one — because when you can tell everyone what you plan to become, we all get a clearer picture of who you are now.

Eli Pousson, MPH Bloomberg Fellow at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health

In the year ahead, I hope you can take a few minutes every day and go outside. Take a walk to a park, library, school, corner store, or just around the block. But no neighborhood is perfect. You might spot an overflowing trash can or get stuck waiting at the corner for a walk signal that never comes. This isn’t fair and it isn’t right. You might feel like turning around and going back inside. Instead, I’m asking you to call 311 and ask for help from Baltimore City.

The city can clean your alley, fix a broken bench at your bus stop, or board up a vacant house around the corner. It might take asking once or twice or ten times or more. Keep on asking for help and keep on going outside. My wish for all of Baltimore is more time outside, more walking, and more good government services for every neighborhood in the new year.

Andria Nacina Cole, A Revolutionary Summer

We can see ourselves in people who are not us. We can stun folks with our kindness. We can hold our tongues now and then, be more particular/more intentional about our words. We can take our sugar sweet time putting our credit cards back in our wallets/say no to alla that anxiety at the end of the checkout line (won’t nobody die should we take a minute more). We can be gracious with those who are not. For our own good. We can know the rules of grammar and discard them in the name of connection, of love. Make childhood holy. Decide that to harm little people, to show them unmanaged anger, to curse them, to trigger them, to join them in chaos rather than guide them to peace is taboo. Beneath us. We can remember that relationships, romantic and otherwise, ought to be 80-85% joy, with some mild conflict sprinkled in there. We can stop pretending that they who murder are the only violent ones. It is an act of violence to put cornrows in your white woman hair; to hate the mere sight of the squeegee kids; to collect benefits and pay and not thrill Baltimore City School students with your instruction; to dedicate .45 of every dollar to police but just barely fund our schools. It is an act of violence to be physically black and hate black people’s guts. To fall into involuntary fits of castigating prayer when you see a transgender woman’s face or learn that some sex workers want rights, not rescue (maybe, chile, you ought to pray for yourself). To know a woman is uncertain about sex with you and to capitalize on that uncertainty so that you can orgasm/can access the little emotion the world denies you is violence, too. We can do an hour of self-work for every hour of self-care. Shake in our boots over the possibility of being vulnerable, and be vulnerable anyway. We can ask ourselves these questions here: What gifts have we yet to share with Baltimore? Have we denied its citizens, and therefore ourselves? What talents, aptitudes, bits of genius are we hoarding/keeping nestled in our minds and hearts that could help make this beautiful city a network of thriving communities? Once named, we can begin.

Ashley Minner, activist and artist

Practice presence and close listening. One of the greatest gifts you can give someone is your full and undivided attention. We live in a time that has us distracted—by design. Put your phone away. Or—take your phone out. Record your family’s stories (with permission, of course). Sit down with your grandparents and your aunties and uncles. Ask them what it was like growing up. Ask your parents who they were before you were born. Do talk to strangers. Everyone has stories to tell, including you. Everyone longs to be heard.

Honor artists and culture bearers. People assume we love what we do, so we’re happy to do it for free or for “exposure.” But we have bills, too. Culture bearers carry our traditions. And artists are superheroes. In a city where we’re constantly in reactionary mode—putting out fires here and there—we need to sustain the visionaries who help us imagine a Baltimore that does not yet exist.

Lawrence Lanahan, author of “The Lines Between Us”

For decades, as Baltimore lost population, it also lost power in Annapolis. Now we have a Senate President from the city and a Black woman from Baltimore County serving as Speaker of the House. Baltimore is broken in so many ways, but two pieces are now in place in Annapolis, and the city is about to vote for mayor, comptroller, and City Council. So much was at stake in 2016 after Freddie Gray’s death galvanized city residents’ quest for justice. Catherine Pugh failed to deliver. We have another chance. The press and the people need to scrutinize these candidates, wring them of artifice until only integrity remains. That goes for the people who surround the candidates, too. The Gary Browns. The J.P. Grants. The Jim Smiths. Who is ducking the limelight, playing nice, and planting corrupt seeds for harvesting after the election? Baltimore needs a mayor who will keep a clean nose and work successfully with Annapolis, not a mayor whose answer to those currying favor is, “You’re gonna have to talk to Holly.”

Sharon Green Middleton, Baltimore City Council

I am a strong believer that the home is where it all begins in terms of nurturing a strong spirit and teaching self-love. What is taught in the home has a direct impact on how we live and treat others outside of the home. I support organizations and programs that provide wrap around services that address the myriad of day-to-day issues that families/ex-offenders are facing. Education, resources, and opportunity are the foundational elements for effective change. As a former educator, I know the importance of a quality education and how it provides the perfect spring board for success in our youth. I also think that if we are to change Baltimore, we need to ensure that we provide opportunities for adults who were not able to continue their education. I’ve had many conversations with adults who feel inadequate as parents because they lacked the educational skills to help their children with homework assignments.

In many cases, it’s not solely a matter of resources; it’s a matter of making citizens aware of services and resources that exist and are available to them. That’s why partnerships with human services organizations, and the philanthropic community are so important. We are giving strong attention on a series of measures in areas such as: public safety, conflict resolution in schools, recreation/community center programming, applicable to the neighborhoods they serve, clean and green programs, and other quality of life solutions available to those who are in the cradle, to seniors enjoying their golden years. I was instrumental in reestablishing the Women’s Commission which had been dormant for numerous years. The Commission develops information systems; provides advice and counsel; conducts research; hosts educational programming; analyses policy and advocates for women’s issues to improve the lives of and opportunities for all women in Baltimore. I often hear constituents claim that there aren’t any jobs available, therefore, what good is it to participate in job training programs. To that line of thinking I say, there are plenty of opportunities to gain employment in Baltimore; but don’t limit yourself geographically. Education and specialized training acquired through apprenticeships and other job training programs are skills and knowledge that are often transferrable to any region of the country, thereby creating opportunities and options. A willingness of residents and city leaders to collectively turn the page and write a new, positive, and results-driven narrative about Baltimore is how we change Baltimore.

Iya Dammons, Baltimore Safe Haven director

BSH TGLBQ clients face multiple obstacles in their path towards success. Nearly all of BSH’s clients face abuse, scarcity and violence as part of their daily lives. Most report incomes of less than $10,000 a year. Many are homeless, struggling with addiction, survivors of intimate partner violence, or are living with HIV/AIDS. Many actively avoid accessing medical treatment, even when they need it, because they have been treated poorly in the past by those who misunderstood their issues. Few have significant employment experience. Last year, 90% of BSH contacts said they had contemplated suicide, and over 50% of participants who engaged in sex work had experienced an act of violence or resulted to drugs to cope with trauma. Many who engage in sex work do so as the only means to survive.

BSH works to build positive relationships with sex workers and drug users through active listening, consistent outreach and unconditional support. BSH employs harm reduction services to help clients improve their lives. By offering essential services at our drop-in center and mobile site, 2020 we will take on a transitional space. BSH reduces barriers to quality, culturally-competent medical care and support clients in their journey to build individual agency to get healthy and become self-sustaining.

Black transgender women and the broader TLGBQ population are more likely to contract HIV and hepatitis C, experience mental and physical illness, and die prematurely. The consequences of drug use negatively impact individuals, families, communities and society as a whole. Harm reduction is internationally recognized as a best practice to prevent the transmission of blood-borne infections, promote safer drug use and safer sexual behaviors, increase access to social services and supports, and prevent and reverse overdoses. However, simply making no-cost supplies and services available is not sufficient for providing comprehensive harm reduction interventions; services must also be accessible, accommodating, affordable, and acceptable (i.e. equitable regardless of drug used, route of administration, or where the individual resides).

Engaging people who are currently, or have previously been in struggle mode, herein referred to as ‘peers’, to participate in policy making, research, programming, and practice is fundamental to harm reduction globally. The definition of ‘peers’ varies across literature, but can be defined to us as “any persons with equal standing within a particular community who share a common lived experience.” ‘Peers’ in the context of our programming are people with lived experience of homelessness, violence, substance abuse and/or sex work. These peers provide valuable insights about the barriers and act as experts on accessing harm reduction services in their communities. For us in by us we are dedicated in 2020 to Baltimore TGLBQ community breaking new heights.

Adam G. Holofcener, Maryland Volunteer Lawyers For The Arts

As I look back at my proposed Baltimore City resolution for 2018, I realize that we have truly shifted from a time where the idea that laser-focused wonky policy fixes might work to a precipice that demands systems change. Given this posture, my resolution for 2020 is that Baltimore County should be incorporated back into Baltimore City, destroying the literal and metaphorical boundary that promotes separation between groups of Baltimoreans. This is a complicated request, and attention to detail is a must (especially as concerns schooling and other related issues), but I think that this type of bold step would buttress the kind of foundational change that helps get us to where we would like to go.

Jaisal Noor, The Real News Network

Baltimore’s strong-mayor system concentrates more power in its chief executive than any other major city. City residents should strongly consider what results this system has created, and whether this model of government is working for them. Many cities have moved away from this archaic system of governance, and after the Healthy Holly scandal reforms, the city council is considering adopting several proposals that could amount to significant change of the City Charter, the governing document of Baltimore. The proposals include creating a position of City Manager, that would administer day-to-day city business, giving the council the power to appropriate money in the city’s budget, currently only the mayor holds that power. Other reforms, like giving the council the power to remove officials who have betrayed the city’s trust could be less controversial. If approved by the council, all changes to the charter must also be approved by the mayor, to then must be approved by a majority of voters on the Nov. general election ballot. But voters also have the power to create their own ballot measures, by gathering 10,000 signatures from registered city voters by the summer deadline. This path could net more significant change; for example, voters could decide they want a system of participatory budgeting, where individual neighborhoods get to decide how funds are spent on a local level; and as another example, whether spending the most per capita on police for a similarly-sized city is the most effective way to fight crime. Ballot measures could also require officials to fund schools at a greater level, or create a fund that helps incubates local worker coops like a growing number of other cities are doing. With all the challenges the city is facing, it’s hard to argue there has been a better time for citizens carefully consider the power they hold and what the potential for progressive reform could look like.

China Martens, author of “The Future Generation: A Zine-Book for Subculture Parents, Kids, Friends & Others”

I think that Baltimore Museum of Art should continue their change making with having the first art show in the nation on the theme of artist mothers: that also centers artist mothers from marginalized groups. To purchase art/have artist talks from a diversity of generations of artists like Viva Hoffman and Renee Cox as well as other national and local artist mothers. With a slideshow and talk moderated by Kayleigh Bryant-Greenwell and Artist Mother Studio with The Future Generation, Knox Rox, and The Baltimore Beat. Artists can influence the public imagination, and mothers often are our first teachers and labor for change in ways that often are not acknowledged or supported, or taken seriously as their labor is exploited by capitalism and all who profit from others “invisible” labor. Artist mothers’ creative output has not been taken as seriously under patriarchy, where reproductive justice issues have not been supported. White feminism often first privileged the right to not have a child without also supporting the right to have a child, and raise that child in health and safety.

We are seeing increasing representation in the arts and understanding of the system of social inequity which influences the media around us and it’s time for artists who are mothers to have their moment. Not all women, or mothers, have the same struggles; and the intersections of care-work and privilege needs to be examined in a variety of ways with concrete support to gulf the divides, including reexamining the topic of maternal art (maternity, modernity, and mothering as a creative labor intensive act which needs support as all art needs support to exist: community justice model over the heroic journey) as well as serious media coverage and financial support. Supporting mothering (beyond gender or biology) and children everywhere, in every issue and point of reference brings invaluable leadership towards making a better world for everyone.

Shannon Sneed, Baltimore City Council

My first resolution for 2020 is starting the process of making the people of Baltimore City feel safe. That means holding everyone accountable, the mayor, police commissioner, and the state’s attorney in having a comprehensive plan to curb crime. We need this plan to be transparent and open to periodic audits and reviews of its effectiveness. Additionally, I will continue to work with the community to ensure they are also part of the solution, and their voice is heard at the highest levels of city government.

My second resolution is to figure out a way to make sure Baltimore City follows the recommendations of the Kirwan Commission and fund our schools at a proper level. We know that there is a direct correlation between a lack of educational opportunities and higher rates of crime. Supporting our schools at an appropriate level and making education a priority is the most effective long-term solution to combat crime and attract economic opportunities to the City.

Finally, we need more transparency across City Hall. Anyone who has dealt with the headache of erroneous water bills knows what I am talking about. We put in legislation to fix this problem, but it should not take passing a law by City Council to ensure that residents have water bills that are correct, timely, and a department to respond to their questions. My third resolution is to go through each department and ensure they are serving the people of this city in an honest and open manner.

John Duda, Red Emma’s worker/owner

It’s easy to imagine Baltimore continuing to slip, becoming the failed city too many believe it to already be. We are facing a combination of seemingly intractable systemic injustices, together with an unceasing chain of scandals—some comic, all tragic—within our city’s leadership and its institutions. This combination points towards a future in which Baltimore continues to entrench its lurching split into mostly white enclaves of urban neoliberal privilege and mostly Black territories of dispossession and dysfunctional governance.

But this same combination also creates a slender opening for hope. The bankruptcy of traditional institutional power brokers, both elected and unelected, demonstrated again and again in scandal after scandal, creates vacuums of legitimacy which are already being filled by a vital alternative vision. This is a vision of a Baltimore which takes the challenge of racial and economic equity seriously, which breaks definitively with the myths of trickle-down prosperity and with the false promises of the carceral state, and above all which understands how great this city could be, if we really fought for its future—and won.

Winning looks like making radical demands seem like unstoppable common sense: of course our city’s economy should be built to democratize wealth rather than extract it! Of course our housing policies should emphasize permanent affordability and community control rather than gentrification and speculative profits! Of course a twenty first century city isn’t built entirely around the automobile! Of course we can’t make the city a safe place for all just by funding more and more police!

Our opening here—possibly at the ballot box, and definitely everywhere else—is that we can connect these kinds of far-reaching and deep demands to a much more immediate one: that our city’s future depends on competency, commitment, and creativity—as of course it does. The defenders of the status quo, by repeatedly and publicly forfeiting their claim to represent “good” governance and responsible civic behavior, have made it possible for new networks of people ready to fight for a different vision of Baltimore to take their place.

There’s a lot that stands in the way of this vision, not least the regressive headwinds blowing from Government House in Annapolis and the White House in DC. One key thing that’s closer to home, however, is making sure that the people ready for this fight for a new set of Baltimore institutions have places to do so from. Too often, people looking for a way to make a difference or a platform for real impact find there’s just not a way to do so sustainably here. Laying the foundations for Baltimore’s renewal means making—or demanding—the investments in grassroots institutions, in progressive businesses, in independent media and art, and in the city itself, that give the people ready to reinvent it the ability to do this work full time, for the long haul.

Sonja Santelises, Baltimore City Schools CEO

Beloved Baltimore: There is something about the dawn of a new year that gifts us a moment to pause, reflect, and look forward with new eyes. It is on this dawn, bright and limitless, that I write these words of hope—and resolve—to a beloved city and its people.

May this be the year we reclaim the rich narratives of our city and neighborhoods, our families and young people, when we refuse to let the doubters and naysayers define who we are.

May this be the year we dare to stop tearing down hope, choosing instead to build each other up and lift our city in light, love—and unyielding belief. For too long, we have acted as if allowing ourselves to even imagine what is possible or to celebrate our victories is to leave ourselves too vulnerable.

May this be the year we decide to love our young people unequivocally and lift them toward their God-given purpose. May we see them in all their beauty, pain and infinite potential, and invest in Baltimore’s sons and daughters all the resources we can bring to bear.

May this be the year we refuse to choose between one critical need and another. I pray that we pry ourselves from the false notion that—in one of the most vibrant cities in the wealthiest state in the country—families must somehow choose between the opportunity to simply survive and the opportunity to truly thrive. That our children must somehow choose between having heat in their schools or actual rich and rigorous learning.

May this be the year all of us in City Schools resolve to fully deliver on our charge. May we commit ourselves to the twin goals of equity and excellence. May we see our students not as flat data points in our academic scores, but as whole human vessels filled with untold gifts and potential; not as the “challenges” of todays classrooms, but the promises of our tomorrow.

May this be the year we collectively resolve to lead from our respective seats, coming together across agencies and neighborhoods and assuming a shared responsibility to serve our city’s youth and families. And serve them well.

May this be the year we dream together—and devote our waking hours to making those dreams a reality.

Kira Wisniewski, CM/Baltimore, host and coorganizer

I’m always rooting for everything and everyone Baltimore. I know there is not a shortage of problems, both big and small, but there are so many people and organizations that are doing their part to better our city every single day. Yes, crime and poverty are big issues. Yes, we need to continue to work on dismantling institutional racism. Yes, the students in our public schools deserve proper heating and cooling systems when they are trying to learn. My intent is not to belittle or gloss over those facts. But there are folx like Erricka Bridgeford, Steph Hsu, Andrea Nacina Cole, Brittany Oliver, Patrice Hutton, Ava Pipitone and Joyell Arvella that are doing really great work for our communities in Baltimore that should continue to be recognized and celebrated. There are artists here, spreading across all disciplines, that are creating really incredible work like Amy Sherald, D. Watkins, Eze Jackson, Schaun Champion, Lola Pierson, April Danielle Lewis, and Thea Brown. Not to be too Pollyanna about it all, but my hope is that we can continue to lift up good happening here and build on that momentum in 2020.

Schaun Champion, photographer

Something I hope to do better in 2020 is allow myself to be more vulnerable with my work. There are stories I want to tell about Baltimore and the people in it that help us move past our trauma. Everyday stories about all of the beautiful things that people dismiss as unexceptional, when in truth, it is extraordinary. I have a couple of projects I’m working on to highlight black life in Baltimore through images. I hope we continue to support black art to new levels in this city and in particular, Black Female Photographers. We are here! We are here! We are here! I would also like to encourage the art enthusiasts and consumers of art to PAY ARTISTS! The visuals you love, the music you hear, the designs you enjoy and more are all created by someone who puts their heart and soul into their work. They deserve to be compensated for their time and energy. I want the idea of a “starving artist” to cease. Make it so that the youth of this city can see a future as a paid and working artist.

Andy Ellis, Maryland Green Party Co-Chair

In 2020 I hope that all of Baltimore can do civic engagement better. The aloof elected leaders, the tax dodging corporate executives, the dirty cops and the violent criminals all rely on each of us believing we are powerless and that there is no hope. But civic engagement can not just mean getting rid of the bad apples it must mean distributing the power and wealth in the hands of the few to all the people. In 2020 we must start a decade were the people stand up, build new forms of power, and make the world they want to live in. Baltimore won’t be alone in making the 2020’s the people-power decade, but we can be a model.

For me this means building, voting for, and encouraging people to run as part of a grassroots electoral alternative to the one party rule that exists in our city. Political corruption, lead poisoning, violent crime, lack of affordable housing, ineffective transit, and underfunded schools are all problems that come from politicians disconnecting people from policy by convincing them they are powerless. In 2020 the people of the city can work to change that, not just because there is an election but because with a new decade come new opportunities for grassroots democracy to take hold, for the people of Baltimore to demand better, and to make it real.

Carla Du Pree, CityLit Project Executive Director

Looking back at the work CityLit Project has done in the literary community in this decade alone—and my ongoing personal work—there are two things that come first and foremost to mind:

1. As you move through the world ask yourself how you can be a blessing and not a burden. One of my favorite Toni Morrison quotes, which I think all ‘large’ organizations should think of is: “… When you get these jobs that you have been so brilliantly trained for, just remember that your real job is that if you are free, you need to free somebody else. If you have some power, then your job is to empower somebody else.”What does extending a hand look like in terms of money and resources in the long run for a nonprofit? How to make the ASK less rigorous when the work already defines you and answers a necessary calling?

2. A challenge to anyone in a position to financially support a nonprofit doing meaningful work, please remember many of us are on the ground floor making a difference and being a difference from a deep passion and pure grit. Understand truly what capacity building looks like for those with a small staff. Yes, it may be the nature of nonprofits to lead by mission, with limited resources to build a future, but does it have to be such limited resources in a state rich in philanthropy? A fraction of what you give major institutions would grow financial stability in a smaller one. Take note of how you can help them get there minus the rigor of excessive paperwork, proving themselves when years of serving under extreme measures show they got a little something something that speaks to their worth. How can you assist them in building capacity – and the many definitions of that concept – when it’s clear after all these years of standing and making things happen, they’re still here, standing for excellence and the outrageously talented creatives they represent?

Carol Ott, Fair Housing Action Center of Maryland, Tenant Advocacy Director

With the second decade of the 2000s thankfully gone, I’d like to see Baltimore’s leadership focus on sustainable solutions for the lead paint and substandard housing epidemics that continue to physically and emotionally harm our city’s children. Too much time, money, and energy has been focused on crime and the racist narrative around criminality – we need to stop peddling the status quo with feel-good milquetoast platitudes, and laws without any teeth or enforcement, and start eliminating the root causes of economic apartheid and the school-to-prison pipeline. We need to treat the intentional lead poisoning of children as a criminal offense, with strict penalties for those who perpetuate this 100% preventable obstacle to our children’s success.

I would also like to see a reallocation of city resources from developer subsidies and tax incentives to community benefits in East and West Baltimore’s Black communities, with community control over these resources. One way to do this would be to turn BDC into a true redevelopment authority, being a true partner in engaging communities in business development – businesses that are needed and wanted by existing residents. Baltimore has, for far too long, ignored the idea that our marginalized neighborhoods are a wealth of talent and ingenuity, and has furthered the belief that they’re not as deserving of the time and money as downtown and majority-White neighborhoods. Let’s start 2020 with the firm belief that Black lives do indeed matter, and work to erase the 50-plus years of Jim Crow rule over our city and its residents.

Kate Drabinski, UMBC lecturer of Gender and Women’s Studies

When the editors of the Baltimore Beat asked me to write about what Baltimore should change in 2020, my first reaction was: everything. We need to change how we redistribute wealth. Jack Young shouldn’t get a Homestead Tax Credit he doesn’t need for a house he doesn’t live in while renters paying 60% of their income in rent get nothing but the pleasure of subsidizing the wealth of their landlords.

We need to change how we redistribute life chances. Being born in West Baltimore shouldn’t knock 14 years off your life expectancy compared to being born in Roland Park.

We need to change how we distribute “justice.” Having the cash to bail yourself out of prison shouldn’t consign those without it to weeks and months in cages while the wheels of the (in)justice system turn.

These are big changes, and some could be quick—get rid of the homestead tax credit and cash bail—but the big structural changes necessary to give all of us an equal shot at life will take a lot longer. What can we do in the meantime, alongside the ways we all flap our wings in the general direction of building that new world? We need to change how we see each other in the streets. It’s a small thing, but it’s a thing we can all change, today.

What I want us all of us to do in 2020 is say hello to each other. Say “how you doin’?” and acknowledge it when someone says it first. This communicates a lot very quickly: I see you, you see me, we see each other sharing this space in this same world. We’re together in this.

To walk by in silence is to refuse to acknowledge our shared humanity. Massive inequalities mean right now that my freedom is contingent on your caging, my wealth is dependent on your poverty, my life extends because yours is shortened. We need to understand that we face collective problems in need of collective solutions, that we must fundamentally change our relationship to that sense of collectivity if we’re ever going to even this shit out. Do we live together in this world, or not? In 2020, I want that answer to be yes. And we’ve got a hell of a lot of work to do, together.

Michaela Brown, Organizing Black (formerly Black Leaders Organizing for Change) Executive Director

We, Organizing Black, resolve the following: 1. Participatory governance through people’s movement assemblies (pma) is the way the people of Baltimore can engage in the legislative and budgeting process. Participatory governance is how the people will yield the power to hold public officials fully accountable. The U.S. has moved closer to being more participatory. Whether we look at cities like Jackson, MS who sets there budgets with their constituents, or the Baltimore City Youth fund, or even people powered political campaigns such as Stacy Abrams all of these things have one thing in common, they start with the people first.

2. BPD’s budget should be decreased by 15% then invested back into the community. Police do not keep the people safe & statistics have proven that an increase in policing does not decrease crime or equal safety for the most marginalized people. We believe we can build a world “where safety can be realized without punishment.” A world where people are held accountable through transformative justice & not a punitive one.

Jeremy Collins, writer and photographer

Baltimore is not without its activists and changemakers and in 2020 I know we will continue to work hard for the city and the people. Because City Hall doesn’t understand ethics and accountability, the people will have to remain vigilant and hold officials to the fire. I hope 2020 brings new ideas around ownership, sustainability, and the future for the city. I hope we redefine homeownership and affordable housing to not be 200k dollar homes or rents over 1500. After living in the Bay Area for eight months, and seeing what gentrification does to artists and teachers, it horrifies me to think of what Baltimore could become, especially since the city is becoming more attractive to DC nesters.

I hope public safety means more social workers in communities—not just schools—as opposed to police officers in schools. And heaven forbid the panopticon-like surveillance plane.

I hope transit in this city is made better for us all, and not just our metal four-wheeled friends. For me, personally, that means more efficient bus routes and more express buses as well as more transit-oriented development and better customer service from MTA.

I hope we’re all more mindful that this city doesn’t just exist for those of us today, but will need to exist for those of us tomorrow as well. It’ll take radical, visionary, change, but I believe in us and I know we have the capacity to make it happen so let’s get it done.

Patrice Hutton, Writers in Baltimore Schools (WBS)

Provide free public transportation for Baltimore’s youth. Provide it 100% of the time, even when young people aren’t traveling between home, school, and work. They have writing workshops to attend. Friends to visit. Museums to explore. As City Councilman Ryan Dorsey said at a City Council hearing on December 12, 2016, the “American Dream is built on freedom to move. When we restrict transit, it is nothing less than a restriction of that dream.” As is, Baltimore City Public School high school students can use their school-issued S-Pass for transit home from school until 8 PM on weeknights. They have no access on weekends. In 2016, I surveyed 61 Baltimore City youth about how these limited hours affect their lives. When asked, “Has the lack of post 8 P.M. S-Pass access affected your ability to work or engage in extracurricular activities?”, 95% of students responded in the affirmative. In the words of the writers of WBS:

  • I often decide not to go to lectures, work, or an internship downtown because of the 5 dollars I’d have to pay to take two buses home. Students have to get around Baltimore more than just 5:30-8 PM.”
  • Yes, I get out of practice late and sometimes I don’t have enough time to get home after games.”
  • Since I can’t work or participate in events past 8, I miss out on opportunities for me to engage with my peers and other people that may be important to me in the future. For example, like meeting a famous writer at an open mic/reading that doesn’t end till 9. I couldn’t stay and meet them because I would have to leave early which sucks.
  • I have to consider transportation before I’m able to do anything, and I’ve missed an SAT because there was no one to take me and I didn’t have money for transportation.”
  • I had to ultimately quit my job because my bus pass was over at 8 PM, and I didn’t get off until 9 PM.” 
  • Yes, I get out of practice late, and sometimes I don’t have enough time to get home after games.”
  • Yes, I haven’t participated in any drama productions because no one lives in my area to give me a ride home.”
  • Yes. I cannot stay for events that end after 8 because it takes too long to get home and some bus drivers are jerks and won’t let you on after 8 PM.”
  • Yes, I can’t catch the bus home because my S-pass is expired or I can’t get home from seeing our sport games because it’s too late or after 8 PM.”
  • Yes. When I leave track meets I either have to pay or hope someone can give me a ride home because by the time the bus comes my spass won’t work.”
  • Yes, I can’t catch the bus home because my s-pass is expired or I can’t get home from seeing our sport games because it’s too late or after 8 PM.”
  • Yes, because if I wanted to so some community service or something and my spass run out at 8 PM I would be just stuck.”
  • Yes, I cannot support my friends when they have plays, or be in an after school play (which I enjoy very much) because I do not have a secure way of getting home without paying money that I cannot afford to pay”
  • Sometimes I’m not able to attend extracurricular activities after school because of the 8 PM. access, I manage the women’s basketball team and practice ends roughly around 7-7:30. It’s an inconvenience to have to be a disservice to my teammates because I can’t either attend practices/games or have to leave earlier than scheduled.”
  • Yes, sometimes I can’t go to practice or away games without the fear that I will miss the 8 PM deadline and I have no money to get home.”
  • Yes, I have to leave my business classes early just to make it home before the s-passes run out and because the buses come so late I often do not make it home before they run out.
  • Yes, I’ve had interviews for certain activities that would sometimes be over late at 7 and sometimes the Buses run late so by time I get on my S-Pass would already stop working.”
  • Yes. My parents work in the afternoon so I cannot participate in after school activities or work because I have no way to get home or get to work.”
  • Yes, sometimes I end extracurricular activities as late as 7:30 and it takes at least an hour to get home which means that if one of the buses doesn’t come on time I have to find someone to get me that late at night and no one wants to do that.” 
  • Sometimes it’s hard to be an athlete due to the fact that a majority of winter games end after 8 and I have no consistent way of getting home. I have no money for the bus then I can’t always get a ride from a parent because they work so often I do walk home in the dead of the night because I can’t catch the bus.”
  • Yes! School events such as track meets, plays, and orientations often last till 7, knowing how ‘dependable’ our buses are these days I often get on my second bus around 8:45. I had moments where bus drivers denied me access, luckily someone on the bus was generous enough to pay for me. Someones not always gonna be there; I just hope there’s a way to allow students access to transportation past 8.”
  • Yes, because I cannot ride the bus without having money. One time this happened to me during the weekend and I did not reach my destination. I had to travel on foot.”
  • Yes, I would go to a SAT Prep Program on Saturdays and would have to figure out my on transportation to the program it would have been helpful to be able to use my S-Pass to get there. I had to make sure that I got the bus home before 7:30 PM on Thursdays and pay the bus fare $4 on Saturday’s to get to and from the program.”
  • If I’m taking the bus home from work I need to make sure I’m on the bus by 8. This limits the hours I can work and money I can earn.”
  • Yes. A lot of the sports practices/games at my school ended at 6. I lived a rather lengthy distance from the school and the buses started to run less frequently the later it got. I wasn’t able to be picked up all the time so I had to forgo participating in sports because I didn’t have the bus fare needed to get home because I would never make it home by 8.”
  • Yes, I don’t have much access to any other form of transportation.”
  • Yes. I am a tutor and I am forced to end our session early due to my spass running out. Also i am a member of a youth council and we do a lot of workshops that will better myself and prepare me for work/college and i have to leave early.”
  • Yes, it stopped me from seeing a play for extra credit and it stops some kids for Saturday track meets.”
  • Yes because I don’t have the money to catch the bus everyday.”
  • Yes. I can not afford to pay for bus fare but sometimes on the weekends there are places I need to be without a means to get there.”
  • Yes. We have debate tournaments on Saturdays and I can’t always get home from them or get to where I want to go because of the lack of busses.”
  • Yes, sometimes we have weekend games or trips and I would like to get an internship but I do not have money to get back and forth.”
  • Yes, I have to struggle to get transportation (or walk miles) to get to tournaments.”
  • Yes I have had numerous events that I had no transportation for and I could have easily taken the bus if my s-pass was active.”
  • Yes because I’ll try to do activities that will give me service learning hours or for a club but I can’t because I’ll have to pay four dollars which I won’t have at the time so I then have to cancel.”
  • Heck Yeah! There have been times where I missed service learning hours opportunities because I didn’t have the money for the bus, Since it’s also a State requirement to have at least 75 service hours in order to graduate; unfortunately being unable to access public transportation on the weekends could prevent me and many others from succeeding.””
  • Yes I try not to be in an after school activity that would require me to pay for a bus fare on the weekends.
  • When I need to go to the library for school work i have lack of bus fare.

Brandon Soderberg, Baltimore Beat cofounder

Even though Maryland will almost certainly not do this in 2020: the state should legalize cannabis. Really, we should legalize all drugs and end the drug war. That definitely won’t happen in 2020. But here’s something that totally could happen if any city legislator has the political boldness to push it through: Create overdose prevention sites in Baltimore. These sites (sometimes called supervised consumption sites or safe consumption sites and a few other names) offer people who use drugs—particularly heroin—a place to do drugs in a sterile and medically-supervised space. There are around 100 of these in the world (though currently, none in the United States) and no one has died at any of them. In Baltimore, where there were around twice as many deadly overdoses as homicides, this would save lives, period. These sites also give people using drugs a number of resources for getting into recovery (that is, if they want to get into recovery) and quite simply, a safer place to do drugs if they want to continue doing drugs which is their prerogative (studies show forced treatment doesn’t work). These sites also help facilitate community which is crucial. We all deserve a place to go where we feel welcome. And here’s the thing: I don’t think there’s any kind of law or rule or any other arcane document that says Baltimore can’t do this. A 2017 report from the Abell Foundation even argued the city’s charter allows the Health Department to do this if they declared a state of emergency. Would anyone disagree that we’re in a state of emergency? Strong-willed, forward-thinking politicians should get on it. The Health Department should let it happen. The rest of the city can catch up.

Teri Henderson, WDLY curator and co-director

The city government needs to pay attention, direct attention to the artists, the creatives, the activists who are the pulse of the city. These people are the ones whose art, and creativity, and activism create the fabric of Baltimore. Ask these individuals, like in this instance, s/o to the beat, what they need and then meet those needs. I’m certain that the things that the creative class in Baltimore will ask for are not unnecessary or outrageous requests. We need spaces and places where creatives of color can implement programming that is tailored to our goals and desires, outside of large institutions that have repeatedly shown that they primarily do not care about black and brown people. It is critical that artists know that these spaces and places won’t suddenly be shut down or bought out by larger institutions or machines. I know that if artists and creatives feel empowered in this city, that the city will not only survive but it will thrive. So equip those who are the pulse of the city with the necessary tools and resources to continue creating. Also, Free Keith Davis Jr.

Header photo by Larry Cohen.

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