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The Power of Listening: A Johnston Square/Oliver Community Convo

To All Who Are Concerned,


Associated Black Charities (ABC) acknowledges structural racism's effect on the racial wealth gap, work place discrimination, health inequity, disparities in housing policies and practices, educational inequality, discriminating and dehumanizing laws and policies, and more. ABC’s mission is to eliminate structural barriers and advance long-term solutions that create new opportunities for African Americans to thrive. Using an equity framework as a convener and thought leader to end race-based barriers that impede African Americans from having an opportunity to succeed is at the heart of all of ABC's initiatives.


We value our role as connectors in the Greater Baltimore community and feel that we are uniquely positioned to set the table for communication and positive exchange among all of the stakeholders that want Baltimore to be better.


We understand that empowerment must be included in racial equity work as it helps to uplift and support our communities of color, giving them a voice and a role in shaping the solutions to the challenges they face. We feel that the work is about creating conditions that allow individuals and communities to have control over their own lives and to shape the systems and institutions that impact them.


When individuals and communities are empowered, they are better able to identify and address their own needs, and to advocate for their rights and interests.


On Tuesday March 21, 2023, ABC joined the Johnston Square and Oliver communities in Baltimore to ensure the community’s voice is amplified, and that their experiences and perspectives are shared in a way that gives both attention and visibility to their issues and causes. It is our commitment to provide a platform for community voices to be heard and valued.


In our goal to help create and foster greater collaboration, cooperation, and effective solutions; we partnered with the Zion Hill Baptist Church, pastored by Bishop Douglas V. Logan.


We convened over 55 residents, community organizations, faith leaders, government representatives, and other stakeholders at the church. Stakeholders were invited to discuss their work and bring forward community resources and the floor was opened for dialogue about what is going well in the community, and issues that need to be addressed with collaborative attention.


In addition to community residents and the Zion Hill Baptist Church leadership, notable attendees included representatives from United Way of Central Maryland, Abell Foundation, Johnston Square Farm and Garden, The Community Group, Parks and Recs, Caroline Center, Baltimore Oliver Community Association, Community 24/7, Focus on Communities United for Success (FOCUS), Baltimore Oliver Community Association, Peoples Association of Oliver, RAMP Youth Group, Oliver Community Farm (6th Branch), Tender Loving Care Family Day Care, ReBUILD Johnston Square Community Association, and ReBUILD Metro.


What ABC Heard:


Going Well

· The community has been establishing more programs for teens and adolescents through Parks and Recs

· Many organizations are doing the work in the community and working to create positive change/impact

· Appreciation for food drives and food boxes provided by the Zion Hill Baptist Church

· The community is continuing to push forward despite all their obstacles (resilient) – just need to communicate and leverage the resources/connections that are already in the neighborhood

· OC250 helped revamp neighborhood basketball court

· There is a real sense of community in the neighborhood


Needs To Be Addressed

· Need for better communication between residents, stakeholders, and business owners

· Need to share and leverage resources in the community – a lot of organizations but not a lot of collaboration. No strategic plans set to accomplish goals.

· Call to share of information in more ways that people can access it and reach a larger audience – better use of technology

· Youth – strong need for economic empowerment, financial literacy, computer lab

· Not understanding the resources that are available for community members – people losing homes because of taxes/liens, etc.

· More programming needed aimed at young men – mentoring, job resources, etc.

· Affordable housing is not available due to new developments in the area

· Schools are being closed due to development in the area

· Significant displacement has taken place with little help with relocation

· No information or presence from elected officials in the community unless it’s election season

· Increased community Mental Health programs are needed

· Lack of grocery stores in the area. Need options for affordable food (many convenience stores increase pricing) and more access to fresh food.

· Limited transportation (buses re-routed/bus stops eliminated)

· An increase in the number of bike lanes of the street for “traffic calming” but many community members do not own bikes and do not feel that it has helped with speeding or that their needs were considered


Resources Shared

· Caroline Center – Workforce development program for women looking to pursue careers

· Community Center – 24/7 – Transitional Housing, support, homelessness, and resources for women

· Focus on Communities United for Success (FOCUS) – Providing free IT training for people ages 18 to 36

· Johnston Square Community Farm and Garden/Oliver Farm – providing fresh fruits and vegetables to residents

· The Community Group – Mentoring Program for kids ages 12 to 17

· Powerhouse Community Center (Living Classrooms) – technology lab

· Blue Water Baltimore – access to fresh water

· Velocipede Bike Project – Baltimore – providing access to bikes in the community

· Oliver Recreation Center

· ReBUILD Metro – helping residents with free home repairs, programs with paths to home ownership and downpayment assistance

· Irving Trauma Counseling Center


Next Steps

· Community Members to come together to share ideas, efforts, and resources so that they are not duplicating efforts

· Increase communication efforts through social media to reach a larger audiences

· Encourage community members to support the local organizations efforts


Associated Black Charities is calling to action all stakeholders with resources to shore up the things that are going well in the Johnston Square and Oliver communities, and to take immediate action toward supporting the resolution of the community issues identified.


We specifically identified the need for additional listening sessions in these communities that level the playing field for discourse and remove the perception of power and control being held by specific organizations.


If you are an agency, a business, a community member, or other entity that can assist, please contact Bishop Douglas V. Logan at Zion Hill Baptist Church at zionhill931@gmail.com or Associated Black Charities at info@abc-md.org to be connected.


Together, we can change the future.


Sincerely,


Chrissy M. Thornton

President & CEO

Associated Black Charities




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