A job – the right job – may be key to preventing other Baltimores

Monday, May 4, 2015

A job – the right job – may be key to preventing other Baltimores

By Tamara Copeland
Washington Regional Association of Grantmakers

This article was originally published on the Daily WRAG as part of Tamara's monthly A Voice From Philanthropy column.

With Friday’s announcement by Maryland State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, a feeling that justice will prevail in the Freddie Gray case has begun to emerge. The anger seems to have dissipated as the cries for justice appear to have been heard. Criminal charges against the police officers is an important part of justice for Freddie Gray, as is a fuller examination of the criminal justice system’s relationship to all communities, particularly to African-American communities. But, this is not the only answer.

We must still look at root causes. We must still think what can be done to prevent another exploding powder keg of pent up hostility and hopelessness.

My thoughts go immediately to jobs.

Until last week, when most of us thought of Baltimore, we thought of the Inner Harbor, an area of mega economic development that has led to the revitalization of the city. Just a short walk from this area, one can find the boarded up properties, the proliferation of liquor stores, and the outward signs of hopelessness that form the profile of too many low-income communities, not just in Baltimore, but across America. This is home to many of the young people who were seen on the nightly news rioting and looting following the death of Freddie Gray.

As many in philanthropy and in other sectors think about what they can do, I hope there will be some focus on economic opportunities for these often forgotten or invisible communities.

If we want to lessen the likelihood of the horrors of Baltimore happening in our neighborhood, I believe that we have to give people hope. For me, hope comes in the form of a job, a job with a future, a job that is secure, a job that pays a fair wage. If you have that job, you can hope to live in a nice house, in a nice neighborhood. You can hope to save enough to give your child the education that you know is needed. You can hope that your children will emulate your work ethic and see the benefits of work. Hope is a powerful motivator and when that hope is more than an emotion, when that hope leads to the reality of purchasing that home, setting up an education savings account and maybe even taking your family on that first-ever vacation, you are no longer a part of the problem. You’re a part of the solution.

I am proud that grantmakers in our region have been focused on this kind of preventative work for years. Workforce development conversations and actions are making a difference in our region. An important call has been issued for a regional economic summit to lessen our region’s reliance on the federal government as our primary employer. And funders have successfully launched the first business under the Community Wealth Building Initiative (CWBI). If you haven’t heard about CWBI, it is a funder-led initiative to create jobs anchored to the community that pay a good wage, have a future, are worker-controlled, and provide a tangible benefit to the community.

I know that the Community Wealth Building Initiative isn’t the panacea for preventing another Baltimore. I don’t think there is just one intervention. We have to address our school systems, the affordability of housing, the accessibility of healthy foods and quality health care, and a host of other needs. For me, I see people who are hopeless and I believe that the right job can give them the hope they need for a better life.

For me, having a job, a job with a future, is key to preventing other Baltimores.

To learn more about the Community Wealth Building Initiative, join us for a briefing on Monday, May 18. Click here for more information.