Kristerfer Burnett is running for City Council in Baltimore’s 8th district. He wants to put his record of community organizing and activism to work for the district where his family has resided for three generations.
Burnett served as the lead organizer for SEIU on the ‘Good Jobs, Better Baltimore’ campaign from 2011-2012. He has since served as the director of community organizing for Comprehensive Housing Assistance Inc., a non-profit working to develop thriving communities through equitable access to housing.
In 2013, Burnett founded Neighbors without Borders, an advocacy organization working to strengthen Southwest Baltimore. The group will open a farmer’s market at Edmondson-Westside High School in June. Burnett also has experience in local politics, having managed the successful 2014 campaign of freshman delegate Cory McCray (D-Baltimore City).
“[The 8th district] has to have someone that . . . shows up for work, both in the community and the council,” said Burnett during an interview with the AFRO. “We need someone that has a strong vision for the neighborhood and is built to do the work.”
Burnett’s vision includes ensuring that the benefits of development reach further into Baltimore’s struggling neighborhoods. To do this, says Burnett, development projects have to be viewed as “people projects” first and foremost.
“If we’re talking about attracting people to want to live in our city, if we’re talking about older adults to want to age in place, and young families to want to raise their children and send [them to] schools here, that has to be the focus of redeveloping our neighborhoods,” said Burnett.
Burnett cites the year one schools in the 21st Century Buildings Plan as an example of an approach to new construction that more effectively involved communities in the decision making process. He said this approach needs to be extended to more development projects in order to ensure the community is not the last to know about projects impacting and transforming their neighborhoods.
“That can’t be [a situation], where people are finding out about decisions that are going to impact their lives from a third party, or when the deal is already done. We see [this] often, the decision’s already made and we’re telling you what’s going to happen to you, not how we can work with you and make you a part of this process. I think that has to be the new face of development in Baltimore City . . . you have to hear the voice of the community and have them get a seat at the table,” said Burnett.
The city’s reliance on the state for a substantial portion of its education budget must also change, says Burnett. Baltimore needs to not only increase the amount it spends on city schools, but on recreation centers and youth workforce development, in order to combat the allure of street economies and their concomitant impact on public safety.
“If we’re not providing alternatives [for youth] then you end up spending so much money on public safety. We have to increase the funding for education, and the quality of education that our kids have, and the things that they’re doing outside of school as well, if we’re going to keep them out of that element. But you can’t have it both ways, and we’re certainly not going to police our way out of this issue,” said Burnett.
The city also needs to make sure that workforce development programs are preparing residents for jobs available in the area, as well as working to reduce obstacles to workforce development such as finding ways to limit the costs of apprenticeships for those who would prefer entering trades to pursuing a college degree.
Improving the city’s workforce preparedness will also require improving Baltimore’s public transportation infrastructure. Having companies like Under Armour or Amazon in South Baltimore will not be an economic boon if residents cannot get there in a reasonable time-frame on public transportation, says Burnett.
A subpar public transit system is also having an effect on school attendance, something that has ripple effects on the city’s workforce preparedness. “When we talk to teachers and administrators [about] why attendance rates are so low, part of it is the buses are late, or they’re not showing up at all, and so a lot of kids are like, ‘I’ll just stay home,’” said Burnett.
Fixing public transportation, however, is something that will require state action, and Burnett says that his relationship with delegates in the state legislature, as well as his experience testifying in Annapolis as an organizer, gives him a leg up in trying to address issues requiring state and city cooperation.
“I’m a strong voice for change in Baltimore City,” said Burnett. “I work hard, I’ve had a track record of working hard, and I continue to work hard, and we need in this city people willing to do that and engage our voters along the way.”