By Sean Yoes, Baltimore AFRO Editor, [email protected]

The final community design sessions, organized to help craft the framework for the distribution of the $12 million Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, took place this week. The sixth and final session was at Patterson High School in South Baltimore.

I attended the fifth session April 2, at Lakeland Elementary/Middle School in the Cherry Hill community of South Baltimore, and the library where the meeting took place was packed (I was told it was the best attended meeting of them all to that point).

The energy in the room, filled with a very diverse (age, race, gender), group of community leaders, educators and child advocates offered dozens of cogent ideas for how this year’s total of $24 million should be spent ($12 million left over from last year, plus this year’s $12 million, equals the $24 million total for 2018). Perhaps, more importantly, the group forwarded names of individuals and entities more than worthy of resources to help sustain the work of those who help sustain our children.

Sean Yoes (Courtesy Photo)

In 2016, Baltimore voters approved the ballot measure to create the fund and City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young crafted the legislation to distribute the $12 million. Adam Jackson, CEO of Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, the grassroots think tank, was named co-chair (along with John Brothers of T. Rowe Price), of a 34 member task force assembled to build an infrastructure to distribute the money, to smaller groups, less connected to the city’s corridors of power.

The preliminary report containing the recommendations culled from the design sessions is due to the City Council April 9. The task force assigned Associated Black Charities the responsibility of anchoring the process of distributing the funds.

“We’re putting residents at the center of how money is decided– or allocated, rather– because we recommended from the task force that the city instead have a new nonprofit intermediate organization that is controlled and accountable to and by Baltimore residents,” Jackson told journalist Lisa Snowden-McCray, former editor-in-chief of the now defunct Baltimore Beat.

“We have an assembly that will replace those program officers, or what we think of program officers. Instead of paying somebody $100,000 a year to decide where money goes, you instead can compensate city residents, have them in a group setting and look at requested proposals and decide where money goes in their community. So, that’s dramatically different than what happens now.”

I know that there may not be a lot of community trust in City government these days, however the establishment of the Children and Youth Fund feels like a fundamental shift in how money gets distributed to smaller, Black led non-profit groups in the city that nurture and heal our children and young people. The process so far has been incredibly transparent and inclusive.

Perhaps, even more importantly the establishment of a multi-million dollar fund to support the work of people and groups that collectively help keep the city from being torn asunder signals a broader symbolic shift.

In the current climate, of course law enforcement is going to receive the lion’s share of dollars in the city budget. But, the creation of the Children’s Fund is an acknowledgement (and a fiscal commitment) by the city that investing in our children on the front end instead of locking them up as young adults is a more plausible and tenable policy position for Baltimore’s future. And placing the implementation of the Children’s Fund largely in the youthful hands of Jackson, who leads a group devoted to the liberation of Black people, sends a powerful message to the grassroots and the city’s majority population.

Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and executive producer and host of the AFRO First Edition video podcast, which airs Mondays and Fridays at 5 p.m., on the ARO’s Facebook page.