Justice advocate Monica Cooper talked about her life and advocacy and the ongoing challenges of making lasting change in Baltimore’s justice system in a wide-ranging interview with Adam Bednar for the Maryland Daily Record. Cooper is executive director of the Maryland Justice Project, an OSI-Baltimore grantee focused on decriminalization, decarceration, and advocating for the rights of returning citizen. Cooper herself served ten years in the Maryland correctional system. In the following excerpt, Cooper talks about her perspective on where Baltimore comes from and where it’s going:
As a Black woman, when I think about where the city’s been and where it’s going, one of the first things that comes to mind is the recent celebration of women’s suffrage. When we think of women’s suffrage, you mainly only see the white women who were part of that pivotal movement for rights, for dignity, for equality. But you don’t see the Black women who were also a part of that fight for equity and for rights and for dignity. And that’s what I still see here in Baltimore, the division, the two socio-economic planes that the city is on and has always been on. This city is still segregated. The city still suffers from the same things that it did hundreds of years ago, except that it takes on a different form and a different life.
In terms of where we’re headed, I would hope that we are headed towards a future, but learning from the past. There’s a Swahili word sankofa that means to kinda go back and retrieve [something] and bring it with you to the future. The progress I would like to see is for people to really, thoroughly understand the history of redlining and how we ended up in this space, learning the history of the waterfront here, who was able to work on the waterfront, who was able to participate, bring in goods and services… When immigrants came to the city, did they get the jobs above the Black folks who were already here? In terms of progress, that’s what I would like to see.
I just don’t see the progress being as fast I would like for it to be. I don’t see the elected officials paying attention to the smaller details, which is the people. I see them paying more attention to developers, because that’s the money, that is the connection and the lynchpin that keeps them in office.
Bednar previously profiled OSI-Baltimore Director Danielle Torain.