BALTIMORE—Open Society Institute-Baltimore, the only US field office of Open Society Foundations, will invest in Black-led newspaper the Baltimore Beat and police reform documentary Breaking the Blue Wall, as part of an emerging effort to radically shift local and national narratives about Baltimore, our leaders, our movements, and our communities.
“A key part of OSI-Baltimore’s mission is to center the needs, interests, and voices of historically marginalized communities and communities of color,” says Danielle Torain, Director of OSI-Baltimore and Director of Leadership and Innovation for Open Society-US. “One way we intend to do that is to support independent Black-led media working to shape a narrative represented by authentic people and anchored in accuracy and truth.”
OSI-Baltimore is investing $100,000 in the Baltimore Beat, a Black-led, nonprofit biweekly newspaper and media outlet that “aims to serve all of Baltimore City, including those with limited internet access and those who are a part of underrepresented communities,” according to its website. “Our organization aspires toward a more equitable, accountable, and rigorous future for journalism that fully represents the stories of all our neighbors.”
The Beat, which initially launched as a for-profit newspaper in 2017, released it first edition as a nonprofit earlier this month. The re-launch is supported by an unrestricted $1 million grant from the Baltimore-based Lillian Holofcener Charitable Foundation. Alongside the launch, the Beat stood up the first of several reimagined newspaper boxes in collaboration with Open Works, a community-based makerspace in Greenmount West. In addition to newspapers, the boxes are stocked with free Naloxone, face masks, water, books, and dress shirts.
OSI-Baltimore is also investing $92,000 in Breaking the Blue Wall, a documentary film directed by Baltimore-based filmmaker and journalist Alissa Figueroa that chronicles the efforts of two Black women—state Senator Jill Carter and activist Tawanda Jones—that led to landmark police reform legislation in 2021, in which Maryland became the first state to repeal the Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights (LEOBR).
“These new investments align with Open Society-US’s goal of winning the battle of ideas and narratives to build support for an inclusive multi-racial society, based on values of belonging, faith in government, and an inclusive economy,” Torain added. “As I discussed in my recent op-ed, ‘Racist narratives about Baltimore do lasting damage,’ the spread of misinformation and false, racist narratives about Baltimore and other majority-Black cities represent a serious threat, not only to people of color, but to Democracy itself.”
Evan Serpick, OSI-Baltimore’s Program Manager for Communications and Narrative Change and a former journalist, will oversee the organization’s investments in narrative change. “In recent years, it has become painfully clear that skewed narratives about Baltimore and its residents—often proffered and promulgated by commentators on the right—do real and lasting damage to residents here, and the same is true for cities around the US,” he says. “We hope to expand our investments to support Baltimore residents telling their own stories and we encourage other local and national funders to join us in that effort.”