Last August, ten Open Society Institute-Baltimore Community Fellows working in criminal justice-related projects joined Open Society Foundations’ Soros Justice Fellows in Detroit for a conference to explore pressing issues in the criminal and juvenile justice field. A few of them wrote reflections on the experience.
1999 Community Fellow Dare to be King Curriculum, Violence Prevention System for African American Males
This was a great opportunity to connect with the ongoing work of Open Society Foundations’ Fellows from across the country. I am humbled to spend time with diverse Fellows working on complex issues related to race, gender, and equity. The new movie “Detroit” was released a few days before the conference, making our Detroit experience particularly powerful. One of the plenary sessions focused on the Detroit Rebellion, proving clarity around misconceptions in the film. This was poignant for many of the younger Fellows present who were unaware of the events related to the Detroit Rebellion, which was sparked when Detroit police raided a club during a celebration for black veterans from the Vietnam War.
Evelyn “Chavi” Rhodes
2015 Community Fellow Baltimore Youth Kinetic Energy Collective (BYKE)
The Soros Justice Conference in Detroit was a humbling experience. Hearing the stories, seeing the passion, and learning about the actions taken by Soros Justice Fellows demonstrated the movement’s radical direction. Being in a room of over 100 people in which conversations started by acknowledging that police brutality and gun violence are the same issue enhanced the potential for organizing and collaborating. I admired the un-siloed community efforts I learned about in Detroit, and see it as something Baltimore could learn from. The highlights from the conference and from visiting Detroit overall were the “Live Law” storytelling event and hearing from Mamma Sandra from Hush House. I appreciate the opportunity to be a part of the conference.
2015 Community Fellow Free Space
One of the things that stands out to me was how vital the site visits were. Open Society Foundations had set up tours with community organizers so that we could get a real visual of the work people are doing. Sitting in a conference room all day and hearing amazing people speak is good for all of us. But getting to actually go to the site with the individuals who had established the programming was huge. The tour that I really benefited from was the creative place-making tour where we first listened to a panel from Olayami Dabl’s Africa Bead Museum, Mamma Sandra from Hush House, and Gina from Power House. And then we got to visit all of the spaces and see the successes and failures in real life.
Detroit is historically similar to Baltimore, in terms of problems, successes, and attitude. One thing that many people addressed was the need to acquire property in Detroit. Individuals, artists, and organizations have gone through many avenues, sometimes legal, sometimes in a gray area, to acquire buildings for community building use. The city seems willing to work with these people in some cases, and that is something that we could learn from. I feel that, in Baltimore, our vacant, city-owned property should be given to individuals, artists, and organizations ready to do or expand community work.