This year, we are marking Open Society Institute-Baltimore’s 20th anniversary. We say “marking” instead of “celebrating” because we are quite aware that much work remains to be done. We know Baltimore can be a shining example of a city built on democratic principles, where the public and private sectors work together to create opportunities and change harmful policies and practices. Our goal is to build a city where all residents can thrive and no one is pushed to the side or disrespected. We are not there yet, but we are proud of what we have accomplished and we remain optimistic about the future.
While we forge ahead with the work, this anniversary does offer an opportunity to note the ways our initiatives and campaigns have had a deep and lasting impact on Baltimore and the region. We have achieved these accomplishments by partnering with talented advocates, dedicated government officials, and engaged community members.
Here are 20 examples of the many we might cite:
1. Reduced school suspensions from a high of 26,000 in 2004 to 6,800 last year by collaborating with Baltimore City Schools to revise school discipline rules, and with the state Department of Education to require all districts to take similar steps. Addressing harsh and inequitable discipline practices, this work allowed more students to stay connected to school, improving graduation rates. It continues as we implement restorative practices at all Baltimore City Schools over the next five years (see here).
2. Supported and encouraged community-based organizations to gather input from Baltimore residents for the Department of Justice investigation of the Baltimore Police Department, which resulted in a consent decree that requires more community engagement and input than any other in the country.
3. Launched the Baltimore Buprenorphine Initiative, which introduced a new evidence-based treatment for individuals addicted to opioids and ensured that public and private insurance adequately cover it.
4. Reduced the projected prison population by 23 percent since 2005 by working with the state to institute new parole guidelines and to develop a risk assessment tool that allows more people to be released while awaiting trial without jeopardizing public safety.
5. Created and fostered a network of 190 social entrepreneurs — Community Fellows— who have revitalized communities throughout the city and have founded some of Baltimore’s most effective organizations, including Wide Angle Youth Media, Community Law in Action, Power Inside, The Book Thing of Baltimore, Restorative Response Baltimore (formerly Community Conferencing), Thread, the Right to Housing Alliance, and Bikemore.
6. Launched the local news department of WYPR, Maryland’s largest National Public Radio affiliate, which projects a strong sense of place, introduces new voices, and adds critical analysis and depth to local broadcast news coverage.
7. As a lead supporter of Baltimore’s Safe and Sound Campaign, helped build a stable network of high-quality after-school programs that engages more than 20,000 students, providing extended learning opportunities that improve academic, social, and emotional outcomes.
8. Worked with the Baltimore City Health Department to establish an overdose prevention program in 2000, which continues to offer training, Naloxone distribution, and education about addiction and overdose, saving more than 1,000 lives in 2017 alone.
9. Reduced school-based arrests by 74 percent over three years by working with the school police to define officers’ roles and responsibilities and train all officers in restorative practices.
10. Created programs to provide ex-prisoners with vital services, including transitional housing, addiction treatment, mental health care, and job training, which dramatically reduced recidivism and improved public safety.
11. Launched the Baltimore Urban Debate League (BUDL), which began with 90 students in eight public high schools and has gone on to engage thousands of students from more than 60 middle and high schools, helping to increase graduation and college attendance rates and fostering some of Baltimore City’s most prominent young leaders.
12. Established one of the country’s most successful models of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which diverts low-level drug users to treatment in lieu of booking them for a crime.
13. Working with the school district, made it possible for more than 25,000 city students to participate in lively, engaging programs during the summer months, helping to reduce summer learning loss and expanding student horizons.
14. Fostered a movement that stopped the plan to build a Baltimore City prison to incarcerate youth charged as adults and greatly reduced the number of youth now held in adult jails, reinforcing the message that detained youth need to be in a system that focuses on rehabilitation and can be emotionally harmed in an adult facility.
15. Worked with the ACLU to document the need for new school facilities in Baltimore City and advocated for adequate funding to build them, resulting in the $1 billion 21st Century Schools initiative, which has already resulted in three new state-of-the-art school buildings and plans for many more.
16. Established specialized groups within the Association of Baltimore Area Grantmakers focused on workforce development, education, and addiction to foster interest, collaboration, and expertise among grantmakers in the region.
17. Established the free, public Talking About Race series in 2009 to spark crucial and sometimes difficult conversations about how race intersects with our lives. To date, have held 36 events with guests including Bryan Stevenson, Sherrilyn and Gwen Ifill, and Taylor Branch.
18. Brought Bard Early College High School to Baltimore, giving students an opportunity to earn a college associates degree during their high school years—74 percent of 2017 graduates earned a Bard College associates degree along with their high school diploma.
19. Created networks of capable, effective criminal justice advocates on a state and local level, such as the Coalition for a Safe and Just Maryland, which successfully pushed for a judicial change limiting the use of cash bail, defended the rule against a bail-bond industry lobbying campaign in 2017, and advocated successfully for state funding of pretrial services throughout Maryland.
20. Founded the Safe City Baltimore immigrant defense and education fund in collaboration with the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs to protect the due process rights of detained residents and provide legal defense and education services in response to aggressive immigration enforcement at the federal level.
As you can see from this list, the Open Society Institute tackles some of Baltimore’s most entrenched and serious problems—and we get results. We’re proud of the accomplishments we’ve achieved with the help of tireless public and private advocates over the past 20 years. And, as we look at the region’s many resources—in particular, the talent, passion, and potential of its residents—we remain optimistic. But we are not satisfied.
We hope you’ll join us as we begin the next 20 years of working strategically and aggressively to build a better Baltimore.
– Diana Morris