OSI brings together hundreds of Baltimoreans to speak directly to new leaders and craft a community-driven agenda.
The weather was cold and dreary on December 10, 2016, but inside Baltimore’s War Memorial building, more than 700 people—including newly elected Mayor Catherine Pugh and most of the new City Council—gathered in the warm spirit of collaboration for OSI-Baltimore’s Solutions Summit.
The Summit was the culmination of a months-long process, including three half-day fora, that brought together hundreds of Baltimore residents to create a community driven list of priorities for our newly elected leaders to tackle in their first 12 to 18 months. The end result is the 16-point Solutions Summit Action Plan (see here), which includes recommendations related to behavioral health, jobs, criminal and juvenile justice, and racial equity.
The Summit was strategically planned for a crucial moment for Baltimore – the days immediately following the election of a new mayor and City Council. A major goal of the Summit was to help focus the city’s new leadership on the priorities that Baltimoreans say are most important to them.
“At OSI, we’ve always recognized that, to make real change that sticks, we can’t work exclusively from the outside,” Diana Morris, director of OSI-Baltimore, said in her opening remarks at the day-long Summit. “Communities need to speak directly to leaders, to tell them what they believe, what they need, and what they want. As citizens and residents of Baltimore, our responsibility does not end on Election Day.”
In her own address at the Summit, Mayor Pugh welcomed the input, but said that community involvement must go beyond suggestions. “As your mayor, I will listen, I will hear you,” she said. “Ideas are important, suggestions can be great — collaboration is even greater.”
The Summit opened with a rousing keynote address from Sherrilyn Ifill, president and director-counsel of the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (LDF). Ifill, a Baltimore resident and longtime civil rights champion, is on the Open Society Foundations Global Board.
Afterwards, attendees participated in presentations and discussions of potential priorities in each of the three high-level topics: jobs, justice and behavioral health. The overarching racial equity recommendation was added later in the day. At the end of each section, using mobile technology, those assembled voted on the priorities they deemed most important.
From that process, participants presented the city’s newest elected officials with the “Solutions Summit Action Plan,” a slate of recommendations, culminating from a months-long process to gather input, ideas and investment from the community on those three key issues areas, as well as on the topic of racial equity.
Leading up to the Summit, planning groups made up of advocates, academics, and community members with relevant expertise in each subject area—jobs, justice, and behavioral health—met regularly with a consultant to draft a white paper and come up with a list of potential solutions (see lists of planning groups members, the white papers, and more information at solutionssummitbaltimore.org).
In October, the planning groups hosted half-day fora, attended by more than 100 people each, to narrow those lists down to 10 solutions in each subject area. At the December 10 Summit, the lists were merged and narrowed down to the 16-point Action Plan.
“We really wanted to make a point to only focus on ideas that the mayor and city council could actually do,” said Joseph T. Jones, founder of the Center for Urban Families, OSI-Baltimore board member, and co-chair of the Jobs planning group.
The community-driven process that started at the Summit doesn’t end with the Action Plan. In their January 17 Baltimore Sun op-ed, “‘Solutions Summit’ action plan represents will of Baltimore residents,” the Solutions Summit co-chairs encouraged the city’s leaders and residents to embrace the Action Plan as a pragmatic road map to reform Baltimore:
While this action plan doesn’t touch on all of the city’s issues and doesn’t necessarily reflect the exact priorities that each of us might choose individually, it represents the will of hundreds of Baltimoreans who participated in a rigorous, thoughtful process. It is a concrete, community-driven list of actionable items that we believe would move Baltimore in the right direction…
We are hopeful that a broad coalition of government officials, civic and business leaders, community members, activists, advocates and others can coalesce around this action plan and work to make progress where it is possible and offer alternatives where it proves not to be.
In the days after the Summit, OSI-Baltimore delivered paper and electronic copies of the Action Plan and three white papers to the mayor and City Council and shared them broadly with the community. OSI has also convened organizations that will take the lead in working with government officials to move particular recommendations forward. OSI-Baltimore is prepared to take the lead on some recommendations. OSI has committing to issuing reports in 6, 12, and 18 months to monitor progress on the section items.
For all the hard work that the Solutions Summit entailed, it was also was a celebration of civic participation, with spoken word performances by 2015 OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow Lady Brion, Hannah Sawyerr, Mohammad Tal, and Slangston Hughes, and artwork from MICA’s “Baltimore Rising” exhibit, curated by 2000 OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow Tony Shore.
“Finding answers to Baltimore’s most intractable problems is slow work and it can be hard work,” Morris said. “But it doesn’t have to be lonely, burdensome work. Working together, we can bring about change and joyfully celebrate the things that make us all one.”