-M.J. “Jay” Brodie, President, Baltimore Development Corporation
“I think I have some sense of what neighborhoods in Baltimore are like and what they need.” That was, in part, M.J. Brodie’s response to my critique of his agency’s impact on Baltimore’s Black Community. He knows what our neighborhoods are like and he knows what we need. Really?
In an open-air, public meeting with him organized by Another BDC Is Possible (an offshoot of Occupy Baltimore) I, along with others challenged him on the lack of participation, lack of transparency, and lack of commitment to economic justice within the Baltimore Development Corporation. I told Mr. Brodie that his agency operates from a “just trust us to do what’s best for you” mentality, however, that unearned trusts that the Black Community has given the BDC and other Baltimore agencies has produced some strange fruit.
I used that line in my words to Brodie – “strange fruit” – and I almost wished I hadn’t now because he seemed more concerned about proving to me that he knew where the reference came from rather than addressing the central concern of my challenge to him in that the majority demographic of Baltimore – the Black Community – has in essence an extremely limited “official” role in helping to give voice to the vision and future of the city.
I spoke at the mic that night feeling a certain responsibility to the silent workers of Baltimore who clean the skyscrapers downtown while smiling at “Boss” and enduring dehumanizing dynamics because of the economic dependence on less than suitable wages. I spoke with responsibility to the folks who are bused into the Inner Harbor to make sure tables are clean, doors are opened, food is warm, and a pleasurable experience is created for the monied, and privileged “upper economic class” that are said to be so key to the advancement of this Black City. I spoke with responsibility for the Black Youth whose very presence at the Inner Harbor is a protest against a city that creates enjoyable spaces for tourists while closing schools and threatening to shutter recreational centers. I spoke to Brodie with responsibility to 80 acres of a Black Community in East Baltimore that was summarily moved out of their homes in a gentrification project to make way for “other people” who are treated as if they are the promise of a “better” East Baltimore – and those grandmothers, grandfathers, and Black Families that they replaced were a curse that caused the dilapidation of the infrastructure around the behemoth that is Johns Hopkins.
Just trust us, he says. “I know what’s best for you.”
That night I left the polished skyscrapers of the Inner Harbor which stand like monuments to White privilege and power in this Black town and went back to my community where there are about four liquor stores and a dingy Murry’s that serves as the community’s food depot. “Tobacco and Groceries” reads the banner announcing the latest business coming to the block. Vacant buildings, liquor, check cashing, and stale food are the staples of the area of the community where I live which is just south of Belvedere Square – a posh, boutique, and restaurant area partly financed by the Baltimore Development Corporation and definitely designed with the local higher income, White community in mind. To see it and then look at the businesses and buildings in my immediate neighborhood, one would think you’re looking at two different cities – not two pictures of the very same street!
With the BDC’s support, some get high-end food, dining, furnishing, and events and others get….this:
STRANGE FRUIT INDEED
[box_light]Heber M. Brown, III is a clergy-activist who serves alongside a variety of community organizations that address issues of homelessness, poverty, racism, worker’s rights, environmental justice, self-determination for Afrikan people and justice for oppressed people groups throughout the world.
He is a regular voice in local media and for nearly 5 years has explored the intersection of religion, policy, and activism on this blog appropriately called Faith in Action.