Cameo: Michael Cryor of One Baltimore

We talk to the executive director of One Baltimore.

By Amy Mulvihill - April 2016

Cameo: Michael Cryor of One Baltimore

We talk to the executive director of One Baltimore.

By Amy Mulvihill - April 2016

-Photography by David Colwell

OneBaltimore was established by the mayor in response to last April’s unrest. Can you explain what OneBaltimore is?
Michael Cryor: Yeah, I’m sure there is some confusion, in part because we are trying to create something that is a bit different, that has a far better chance of being a sustainable response [to the unrest] and potentially transformative. But, fundamentally, at this point, it is a public-private partnership, working very collaboratively to ensure that we are increasing the extent to which all of Baltimore is included, both in matters in economy and matters of education, and that we do underscore the significance that race plays in many of the challenges we face as a city.

Can you give some examples of work the organization has already performed?
MC: I was brought on last June, last May, we were confronted immediately with the challenge of increasing the number of students or young people who wanted a summer job. Five-thousand had been the goal in the past. It was increased to 8,000. Raising $3 million and finding 3,000 additional slots in five weeks was certainly an immediate task. Frankly, it continues to be an immediate task because almost immediately we were looking at the next year and the belief that we would have an even greater demand for jobs the following year. Already we have I think 7,500 or 8,000 have already registered for this summer, which is just amazing. So that was the very first thing.

So that’s part of the plan for addressing economic inequality. What are some of the other parts of that plan?
We started with the whole issue of how do we create a whole work system, not just a job. We have workforce development and we have offices and people hire as they need. What we don’t have is what I would describe as the bootcamps that are working with residents who have had difficulty in various forms in life.

So how are you getting city residents who may have been economically disadvantaged since birth to those jobs? What’s the connective tissue?
MC: I should say that we’re not limited just to the folks who’ve had the most difficulty. We obviously have many residents who are, frankly, down on their luck or just out of work and are looking for ways to connect with new industry for jobs that have greater sustainability. And so, that group represents an important segment of the audience that we’re talking about.

But for those who are most challenged, most of them come through groups like Center for Urban Families on the West Side and Humanim on the East Side. They have a very good track record of identifying people, most of whom come to them because they recognize that they want to make a change. And that process is quite transformative. If you’ve never been to one of the graduations at Center for Urban Families, I really urge you to do it. It’s a pretty special thing. If you go to what I would describe as an intake session, people show up and they have no idea what they’re going through. To come back three or four weeks later to their graduations and see them and their families really transformed by the experience is really heartwarming and gives you a real sense of confidence that change is quite possible.

And how does race factor in?
Race is an important element in the conversation. There are lots of people in Baltimore who need to be heard. There are people who want to be parts of conversations, and the exchange of that conversation is important. But we also need to take a very hard look at where the presence of structural racism has served as an impediment to employment, to education, and to progress. And so you’ll be hearing more about a more investigative review of where race in Baltimore [had a hand in] creating and maintaining the disparities that we currently experience. That has not yet begun, but we will be starting that very soon.

So you’re going to conduct a study?
MC: Well, we won’t, personally, but there will be members of the coalition here in Baltimore—some of our anchor institutions, our colleges and universities and others—who have been doing that work for some time. And now we’re elevating that work and the significance of that work to a much large public platform.

What about education?
Education is something we have been working on as well. Back in September, we were able to acquire about $2 million worth of laptops and distribute those and other pieces of equipment to community groups that are devoted to working with young people. We did that to underscore the importance of digital literacy.

We’ve been working with the schools on what we’re calling continuing Career and Technology Education Pathways (CTE). Those are jobs or curriculums young people commit to because they have an interest or they believe they have an interest in a certain area, be it IT or cosmetology. And I think we have roughly 10,000 students currently in CTE, but there is a real demand for that. We want to increase that. We want to double that number so that more young people are into tracks where they have a better chance for developing skills that will lead to employment. That should not preclude them from pursuing college interest as well, but it does suggest that there are many, many young people who are looking to move to a more technical-oriented career tracks that don’t require two- or four-year degrees.

How does this fit in with the Junior Achievement/Baltimore City Public Schools business park you’ve mentioned in the press?
MC: That’s really exciting. Junior Achievement, as you may know, around the country has developed some very impressive facilities called biz parks and financial literacy parks. It is our expectation that we will build a very large facility here in Baltimore City and the purpose of the business park is twofold. One is to introduce young people in our city to the world of work and the careers that are potentially available to them. It’s also a way to introduce the businesses in our city to young people and to develop an early understanding of the challenges—but more importantly the skills—that they bring. This facility will have the edifices of our major companies in town: the Under Armours, the T. Rowe Prices, what have you. And young people are committed to a curriculum in middle school through high school devoted to understanding the elements of business augmented with frequent trips to the business park where they assume the roles in those companies. They assume to role of the bank teller and the bank manager and they have responsibilities for decision-making and what have you. And it has become a very powerful tool for establishing that mindset for young people. And we’re very eager to have that here in Baltimore.

So are they role-playing or are they actually working?
MC: Role-playing, yeah. It’s very effective. I’m a psychologist, and I know what role lock looks like. I wouldn’t say they get role-locked, but they really buy into the process in a way that’s very impressive and very encouraging.

Do you know where that business park might be built?
MC: Well, I do know that there is a strong demand on the part of the business community that it be downtown. I am aware of a site but I am sworn to secrecy right now because they’re under some negotiations. But it really would be great if this works out.

What about health disparities?
MC: Well health is a biggie. We’ve got an amazing health commissioner. Dr. Leana Wen is amazing and we’ve worked together in bringing some additional money to Baltimore through our federal agencies to increase money for [Operation] Ceasefire and of course, [B’more for] Healthy Babies. The expansion of Healthy Babies has been a big focus of hers.

A big concern that all have in the city is the issue of lead poisoning. Just an extraordinary number of young people who we know are likely to have been exposed to lead paint. I think you will see a very robust commitment to eliminate or reduce the number of facilities in our city with lead paint, but also we’ve got to be thinking once that lead is in a child, it stays with them, but are there things we can and should be doing to reduce the negative consequences of lead paint. I’m not a doctor, but I do chair the medical school at the University of Maryland, which helps a little bit. There is a growing interest in understanding what we can do. I’m certain that many people didn’t fully appreciate that we had so many people affected and that the consequences were severe.

Right. Freddie Gray famously suffered effects from lead poisoning.
That’s exactly right. We know now that lead paint has such a detrimental effect on the health of people that it compromises decision-making and [creates] a greater propensity for violence. If we are treating this purely as a matter of crime and public safety without recognizing the medical and health consequences of it then we would be missing an opportunity and obligation that we have. And so you will be hearing more about that. I’m not quite at liberty to talk about what our own commitments to that will be, but it will certainly be a big focus of ours. And frankly, to the extent that you would recognize Freddie Gray in some way, and what his experiences have meant to the city coming to terms with lots of things, it would be wonderful and important to demonstrate that we got the message.

When announcing the creation of OneBaltimore, the mayor said it will address both the short-term and long-term needs of the communities. What’s on the horizon?
MC: I would describe much of what I’ve just described as early part of Phase I. It’s almost triage. If this were a hospital, much of the work for the first several months has been responding both to the kind of immediate needs that people have expressed.

Phase II gets more into the innovation. It’s looking at how do we use our technologies and other things to create new industry. And of course, it moves to, if we have people working, where do people live? And then how to they get there? So transportation and housing become critical elements. Long-term it’s housing, long-term it’s better health, it’s lead paint. Long-term it’s really seeing more of our young people graduate on time with readiness.

Do you ever feel overwhelmed?
There’s so many things to do immediately. It’s hard to differentiate, quite frankly. And while I think we are eager and committed to doing what we can, it really does require the collaboration of lots of players working not just together, but working differently—be it city or state. We have 602 mentoring organizations in the Baltimore area. You think about how do you deploy them? Where are they? One of the things that I’m really excited about—we’re constantly asked, 'Well, what can I do?' I think we’ve got to make that process easy for people. Let’s just say that you want to volunteer, but you only have time on Tuesdays and Thursdays and you would prefer to work with young girls who have an interest in art. So we want to an app where you could put it your own requirements—your time requirements, your skill set, or whatever you want to offer—and then you’d match it up. You’d press the button and here are the four things that come up. I think that would make it a lot easier for a broader community. And then the metrics on that would be measurable. How many people went? Where’d they go? What services are being sought after most? Therefore, here are the services that either need more money or because these services aren’t getting volunteers they need a different kind of allocation. It helps you make some decisions about how you deploy volunteers around the city.

It isn’t so much that everybody needs to fix the problem; it’s that you want more people engaged in some aspect of supporting the city. And I think if you got 20,000 people doing that through a better resource and more information, you increase that 20,000 to 30,000 or 40,000 and that’s a big number. So those are the kinds of things that matter.

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