How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with No One Left Unhelped and Baltimore Community Mediation Center)

This is the fifth part of a series. Go to Part 1, Part 2Part 3 or Part 4.

It’s been six weeks since I first launched this series. At that time I think some people thought we might be back to normal by now, or close to it. Now it seems the future is more uncertain than ever.

That leaves many of us with no choice but to focus on the present, doing whatever we can to make the best of today. But to the extent that we dare to look toward the future, we may find ourselves imagining something radically different than what we knew before. The idea of “back to normal” is quickly vanishing from many of our minds.

BCMC mural

There will be a toll, for sure. The world is closing in on 200,000 deaths from coronavirus, a figure that’s already difficult to process and is still rising. Economically, the U.S. unemployment rate is over 20 percent. Closer to home, Maryland’s largest employer is beginning pay cuts and layoffs as it expects to lose $375 million this fiscal year. No matter how or when the COVID-19 pandemic ends, it’s not going to be easy to recover from the blows we are taking as a society.

At the same time, moments like this do give us a chance to reassess our priorities. Issues in the community that have had difficulty gaining traction – like homelessness, mobility, digital access, mass incarceration and others – suddenly seem to be getting much more attention. Maybe it shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic, but I do find myself feeling hopeful that we as a society will come out of this experience with a healthier set of priorities than we had before, and a newfound will to put those priorities into action.

Meanwhile, there are still dedicated people in the present working to make Baltimore the best it can be. I talked to Lisa Molock of No One Left Unhelped and the team at Baltimore Community Mediation Center, asking them how we build community when we can’t be near each other. Here’s what they said…

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Building the City We Want When We Can’t Be Near Each Other (Café Recap)

We held the first Interaction Baltimore Virtual Café last Wednesday. We had a mix of people from all over the city, including Federal Hill South, Mt. Vernon, Southwest Baltimore, Old Goucher, Better Waverly, Druid Hill, Northeast Baltimore, and people who worked or went to school at MICA and the University of Baltimore.

We had two rounds of small-group conversation, discussing what we’ve seen that makes us hopeful, and how we might address those challenges going forward. At the end of each round, participants wrote their key takeaways on a piece of paper and held it up to the screen. Here’s a smattering of those responses:

Keeping children engaged and informed Plasma for plasma How do we move forward after COVID-19 without falling into the same routine?
Small businesses There are passionate people in the city they all want to make the city a better place Broad coalition
Sustain and empower smaller actors who are addressing challenges Keep and get people engaged Letter writing

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How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with UB Conflict Scholars and Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos)

This is the fourth part of a series. Go to Part 1, Part 2 or Part 3.

Confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland hit 580 on Thursday, and are climbing rapidly. Baltimore City has 72 confirmed cases, compared to just one last Tuesday. And experts say the real number is far higher than the official count. If you’re reading this even a day or two late, these numbers will likely be wildly out of date.

Maryland schools will now be closed an extra month, through April 24. That presents the challenge of how to educate children remotely in a city where many people have limited access to technology, which school officials will be wrestling with in the coming days.

Hope mosaic

To address another major challenge, some have called on the mayor to release funds in order to house Baltimore’s thousands of homeless people. Though the proposed location, the downtown Hilton, has since been designated a field hospital, along with the Convention Center.

The BIG Baltimore Kite Fest that would have taken place on Saturday is canceled, of course. But you can still buy a kite from Creative Alliance if you want to get outside and do something. (Just keep your distance from each other.) And Open Works has been recruiting volunteers with 3D printers to address the shortage of protective equipment in hospitals.

Continuing the conversation about how we build community when we can’t be near each other, I talked to conflict scholars at the University of Baltimore and Dr. Panagis Galiatsatos from Medicine for the Greater Good at Johns Hopkins. Here’s what they said…

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How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with Baltimore Safe Haven and Project Waves)

This is the third part of a series. Go to Part 1 or Part 2.

Maryland’s official count of confirmed coronavirus cases reached 149 on Friday morning. That’s up from 57 on Tuesday. Baltimore City’s total jumped from one to 11 in that time. The state’s first coronavirus death happened in Prince George’s County on Wednesday, and multiple children in Maryland have been infected.

Governor Hogan has now reduced the legal limit on gatherings to 10 people, and has ordered all enclosed shopping spaces to close, except for essential services such as grocery stores, pharmacies and banks.

Police call box 600The Baltimore Sun has live coronavirus updates here. City Council President Brandon Scott has assembled a list of COVID-19 resources. Extinction Rebellion Baltimore, a climate activist group, is hosting a “virtual grief circle” on Saturday evening for residents to share their feelings and support each other during the crisis. And for anyone who wants to volunteer to help their vulnerable neighbors, or ask for support, you can do so on the Baltimore Mutual Aid spreadsheet or at individual neighborhood support groups.

As always, please send me any community resources I can add to these stories.

Earlier this week I spoke with Mally Hatcher of Baltimore Safe Haven and Adam Bouhmad of Project Waves, again asking, How do we build community when we can’t be near each other? Here’s what they said…

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How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with PeacePlayers Baltimore and TAP Druid Hill)

This is the second part of a series. Click here to read Part 1.

Baltimore City reported its first case of coronavirus over the weekend. Mayor Young announced a second case yesterday, though Maryland’s official count still has it at one. The state has 57 confirmed cases as I write this, with the majority in the DC suburbs, and six in Baltimore County.

Today Governor Hogan announced a set of new measures to deal with the outbreak. Among other things, all state emissions inspection locations will become drive-thru testing centers, and MARC train service is being cut in half.

The Baltimore Sun has live updates here, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has a podcast dedicated to issues around COVID-19 that you can subscribe to.

If all this is stressing you out, Hopkins mental health researcher Laura K. Murray offered steps to manage anxiety in The Sun yesterday. One of the recommendations is to limit your media intake. Yes, you can go ahead and close the browser now if you need to.

Always B-Mo small

For those looking to help out, Delegate Robbyn Lewis pointed out on Twitter that blood donations are especially important right now. You can schedule an appointment at a Red Cross donation center here.

Here’s a a mutual aid spreadsheet for Baltimore residents to offer help with childcare, pet care, emotional support and any other issues that might come up for neighbors and visitors. There are also sign-ups to support vulnerable neighbors in several Baltimore neighborhoods.

A number of rec centers, senior centers and schools are operating as food distribution sites. Click here for the map. You can also find food pantries through the Maryland Food Bank here.

Learning packets for students in city schools can be downloaded here.

Please email me if you have any more resources to add.

Continuing this series of asking people, How do we build community when we can’t be near each other, I reached out to LaToya Fisher of PeacePlayers Baltimore and Graham Coreil-Allen of TAP Druid Hill. Here’s what they said…

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How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with No Boundaries Coalition and Impact Hub Baltimore)

I realize that renaming this project “Interaction Baltimore” three weeks ago, just as interaction was about to become one of the most feared activities on the planet, might not have been the most timely decision. But as much of the city, and much of the world, is coming to a standstill in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic, I do feel this project gives me an opportunity to shine a light on the work in our local communities that is still important in the face of a challenge like this.

My original plan for this week was to write about Strong City Baltimore‘s move to East Baltimore, and what that could mean for an underserved community. Then next week I was going to spotlight Baltimore Safe Haven‘s efforts to minimize the harm that routinely comes to some of the most marginalized people in our city. I’m shelving those stories for the moment. I’ll publish them when all of our minds aren’t focused on this global threat.

But as much as coronavirus is rightly demanding our attention, it also seems wrong to forget about the people working to make our city safer, stronger, healthier and more integrated. That work is still going on, even if it’s harder now, and I want people to know about it.

Always B-Mo small

I want to see how the coronavirus threat, and the social distancing that has become necessary because of it, is affecting local communities in Baltimore. I want to know how people are dealing with it, what lessons they’re learning and what they anticipate in the weeks and months ahead. So I’m reaching out to people all over the city and asking them, How do we build community when we can’t be near each other?

This is the beginning of a series. I don’t know how long it will last. At this time, there hasn’t been a reported case of coronavirus in Baltimore City (though there have been two in the county). The conversations I’ve had so far have reflected the fact that we are in the preventative stage right now, and not dealing with a local outbreak. I don’t know where they will go from here.

Yesterday I talked to Nabeehah Azeez and Ashiah Parker at No Boundaries Coalition and Michelle Geiss at Impact Hub Baltimore. Here’s what they said…

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