News and analysis
September 17, 2015

Small Baltimore Charities Win Grants in Response to April's Riots

Jim Burger

The money will support programs that deal with hunger, unemployment, recidivism, and other causes.

Open Society Institute-Baltimore has responded to its city’s riots in April by making grants to 12 very small nonprofits that work in the city’s underprivileged areas. Most of the grantees run on annual budgets under $100,000.

The foundation announced the awards from its newly created Baltimore Justice Fund on Thursday. A total of $337,500 will go to groups that are former grantees of the foundation or are run by former Open Society-Baltimore fellows, said Pamela King, director of community fellowships and initiatives. The grants were awarded after a number of meetings among the grant maker, organizations, and community groups.

"We’re trying to figure out how to make communities whole," says Ms. King. "We want to reach disenfranchised people, including those who have been in the criminal-justice system. We’re familiar with these organizations, and thought this would be an opportune time to give them a boost and show that we believe in the work they do."

Grass-Roots Grantees

The grantees include several groups that work with youths, a handful that work to reduce police brutality and increase the accountability of the Baltimore police force, and one public radio station. Two organizations work mostly in Sandtown-Winchester, the neighborhood where Freddie Gray, who was killed while in police custody, was arrested in April. Riots that broke out after Mr. Gray’s funeral resulted in at least $9-million in damages to local businesses, according to estimates by the Small Business Administration. Impoverished areas like Sandtown-Winchester were hit especially hard.

A $25,000 Open Society-Baltimore grant will help Men of Valuable Action, a group that works with ex-offenders to reduce recidivism and typically runs on $70,000 annually. Director Antoine Bennett said the riots underscored some of the most pressing needs in the city.

"We looked at who was rioting and saw that it was being done by the group of men we serve, which is to say men 18 to 25 years old," said Mr. Bennett. "We feel like we really need to push our jobs program so that these men have something that will improve their lives."

Another Sandtown-Winchester group, Young Life GEMS, will use its $25,000 grant to expand its work with teenage girls. The organization, which runs on around $75,000 a year, helps girls develop life skills and plan for college and careers.

"In this community, even though a girl might be only 14 or 15, she knows that little is expected of her," says Paige Fitz, the former Open Society fellow who directs Young Life GEMS. "We provide mentoring and other services so we can help them broaden their horizons."

Timely Support

Open Society-Baltimore hasn’t yet decided whether to continue the Baltimore Justice Fund. But one organization leader says the timing of the current grants couldn’t have been better.

"People are beginning to understand the issues that underpinned the unrest," says Jacqueline Robarge, another former fellow and director of Power Inside, which works primarily with black women who have been jailed and suffer with poverty and violence. The group received a $25,000 grant to advocate for an increase in police accountability and to continue programs geared to keep people from being arrested.

"To see this become an international conversation is rejuvenating," says Ms. Robarge. "We and other groups really have an opportunity to speak up for the people we serve."

Among other grantees:

  • Afrikan Youth Alchemy: $25,000 to support media advocacy, cultural exploration, and entrepreneurship among youth.
  • Baltimore United Viewfinders: $25,000 to support the art and activism work of city youth, as well as the creation of jobs.
  • New Lens: $25,000 to work with youths using media to improve relations between police and the communities they serve.
  • 901 Arts: $25,000 to work with youths in advocacy through after-school art classes.
  • Right to Housing Alliance: $25,000 to organize residents to fight economic disinvestment in the city and police violence.
  • Upton Planning Committee: $25,000 to reduce hunger in young people and teach them about health issues.
  • You’re the Quarterback: $25,000 to help men navigate legal and employment barriers and avoid involvement in the criminal-justice system.
  • Youth Empowered Society: $25,000 to perform trauma services and provide peer support and advocacy training.
  • WYPR-FM: $12,500 to underwrite a radio series that explores policing in Baltimore.