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Mobilizing For Sustainable Development
Volume 2, Issue 1 Spring, 2009 Sojourner-Douglass College

Moviní On Up . . . Not Out
By John H. Morris, Jr.

Desired Outcomes/Critical Indicators for Oldtown Neighborhoods:
  • 80% - 200% increase in Black median income
  • Black unemployment drops to a statistical insignificant percentage
  • 60% increase in Black home ownership
  • 500% increase in Black owned businesses
  • Black households spend 25-50% of disposable income with Black businesses
  • Marginal to non-existent displacement of current residents

What have we lost in so many American cities where people who have lived and worked here for generations now find themselves defeated and desolate? More than 30 years ago, George and Louise Jefferson were “movin´ on up to the East Side … to that big deluxe apartment in the sky;” while here in 2008, many Baltimore families are being pushed out of the east side into other areas that are often just as unfriendly. What happened to America?

Perhaps the clue can be found in the proposals before Congress to allow the auto industry to transition to a 21st century economy by eliminating tens of thousands of industrial jobs. The point here is not to decry this plan for economic efficiency. Rather, it is to point out that our notion of economic efficiency and productivity – in any field – necessarily entails more work being done by fewer people and favors people with training and skills. Unfortunately, the generations of unemployed have neither.

Therein lays the conundrum in our quest for economic efficiency. How can we make America work for the growing number of unemployed, unskilled, and inexperienced Americans?

Over the last several decades, America stopped working for generations of families in our cities where poor people have come to congregate. These were the families whose members just a few generations ago, despite the lack of education, had opportunities to find and keep work on which to build a future. Today, we're dealing with their grandchildren and great grandchildren that have the hardest time sustaining enough hope to even try.

How then do we reignite hope in those for whom it has been so long doused? How do we invigorate hope within an economy transitioning in a different direction?

One such model is the Oldtown Community Transformation (OTCT) in East Baltimore, where local activists and residents working with Sojourner-Douglass College, are organizing to remake their community into a place where people can come to flourish rather than just survive. The key for them is to build an economy where people can find the kind of work that reshapes their present and future conditions.

OTCT is creating in the Oldtown community a comprehensive microeconomic framework capable of engaging the existing residents in productive economic activity in order to spark dramatic increases in their income and help them move toward wealth creation. Connecting existing residents to economic activities will increase the quality of life in terms of housing, education, health, and other considerations and assure stability in the midst of a changing neighborhood.

As we consider investing billions we don't have to save industries that have done nothing to prevent the decay of Oldtowns here and elsewhere in America, let us remember those who are striving to make real again the remarkable promise that people can transform their own lives on hard work.

Imagine one day in the not-too-faraway future that some erstwhile George Jefferson will ‘move on up´ by remaining in a transformed Oldtown, where he really found his life's fortune. What could be more American than that?

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