Conversations about communities sometimes happen only in crisis.
This spring, reporters descended on Baltimore after Freddie Gray’s death and the subsequent unrest. Some wrote and spoke only of the immediate events. Some spent time examining the legacies of poverty and unequal investment that exacerbated divides between different communities in the city.
Some, like our Noel King, followed the money, tracing the aftermath of a $100 million investment in the city in the 1990s.
When we were brainstorming our show about communities last week, we wanted to make sure we talked about Baltimore. Both because it’s important to keep covering a story after a lot of your colleagues leave (Marketplace is particularly lucky to have a reporter, Amy Scott, who lives in Baltimore). And because the harder stories — important, incremental, complex — require hearing from the community directly.
So when I got the chance to interview Munir Bahar, we jumped at it.
Bahar is an accountant-turned-activist and leads two programs: COR Community and the 300 Men March. Both have significant reputations in Baltimore and work with at-risk communities. I wanted to talk with him about the aftermath of the protests and violence this spring, and the city’s spiralling murder rate. A different kind of crisis.
I also wanted to talk with him about some pretty sobering numbers about growing up in Baltimore that come from some of the best research about economic mobility.
Economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren, who’ve done groundbreaking work on mobility, have stark numbers on Baltimore, as laid out in a Washington Post piece.
What they translate to: every year a poor boy lives in Baltimore, his future earnings decline by 1.5 percent.
When I discussed those numbers with Bahar, he said he couldn’t accept them, in part because every child he works with needs to be seen as having a chance. It’s essential to his mission.
To me, motivating children, keeping them safe and encouraging them to succeed in their community … well, that’s exactly where the economy collides with real life.