Johns Hopkins and Baltimore

Dear Faculty, Students and Staff,

Last month, we marked the passing of Baltimore’s former mayor, William Donald Schaefer. Time and again, those memorializing his life noted his gut-level belief in this city, his tireless vision of a Baltimore that was always more than – better than – it was at that moment. That vision, as I have come to learn, is shared by many Baltimoreans. It marks the spirit of optimism and the commitment that permeates so many different individuals and organizations in this city who offer their time to so many different community needs. And it lights a fierce pride in Baltimore neighborhoods, even if you’re not a Hon.

Johns Hopkins can be a transient community. Our members come from around the world and across the country. After a few years here, many of our students and scholars move on to other places. But I’ve watched members of our community succumb to the charm of this city, investing their energy, enthusiasm and talent in our neighborhoods and issues. These “Schaeferian” efforts illustrate how even those of us who are not from Baltimore come to believe in this place.

Next month, we will unleash Johns Hopkins’ first class of Community Impact Interns onto Baltimore. These 25 undergraduates, winnowed from an enthusiastic pool of 200, were matched with agencies and nonprofit organizations doing good work across the city. For eight weeks, our students will focus on a diverse set of city issues – assisting with disaster planning for emergency shelters, helping with a campaign to modernize public school buildings, working at a clinic serving the uninsured, or running afternoon activities for Baltimore kids.

This program, founded by an anonymous donor and scheduled to double in size next year, is based on a simple proposition: that community engagement provides tangible benefits to our students and to the communities whom they touch. Our students will get real work experience and an appreciation of the need to look beyond oneself. Often squeezed organizations will get Johns Hopkins talent on loan. And the city will get a few more advocates, maybe even a future mayor, working on its critical issues.

Beyond the immediate benefits, I also have great hope for the ripple effects of this program. Our interns may choose to maintain ties with these agencies, or may return to Homewood with newfound belief in the possibilities of volunteerism and the quirky charms of our city. Off campus, these internships may strengthen existing partnerships and create new bridges to our communities. As one organization trenchantly observed it in its request for an intern, “Community members will be able to see that students of our state and nation’s most prestigious universities are accessible, concerned and, more importantly, are human just like them.”

The notion that Johns Hopkins would be inaccessible to, or distant from, its community is, of course, troubling. The university was founded, supported and kept alive by the men and women of Baltimore. Over the years, it is hard to deny that, at times, a wariness emerged between our campuses and our communities – based sometimes in fact, other times on stubborn misperception. But over time, the unrelenting efforts of our faculty, students and staff seem to be tempering that uneasiness, creating new bridges, and localizing our calling to bring knowledge to the world.

Consider Brian Rainville, a 2008 graduate of our School of Education, who was named Baltimore City’s teacher of the year for 2010. Brian’s the kind of teacher who reportedly gave his cell phone number to his third graders, so they could call him anytime for anything, whether they were in trouble or just wanted to share a joke.

Earlier this year, we were thrilled to hear our School of Nursing was ranked the nation’s best by U.S. News & World Report. Tellingly, the publication also reported that we have the best nursing program for community and public health. Many of our nurses find ways to combine their research and education with practical service to East Baltimore residents – a tradition echoed at our schools of medicine and public health. To quote Dean Martha Hill’s standard refrain: “You can take the Hopkins nurse out of Baltimore, but you can’t take Baltimore out of the Hopkins nurse.”

The impact of this university can be felt across the city. Peabody’s Tuned In program, which offers scholarships to musically talented Baltimore City school children, is quietly changing individual students’ ambitions. Faculty members like Daniel Webster, the co-director of the Center for Gun Policy and Research at the Bloomberg School of Public Health, are adding a critical scholarly perspective to Baltimore’s fight against gun violence. Students at the Carey Business School have lent their entrepreneurial acumen to city groups, in one case helping to create a strategic marketing plan for an urban agriculture project that uses greenhouses to produce organic fruits, vegetables and herbs for Baltimore residents.

Meanwhile, programs like The Access Partnership (TAP) have surged forward. Just two years ago, some were skeptical about the prospects of a pilot program providing specialty care to uninsured patients who lived in targeted areas around our medical centers and worked with our primary-care clinicians. But as of this month, TAP will be working at all of the primary care clinics of The Johns Hopkins Hospital and Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, serving patients in seven surrounding ZIP codes. Whether replacing the hip of a 32-year-old, or sending a 56-year-old grandmother for chemotherapy at the Johns Hopkins Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, our doctors are providing world-class care to patients who once wondered how they would manage their chronic ailments.

Institutionally, we’re taking on big and small projects. We’re supporting the revitalization of a large swath of land north of our East Baltimore campus, for example, and helping to renovate a nearby public market, supporting healthier options in a neighborhood where now you can’t buy a gallon of low-fat milk. We’re providing more than $100 million of health care to the un- or under-insured, and releasing employees to spend two workdays volunteering in Baltimore City schools each year.

This is not just my priority or the priority of the senior leadership of the university. Our trustees are increasing their focus on Baltimore through the creation of a Committee on External Affairs and Community Engagement, and our alumni and donors have been energized by the efforts. Across the Johns Hopkins family, we are all in this together.

Whether you volunteered with the President’s Day of Service (which we’re opening to all divisions next fall), focused your research on urban health disparities or lent your expertise to a community group, I applaud the many efforts you have made across the university to benefit our city. Each of these efforts, individual or institutional, echoes that fundamental belief of William Donald Schaefer’s: This great city can always be more than – better than – it is right now. I hope you will join me and our great university to help get there.

Warm regards,

Ronald J. Daniels