Reinventing Our Communities: Investing In Opportunity

Remarks for President Ronald J. Daniels
Reinventing Our Communities: Investing In Opportunity
As prepared

Thank you, Mayor Pugh. Welcome to our distinguished guests, our colleagues and leaders from civic and community organizations, academia, philanthropies, and industry in cities across the country.

I share Mayor Pugh’s sentiment of appreciation that you are convening here in our hometown of Baltimore. And we are truly grateful to Theresa Singleton and our partners at the Federal Reserve Banks of Philadelphia and Richmond for their commitment – which we share – to community development and their willingness to reinvent their longstanding “Reinventing Our Communities” conference here in Baltimore with Johns Hopkins and our 21 Century Cities Initiative as co-sponsor. Particular welcome to my old colleague, Pat Harker, dean emeritus at Wharton, then president of the University of Delaware.

I’d love to say that such collaboration between us and the Fed has its roots in longstanding historic partnership. But the historical record tells a different story.

In 1914, not long after the Federal Reserve system had been authorized, Baltimore and Richmond were locked in a fierce competition to be designated as the reserve center for the 5th district. And, ultimately, Richmond won the day, despite the Baltimore Sun’s – certainly unbiased – accusations of foul play.

But I don’t mention this moment in the history of our cities in order to re-adjudicate a century-old rivalry. Rather, I think it tells us something about the importance of local and regional institutions to a place and the value of such institutions – large and small – when they remain embedded and invested in the communities of which they are a part.

We are here today to work not in opposition as we did in 1914 but in concert to examine the ways that all of us who are devoted to our communities can make meaningful impact and investments in our cities.

Philadelphia. Richmond. Baltimore. All cities that represent areas of great promise paired with considerable challenges. Cities that have had to face entrenched racial and economic inequities and the troubling policies they have shaped. Cities whose complex challenges surely resonate with many in this room, wherever you hail from.

But let me speak specifically to Baltimore.

As president of Johns Hopkins, now entering my tenth year, I am keenly aware of Baltimore’s immense resources and potential, as well as its trials. I am equally aware of the role Johns Hopkins has played here. Indeed, our university and medical system’s history is inextricably linked – from our founding – to this city we’ve called home for 142 years.

As I have often said, Johns Hopkins is not just in, but truly – and determinedly – of this city.

And, as one of Baltimore’s anchor institutions, we have a responsibility to this city that is both instrumental and moral. Although we have not always lived up to our ideals, we remain committed to harnessing our intellectual, financial, and convening capability for the improvement of the city.

This commitment is manifest in a myriad of ways through our ongoing partnerships with many stakeholders.

It is evident in our longstanding partnerships with Baltimore city schools to create and sustain new programming, including an innovative high school-to-jobs pipeline program based in one of the most challenged neighborhoods in our city.

It has formed the basis of our collaborations with community, civic, and business leaders to strengthen neighborhoods, from the launch of real estate development funds for projects that would not receive support from traditional sources to the operation of a new public school and the creation of a new park and new housing as part of a landmark 88-acre redevelopment effort in East Baltimore.
It’s driven our collaborations with the city to support violence reduction programs here, including ROCA, which is focused on providing support to young people in order to disrupt the cycle of poverty, crime, and incarceration.
And it spurred the creation and expansion of our economic inclusion program, BLocal, a network of 27 Baltimore area institutions that have set goals to increase their commitments to build, buy and hire locally.
In short, we are committed to this city because we know that place matters. And it matters not just because of a sentimental identification with geography or a long-standing embeddedness in cultural norms.

Place matters because it determines opportunity. The evidence is clear.

As economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren showed in their landmark 2015 study of the 100 largest counties in the nation, Baltimore City ranks among the lowest in terms of intergenerational mobility. Each year a child spends in Baltimore reduces that child’s potential earnings. Thus, children who live in Baltimore for 20 years generate a total earnings penalty of roughly 14 percent.

And place matters because it determines longevity. In Baltimore City, residents of our most affluent neighborhoods have a life expectancy almost 20 years longer than residents of our most disadvantaged communities.

These haunting figures indicate that the story of Baltimore has long been one of contradiction.

On the one hand, ours is a city that remains in the grip of stubbornly persistent and deeply felt challenges: A lack of economic opportunity, limited educational opportunities, and concentrated crime that rends our communities and annihilates the futures of so many of our children and communities.

But Baltimore is also a city of extraordinary creativity, optimism and unwavering commitment to the communities of which we are a part.

It is a place that fosters the growth of new businesses – including family and neighborhood businesses that found support through the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program and our own BLocal BUILD College. It is a place of enviable assets …our proximity to the nation’s capital and federal research centers … our roll call of strong anchor institutions, including academic research institutions and medical centers; great national foundations, including Casey, Weinberg and Abell and Meyerhoff (another co-sponsor today – thank you, Buffy); businesses like BGE, Under Armour, M&T Bank and T. Rowe Price; and community leaders and citizens – all of whom are fiercely devoted to this city.

The question for us, as for so many cities whose histories are built on foundations of contradiction, is this: What does it take to ensure that we are effectively and actively investing in opportunity not for the few, but for all our citizens so that we change the story from one of dissonance to one of concord and shared growth?

As our colleagues articulated so well in the essays penned in advance of this conference, to be successful takes clear-eyed analysis of the root causes of inequity, especially the odious and indefensible racism that has for far too long driven policy, and undermined opportunity. It takes concerted and coordinated effort by institutions to align their resources and commitments effectively to make a measurable impact.

It takes both the desire and the persistence to partner effectively with individuals and institutions across the public and private sectors.

It takes willingness to play the long game, approaching the work as a long-term, value investment in a place – and people – that matter.

Of course, vision and commitment are necessary but not sufficient conditions for success.

And here is where efforts like this one come in.

At Johns Hopkins, we are deeply committed to marshaling the applied research and data-driven analysis in which so many of you are engaged and that lies at the core of the work of the 21st Century Cities Initiative and the Johns Hopkins Center for Government Excellence.

Research that matches faculty capacity with the needs of our city and community partners and will allow them to understand the impact and effectiveness of interventions, policies and programs as they unfold.

Whether we are investigating gaps in small-business lending environment here in Baltimore that dampen the prospects of Baltimore’s entrepreneurs as 21 Centuries Cities did in its recent report (with a shout out to the extraordinary Mary Miller), using large-scale data analysis to better understand the pattern of vacancies in this city, or finally putting to rest the age-old question of whether children’s vision affects their ability to learn in the classroom, we are working to put rigorous, academic research in the hands of stakeholders – from policy makers to parents – in order to shape better outcomes.

But when we consider the right amalgam of policies, culture change, resources, effective institutions to move a city or a community toward a better future, there is another key element.

And that is effective, dedicated, unstinting leadership – across sectors and institutions.

Today, we are fortunate to have with us so many people who fit that description, including civic leaders like our own Mayor, who has redoubled her commitment to violence reduction, to working with partners to loosen the grip of poverty and incarceration that robs young people of their futures, and to partnering with all of us to create jobs and erect bridges to economic opportunity for our neighborhoods and neighbors.

And, of course, we have another great advocate and leader here, Wes Moore. Wes’s life took him from Baltimore and the Bronx, to the halls of Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, and to the battlefields of Iraq.

Luckily for Johns Hopkins, Wes’s path crossed ours and we are so very proud to call him an alumnus. Clearly, Wes is no stranger to facing seemingly insurmountable challenges, and he has at every stage met them with insight, courage, and unwavering grace under pressure. Now CEO of the Robin Hood Foundation, Wes continues to bring his unique amalgam of humanity and determination to the work of creating social and economic mobility for citizens in communities across the country.

Wes, we are, as ever, delighted to have you with us here today.

[Turn the podium over to Wes Moore for the speech. You’ll stay for remarks and the beginning of the first panel, then depart.]