Employment nightmare in Baltimore ‘hood

JULIANNE MALVEAUX | 5/11/2015, 11:06 a.m.
What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a ...

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore and then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over like a syrupy sweet

Maybe it just sags like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

(NNPA) – When Langston Hughes wrote of a dream deferred in his 1951 poem, Harlem, he captured the frustration of a people who had deferred dreams and swallowed hope time and again. Were he writing the poem today, he might have titled it Sandtown, highlighting the neighborhood that was home to Freddie Gray.

Sandtown-Winchester is described as blighted and neglected, an urban food desert, defined as people living more than a mile from a supermarket or large grocery store, with a population that is mostly poor and unemployed. According to the website fusion.net, more incarcerated people come from the Sandtown census tract than anywhere else in Maryland.

Gray and his sisters won a 2008 lawsuit against a landlord that had high levels of toxic lead paint on the walls. Four years later, in 2012, more than 7 percent of infants and children under 6 had elevated blood lead levels.

The data about Sandtown at least partly explain the frustration, anger and uprisings that have happened in the wake of the murder of Gray. People who are ignored can watch their dreams dry up or sag, or, as in the case of Baltimore, they can simply explode.

I won’t make excuses for the destruction of property, but if the young people who took it to the streets were Bostonians during the 1773 Tea Party, they may have been described as patriots. Instead, protesters were described as thugs and criminals, with at least one news anchor confusing her news reading work for commentary, described the protesters as idiots.

When I saw the protestors throwing rocks at police officers, and saw flames rising from the streets, I thought of the uprisings that took place after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Frustrated and angry people took it to the streets then, destroying billions of dollars worth of property. Some of the areas that burned in 1968 took decades to recover from the violence. At the same time, the uprisings riveted attention to blighted inner cities and to the poverty and unemployment that too many residents experienced.

More than half of the young African Americans who want to work can’t find a job. The numbers are higher in Sandtown. The situation might be improved if Job Corps programs were more available to Sandtown residents. There are two Job Corps locations in Maryland (and 125 in the nation), but the Job Corps has been under scrutiny and constantly being threatened with extinction.

Job Corps offers a free education and training program that helps low-income young people (ages 16-24) earn a high school diploma or GED, learn about careers and find employment. Established in 1964 as part of the Economic Opportunity Act, it was reauthorized in 1998 as part of the Workforce Investment Act. About 60,000 people are trained by Job Corps each year; 60 percent of them find work when they finish the program; another 15 percent choose to continue their education.