August 30, 2019
On August 6, 2019, the Beeck Center’s Fair Finance team and a Georgetown Law professor toured seven projects in Opportunity Zones in Baltimore City. These projects included vacant lots, refurbished rowhomes, and newly developed mixed income apartment buildings. At the conclusion of the tour, the Hotel Revival in Baltimore hosted a community dinner with Opportunity Zones Investor Council members, local faith leaders, and community organizers where Beeck Center Student Analyst Donovan Taylor presented his personal story and why social impact is invaluable to him.
The following is a transcript of Donovan’s speech.
When I was 12 years old, my mom used to wake my sister and me up at 9 am to take us to church in East Baltimore. On Hillen Road, Lake Montebello was surrounded by beautiful single-family homes and lush grass. Driving down Harford Road toward North Avenue, things were a little different. There were brick row houses, concrete, and check cashing expresses. As my mom turned onto North Caroline St, the neighborhood was inundated with abandoned buildings, liquor stores, and potholes. The tension in the air was palpable. This community is juxtaposed with Harbor East’s cobblestone streets, extravagant fountains, upscale restaurants, and Whole Foods less than a mile away. How could anyone find purpose or joy in a world plagued by so much inequity and suffering? Baltimore is struggling to survive. In 2017, 342 people were killed in this city compared to 290 in NYC, a city with nearly 14 times the population. The issue of gun violence affects many families personally, including my own. In May 2014, my uncle was shot in the face and killed instantly, and the police still don’t know who’s responsible.
Since 5th grade, I attended a summer program for talented Baltimore youth called Bridges at St. Paul’s School. St.Paul’s is a prestigious private school in the Baltimore suburbs with a huge campus that was once a slave plantation. I remember being absolutely amazed that students could drink from water fountains and had central air in their classrooms. Baltimore City Public Schools are struggling to meet the needs of the next generation of students, including providing a comfortable learning environment. In the winter of 2018, Baltimore made national news as a photo of preschool kids in heavy coats in their classroom went viral online, exposing just how poor conditions are in some Baltimore City schools because the city fails to provide adequate heating. If you’ve been exposed to gun violence, you must figure out ways to cope and heal from this trauma. If you don’t have access to healthy food, you will deal with an increased risk of obesity, hypertension, and heart attack. If your zone schools are underfunded, you have limited opportunities for upward mobility. In some of these communities, people are dealing with all these issues. Some people from outside of Baltimore can sit in their prestigious office and write these communities off as “rat infected, rodent infested mess(es)” that no-one wants to live in. But, Tupac lived in Baltimore for a part of his life and I believe it was in these communities he got the inspiration to exclaim “long live the rose that grew from the concrete.” My grandfather calls us “God’s miracle people” because even though we’ve been through so much, we always find joy and the will to press forward.
This is a critical point in our society. Our generation has seen the impact of fear and hatred on a global scale. We’ve seen a few people amass great wealth and power, while some parents abroad are forced to feed their children dirt patties. Today, we have an opportunity to change the world for the better. We can choose to see the value of these communities and equip them with the tools to recover from decades of apathy and exclusion.
Impact investing is a relatively new perspective on investment through which social and environmental outcomes are just as important as financial returns. In the US, impact investors manage over $255 billion in assets. Opportunity Zones are a federal tax incentive that allows investors to defer taxes by investing their capital gains in low-income communities. Through the combination of impact investing and opportunity zones, with a clear focus on community empowerment, the narrative can be changed. The next generation deserves to live in a world free from the pain and trauma of today’s youth. The children of Sandtown should live in a community that they are proud of and afforded the same opportunities as those from Roland Park. Your passion and dedication to investing in Baltimore Opportunity Zones will lead to real change in communities that are desperate to be heard and healed. It is important to exemplify the adage “nothing about us, without us” and actively seek to understand community need. There are invaluable insights that residents can offer in this work that are equal to those of ivy-league educated professionals. To continue with the words of Tupac, these community members, these roses, are grounded in the reality of their lived experiences. Therefore, it will take the collaborative efforts of all to create a more equitable society. That rose in the concrete should live without fear that a stray bullet will kill it. That rose should have access to the best food, housing, and education available. That rose deserves the highest respect for embodying resilience and surviving the impossible. Eventually, that rose will no longer struggle from the weight of systematic injustice and the concrete will no longer exist.
Donovan Taylor is a Student Analyst supporting the Fair Finance team, and this fall will return to Georgetown University, where he will be a senior majoring in International Business and Management. Follow him on Twitter @donovantaylor01.