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Baltimore’s Turnaround Tuesdays change lives

March 13th, 2017 Baltimore Sun

Only 43 miles separate Zion Baptist Church in Baltimore from 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in our nation’s capital, but it would be hard to imagine two more different — and culturally distant — places.

For two hours on a recent Tuesday morning, I sat in on what is called Turnaround Tuesday — a creation of a citizens organization, Baltimoreans United In Leadership Development and an affiliate of the group I co-direct, the Industrial Areas Foundation. Seventy five residents were in their chairs at 9:00 a.m. sharp to participate in a program that was one part AA meeting, one part religious service, one part boot camp, one part job-preparedness training and all parts remarkable. Turnaround Tuesday had been operating for two years, based on BUILD’s effective local organizing and the commitment of Baltimore’s premier anchor institution, the Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, to hire hundreds of residents returning from prison or jail. To date, 274 people have already been hired to living wage jobs, and scores more are in the pipeline.

A tall and powerfully built former police officer called the session to order. He welcomed guests, described the agenda for the morning, and then called for an opening prayer.

The rounds question for the morning was: What is the most difficult story to tell about yourself? Then every single person present stood and answered that question, in 60 seconds or less. Story after story included gun violence, drug addiction, the loss of a child or parent or sibling, homelessness, domestic violence, jail time and more. Some people, particularly the younger men, spoke barely above a whisper, perhaps speaking in a setting like this about the difficulty in their lives for the first time.

I was reminded of a similar room, a world away, in an Anglican fellowship center between Johannesburg and Soweto, in the summer of 1990. At the invitation of Bishop Desmond Tutu, my colleague Arnie Graf and I were conducting training for 50 survivors of the apartheid era, which had just ended. Nelson Mandela was touring the U.S., in triumph, as we worked with these clergy and civic leaders. Story after story, as people did the rounds on that hillside, was of horrific state violence, kidnapping by police, exile, loss of family, loss of health, and despair. Read More

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