Eastport Citizens Work Together to Improve Their Community

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Will Rowel, Director of Public Engagement and Community Relations, speaks to Eastport residents about ways to build a safer and stronger community. photo: APat

Tuesday evening at the Eastport Working Together monthly meeting, residents and community stakeholders met with elected officials and clergy members, where they began to create community-driven solutions to combat the cycle of crime and poverty that has plagued the Harbor House and Eastport Terrace Public Housing communities for decades. The meeting was just one of several, meant to address the socio-economic issues that drive crime in low-income neighborhoods.

Optimism was the aura of the frigid evening, once people settled into breakout groups of five to eight attendees per table.  Mayor Buckley sat with one group and provided pizzas and drinks for the session. He was joined by three Alderpersons – Shaneka Henson from Ward 6, Sheila Finlayson from Ward 4, and Ross Arnett from Ward 8 – as well as Chief of Police Scott Baker, Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis (HACA) CEO Beverly Wilbourne, and the new Director of Public Engagement and Community Relations William Rowel. Community activists Toni Strong Pratt and DaJuan Gay also sat with work groups.

Toni Pratt (l) speaking to Dajuan Gay (r) and other Eastport Community members. photo: APat

After formalities by the host and remarks by Mayor Buckley who reinforced his commitment “to invest in public housing communities,” everyone in the room was handed $170 in “Buckley Bucks” in $100, $50 and $20 denominations. Groups were tasked with deciding how they would each spend their “Bucks” on investing in five key areas: Public Safety, Community Services, Jobs, Education, and Social Services. After the “Bucks” were allocated and all the totals were counted, education ranked first with over 3000 “Bucks” and Public Safety came in second with roughly 2800 “Bucks.”

Mayor Gavin Buckley speaks to the Eastport Community members at the Eastport Working Together meeting. photo: APat

Now that the groups had a focus, they brainstormed to suggest solutions to fix public safety and educational disenfranchisement within public housing communities, then shared their results. For education, the top suggestions were more after-school programs, more accountability from Anne Arundel County Public Schools, computer classes, and free Wi-Fi for public housing residents. A representative from HACA added that the Eastport Community Center is in desperate need of volunteers to teach residents basic Microsoft classes. HACA will seek resources to acquire new computers for the center.

The top public safety suggestions were a civilian review board, better lighting, and more community events to create unity within the neighborhoods. The often-heard ideas of ID Cards, towing of vehicles, community policing, and stricter lease monitoring for HACA residents were also raised. There were very few suggestions of more police, but the ban list (which has been shown to be illegal) was suggested.

Bishop Craig Coates, who facilitated the meeting, promised that more guests and resource providers will be in attendance at the next meeting in January.  He kept the crowd engaged with plenty of humor and good spirits, motivating guests to take selfies with their neighbors and post them to social networks with the hashtag #EastportWorkingTogether. “Seeing residents sitting at the same table with City Council Members, activists, officials from the Mayor’s office and the current HACA CEO was a magnificent accomplishment,” said Yasemin Jamison, a local community activist.

Richard W. Right is a writer, father and community activist.

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