Communities addressing racial justice
Last June, after four Minneapolis police officers were charged in the murder of an unarmed black man named George Floyd, many Americans became upset by police brutality, particularly against minorities. Some marched in rallies, and others displayed signs on their lawns or windows.
At Broadmead, a Life Plan Community in Cockeysville, residents began talking about racial justice.
First, the mostly white community’s poetry club decided to read the work of African American poets, such as Gwendolyn Brooks and Langston Hughes — something they had never done before.
Then Broadmead’s writing club began penning reflections about their deep-seated views of race. In addition, its book club chose How to be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi for their next meeting.
All of these actions bubbled up from the community, said Jennifer Jimenez Maraña, Broadmead’s director of diversity and inclusion.
“The beauty of it is that the initiatives of the residents have been the most powerful,” she said. “We didn’t want divisiveness on race to divide our community.”
Since Floyd’s death on May 25, Broadmead has held a daily moment of silence, sometimes accompanied by a prompt for reflection such as, “When did you first become aware of race?”
Every week, Maraña hosts a virtual discussion group on Zoom so residents can talk about racial issues.
“After one of these conversations, one of the residents said, ‘Wow, this is hard work,’” Maraña said. “It is — because they’re un-learning things … Their eyes are open.”
Some residents’ discussions are punctuated by “a-ha moments,” she said, or instances when people say, “Wow, I never realized” how race affects our society.
“That reflection, that learning, never ends,” Maraña said. “No matter what age we are.”
Trainings for staff
At Habitat America, an apartment management firm, staff members are learning more about diversity.
This fall, some of the apartment management firm’s 428 employees will take training classes such as “Navigate Your Way to Diversity,” according to Maryellen DeLuca, vice president of corporate marketing.
“Habitat is offering diversity training throughout the month of September,” DeLuca said, noting that she will also be taking one of the courses.
The properties in Habitat America’s portfolio include senior living and multi-family communities, both luxury and affordable. The company manages properties in Baltimore County and Baltimore City, which is 60% black, as well as in Delaware, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C.
The diversity classes are taught by the Institute of Real Estate Management and the Housing Association of Nonprofit Developers. Those housing organizations say they are “committed” to diversity and inclusion initiatives.
These initiatives contrast with many housing practices in the 20th century. From 1938 until the late 1960s, the Federal Housing Administration actually mandated that developers’ property deeds include “restrictive covenants” preventing non-white people from buying or renting houses in certain neighborhoods.
The FHA noted that these restrictions include “prohibition of the occupancy of properties except by the race for which they are intended.” It was common practice from Levittown, New York, to Oakland, California for property deeds to include a clause prohibiting owners from selling to non-white people.
In addition, the Federal Housing Authority declined to back loans for people in black neighborhoods, a practice known as redlining. Although these policies have been deemed unconstitutional and have been eliminated, their effects have shaped some neighborhoods even until today.
Living together, getting along
In Hampden, a predominantly white Baltimore neighborhood, two high-rise apartment buildings stand as a symbol of hope. There, black, white, Hispanic and Asian residents live together in relative peace, said Arthur Ruby, property manager of St. Mary’s Roland View Towers.
“We’re a very mixed population, with people from literally all over the world,” Ruby said. “When we have people that don’t get along, it’s not for racial reasons.”
St. Mary’s Roland View Towers has 360 apartments for people age 55 and up.
Hampden attracted notoriety in 1988, when a black family’s house was vandalized repeatedly after they bought a home in the 99% white neighborhood.
So far at St. Mary’s Roland View Towers, racial injustice is “something in the news, it’s not something that’s here,” Ruby said. “That’s just the way it is here.”