On May 4, 2021, I was proud to lead a discussion with noted author and activist Dr. Lawrence Brown, author of “The Black Butterfly,” for a conversation on racial equity in Baltimore City and to understand the role everyone has to play in making a real difference and strengthening Black neighborhoods. The discussion was viewed by over 400 members of the Towson University community and the general public. During the conversation, Dr. Brown presented research related to his work on racial equity, housing and other dynamics of Baltimore’s present and past.

The White L and Black Butterfly

For those unfamiliar with Dr. Brown’s work, he is the originator of the concept of the “White L and Black Butterflly” in Baltimore. This concept looks at the cartography of Baltimore City and beyond along lines of historical housing segregation due to redlining and other urban renewal practices. This construct also maps onto a number of other problematic practices of segregation such as health care availability and food deserts.

Racial equity and community engagement

In order to enhance community engagement work, we must pursue racial equity. The dialogue with Dr. Brown covered this notion during a lively question and answer discussion, which also touched on confronting problematic issues around the COVID-19 vaccine rollout and how to move inclusion to actual structural change in higher education and beyond. One of our goals for the talk was to utilize the expertise of Dr. Brown to focus our attention on how we can take lessons from his book The Black Butterfly and utilize them for our praxis and take this knowledge as an ethos for the toolkit we use in community engagement work in the Baltimore region and beyond.

The book reveals a difficult and problematic history that informs the current issues many face in the Baltimore region that our community engagement work addresses. Among many calls for action, one set of questions posed by Dr. Brown guides our community engagement work.

To implement a robust equity strategy, government officials, philanthropies, corporations, and nonprofits must follow these five steps:

1. Obtain a deep understanding of historical trauma inflicted on Black neighborhoods.

2. Identify and stop all forms of ongoing historical trauma affecting Black neighborhoods.

3. Make decision making particularly and deeply democratic for existing residents in redlined communities.

4. Ensure a meaningful community ownership and wealth-generating stake in all projects, programs, developments, and interventions using collective economics.

5. Make corrective and equitable budget allocations and funding choices to repair the damage caused by ongoing historical trauma on redlined neighborhoods.

We should all ask ourselves how we can respond both as individuals and as an institution to these questions. Watch the full presentation below.

Towson University recently announced its inaugural diversity strategic plan. This plan emerged out of a number of critical conversations and represents the commitment of Towson University to address diversity, equity and inclusion on our campus and in our community engagement work. This talk is part of a collaboration between BTU and TU’s Office of Inclusion & Institutional Equity in support of that plan.

About BTU—Partnerships at Work for Greater Baltimore

Towson University is committed to positive impacts, making a difference, and transforming lives in Greater Baltimore and throughout Maryland—but we don’t do this work alone. We do it through community engagement. At TU, community engagement is supported by BTU—elevating the work we’re already doing with partners throughout Greater Baltimore to better address the needs of the region.

About the Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity

The Office of Inclusion and Institutional Equity (OIIE) strives to foster a culture of integrity that values shared responsibility as a critical element of an inclusive, equitable, and diverse community at TU. OIIE works to support the university’s commitment to a learning and working environment free from sexual misconduct, discrimination, harassment, hate, and bias. OIIE includes Accessibility and Disability Services, the Center for Student Diversity, Title IX, Hate Crimes and Bias Incidents response and Diversity and Inclusion Initiatives.