After rioters scarred Baltimore last year, Johns Hopkins University leaders discussed efforts that the university was making to build, hire and buy locally. One trustee asked why other businesses in Baltimore weren’t doing the same.
“I’m in,” said Mike Hankin, president and chief executive officer of Brown Advisory.
As Johns Hopkins President Ronald Daniels recalled Monday, Hankin challenged other trustees to commit the businesses they lead, as well.
So began the BLocal effort, which now includes 25 Baltimore businesses promising to invest at least $69 million in minority-owned, female-owned and disadvantaged businesses over the next three years. The effort comes as the city tries to rebuild after a tumultuous year.
Last spring, anger over the death of a young black man in police custody turned violent. As people hurled rocks and bottles at police, set fire to cars, and looted businesses, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) declared a state of emergency and activated thousands of members of the Maryland National Guard to restore peace.
In the weeks and months following, violence increased; homicides surged.
At a news conference announcing the initiative Monday, Rep. Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) recounted a recent conversation in which he said: “I’m really worried about Baltimore. Our city is very fragile,” and said he was told, “Will all of Baltimore rise at the same time? That is the question.”
After Hankin issued his challenge, Daniels said, “As we reached out, business leaders across the city immediately understood the urgency of this work and jumped with alacrity to join our coalition.”
To have so many business leaders step forward, “That is powerful,” Cummings said.
Business leaders pledged to direct $53 million in construction and renovation projects and $16 million in purchasing to minority- and women-owned businesses, numbers they predicted would grow as more opportunities are identified and, they hope, more companies join the effort. Twenty-six million of the total is from Johns Hopkins.
Last year, the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System hired 174 people with criminal backgrounds, said Ronald Peterson, its president.
It is not charity, he said, but a strategic business decision to not overlook the best talent — even if that means hiring someone who needs a second chance.
Daniels, Peterson and Calvin Butler Jr., chief executive officer of BGE, will lead BLocal.
Hopkins, which is the largest private institution in the city, has used its considerable wealth and clout to try to improve conditions in Baltimore before, with partnerships with city schools, anti-violence initiatives and other efforts .
As the news conference ended at Zion Baptist Church in East Baltimore, Bishop Douglas Miles stepped forward and grabbed the mic to say, “This is historic.”
He shared a memory from the late 1960s: A young woman on a bus asked him what school he attended, and when he replied, “Hopkins,” she stopped talking to him.
That was the distance, he said, between the city and the university.
“I stand proudly today as a Hopkins alumnus,” he said, “because my institution is taking the lead in something major in this state.”
God doesn’t call us to be the richest or the smartest, he said, but to step forward. Miles closed with a prayer, and shouts rose: “Amen! Amen!”