Big Fish: Jackie Caldwell is On A Mission For Mondawmin

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Jaqueline Caldwell. Photo via the Annie E. Casey Foundation website.

As President of the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council since 2012, Jacqueline (Jackie) Caldwell is the Godmother of Mondawmin — righting wrongs, fighting crime, improving housing, raising money, boosting spirits and attending meeting after meeting with elected officials to make sure Mondawmin is, in her words, “at the table and not on the menu.” That’s in her spare time. In her day job at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, she dispenses grant money to organizations central to the foundation’s mission.

The Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council is a powerful non-profit umbrella group, involved in almost every decision that affects the Mondawmin community. Eight neighborhood associations, as well as the Mondawmin Mall, Bon Secours Health Systems, Parks and People Foundation, the New Shiloh, Mt. Lebanon and New Hope Baptist Churches, Coppin State University, Baltimore City Community College, and the Center for Urban Families are all members of the GMCC. In her time as president, Jackie Caldwell has helped bring over $1 billion in investments to the community.

Now with the news of Target leaving the Mondawmin Mall, she faces the task of keeping the momentum going — planning what’s next for a neighborhood in transition.

Following the death of Freddie Gray in April 2015, Mondawmin featured heavily in a widely-televised confrontation between high school students and Baltimore City police at the Mondawmin Mall. Since then, Caldwell has been leading a rebranding effort, one with real and substantial changes behind it. Money has been spent. Buildings are going up. Jackie Caldwell is at the forefront of this effort – organizing programs, making connections, and telling the story.

Baltimore Fishbowl recently interviewed Ms. Caldwell about her role in the new Mondawmin and what’s next for the mall.

How do you go about rebranding a community?

We need to tell the great news about our community. For example, recently we were interviewed by Charm City TV on the My Town segment (Season 3, Episode 1). We trust this will reach an audience that does not live in our neighborhood, and allow them to know how special it is. It is important for us to tell our story – the challenges but also the good.

What should Baltimoreans know about Mondawmin?

Besides the Mondawmin Mall, we have the award-winning Gwynns Falls Elementary School and two colleges (Coppin State University and Baltimore Community College). You can attend pre-K through college and never leave the neighborhood! Druid Hill Park is in Mondawmin, and the historic Olmstead Parkway. The oldest African-American little league team still plays at the James Mosher field and is supported by the Major League Baseball Players Association.The Parks and People Foundation is located here, and two $20M quality affordable housing developments are underway – Metro Heights, at Liberty Heights and Reisterstown Road, New Shiloh Village at Elgin and North Monroe Street. Home sales are up. There is a lot of positive activity going on here.

How did you feel when you heard that Target was leaving the mall?

Personally, it didn’t really bother me. I have access to other areas to shop. I can go to Canton, or out to Columbia. But there are a lot of people for whom this is there one stop where they get everything, and I was worried about them.

What’s next for the mall?

I talked to the Mayor about it last week. She thinks she can talk to the people at Target about staying open. If that works, great. My idea would be to make it a community center for kids, with indoor fields, a squash court, things like that. There are some private people who have been interested in partnering. But the Mayor would really like to see retail there, and in the end, it’s her call.

Recently, BGE and Whiting-Turner have helped to build and fund TouchPoint, a non-profit resource center at the Mondawmin Mall. What goes on there?

TouchPoint is a community resources center, housing four Baltimore non-profit organizations — Baltimore Corps, Thread, The Center For Urban Families and Invested Impact. They collaborate on services for families like tutoring, mentoring, entrepreneurial support and leadership guidance. On a day-to-day basis we do everything from hosting a drone workshop for kids, to a recent National Voter Registration Kickoff! It is there to provide operational skills and support for community initiatives.

How does a community initiative get started?

Someone presents us with an idea. If we can assist, I help connect the people and the resources to make it happen. I am a connector of the dots, and I enjoy this role.

How do the dots get connected?

In addition to working with the members of the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council, I am a board member of the beautiful Howard Peter Rawlings Conservatory, the William S. Baer School and the Neighborhood Housing Services of Baltimore. Representing the community in this way gives me access to other people and organizations involved in lifting the city. I love programming and I have the gift of being able to get things done professionally. I especially love partnering with youth. Our youth are talented – and the more options placed before them, the more their minds expand.

Tell us about yourself.

My parents are from Summerton, South Carolina — the segregated South. My father, James E. Caldwell Sr., was a longshoreman. He helped to found the largest local union on the waterfront, Local 333, which is still active today. My mother, Henrietta Caldwell, is the best sweet potato baker in the WORLD. I have brothers, a niece and two nephews who I love dearly, and approximately 100 first cousins on my mom’s side. I grew up in the Mondawmin community, where I still live – my neighbors are like family. My 200-pound dog, Kojak, is in now in doggy heaven, and I still miss him.

At the Annie E. Casey Foundation, you help to disburse grant money. Are there any local organizations that are particularly close to your heart?

I love the Center For Urban Families – direct help for people trying to better their lives. Mentoring Male Teens In The Hood has been reaching young men in a real way for the past 20 years. Imagine Me, a mentoring program at the Calverton School for Girls is close to my heart. And I recently became a board member of the William S. Baer School in Greater Mondawmin, a school for those with extreme special needs. It’s a wonderful and heart-wrenching place. If you think you are having a bad day, I recommend volunteering at the Baer School – it helps put things in perspective.

Being president of the Greater Mondawmin Coordinating Council seems like a second full -time job. How do you stay in touch with all the moving parts?

I have the multi-tasking gene. I am organized and know how to set priorities. I represent the community on many boards, which allows me access to other people lifting the city. And I love programming – especially working with ideas that are out of the box – our youth are so talented, the more options you give them, the wider their minds expand.

Who are the people you depend on for help?

I depend on my partners, my office coordinator and God first.

How do you stay motivated? 

I was raised to care about people who cannot care for themselves. I do not have to be poor or hungry to lift someone else up.  This is mission work – not a job.

What’s the best advice you ever got?

To keep your tongue in submission.

What is something most people don’t know about you?

As extroverted as I am – sometimes I just want to be alone.

What’s on your bedside table?

Fingernail polish – I’ve been doing my nails since I was eight.

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