Welcome to City-Zen, a Q & A series of real conversations with real Baltimoreans sharing their thoughts on issues that are top-of-mind to many. Whether just starting out, raising a family, struggling to get by, or at the top of your game, we all have something in common. It’s easier to communicate when we understand the perspective of others.
Meet Jason Harris, a writer, IT contractor, fledgling futurist, and a creative director at a local community space. Jason has lived in Baltimore for 17 years and currently resides in the Bel Air-Edison neighborhood. Although he’s a transplant, coming to Baltimore as an adult, he has worked at Frederick Douglass High, Augusta Fells Savage Institute of Visual Arts and was a man-on-a-mission, working hard on the Parent-Teachers Organization at the Baltimore Design School, advocating for students. (See his website, www.newfuturism.com.)
What do you most like about your neighborhood?
Herring Run Park is my backyard! Herring Run is a beautiful feature of East Baltimore. It is a 3.5 mile refuge, of sorts, with a developing bike trail, so I can ride my bike from Sinclair Lane all the way to Lake Montebello. There are soccer leagues that play there, there is a movie night that happens in an area of the park next to Belair Road.
There are four liquor stores in walking distance of my house. I’d like to see at least two go away.
I am going to press the city council candidates in my district to address this.
I go to the Living Well.
1) Baltimore City Public Schools need to focus on the children in a holistic manner. Our children’s education and the environment in which they grow should be this city’s number one priority. If we are good at that, everything else that needs to happen will fall into place.2) Baltimore City needs an auditing, done regularly and by outside parties with no financial strings attached to it.3) Fallout from the Port Covington handout. And yes, it’s a handout. If we were talking about a single mother receiving Section 8, that is how “conservative” folks would refer to the Section 8 program, as a handout. The Port Covington deal is basically a billion dollar handout, and the working class folks of our city are the ones who will feel the negative impact of it.
I am involved at the Living Well working with amazing folks on a regular basis. We are building and deploying different cultural technologies to improve the quality of everyone’s life here in Baltimore City. From dealing with trauma as a result of living in violent community, to teaching youth about different traditions, be it through playing the drums, through storytelling, through yoga, through visual art, I get to work with folks who are on the ground making a difference, and it has been life changing for me.
The most recent thing I am proud of is co-organizing an anchor exhibit at this year’s Artscape. Olu Butterfly, Stephanie Safiyatou Edwards and I organized and mounted “The Mothership Connection,” one of the first anchor exhibits set up by local artists at Artscape. It was fantastic to see thousands of people come out and see “BLACK” art in a space set up by black people. It was a safe space for a diverse group of artists to express themselves through fashion, theater, music, poetry, dance, sculpture, painting, and film. To have a formative hand in that was humbling and energizing. It has scaled up my local dreams.
What is your biggest personal challenge at this time?
Raising a black male child in a city with 300 murders and knowing not even half of the murders will get solved or even have a suspect. I want him to become independent, but if he is in the street or on the bus, I am worried. Not because I think he’ll make a bad decision, but because the randomness of how violence pops off in our city means that bystanders are regularly part of the mayhem. How can one balance a sense of caution with a positive outlook in this environment? How can one build a teenager’s confidence, talk to him about community and all these other flowery concepts we have, when there is no accountability for police? For those who are on the block and violent? For politicians? Who is accountable? That is the biggest challenge for me.