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A Baltimore Leader Shares His “Why” in “THE BODY POLITIC”

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ASPA as an organization.

By Lori L. Hardesty
September 25, 2023

I crave understanding complex systems, being a thought partner and disrupter. In my 28th year at The Shriver Center at UMBC, I encourage UMBC students to expand their inquisitive minds, to explore the world beyond their lived experiences. Relationships and processes matter. I offer grace through growth and lean into learning and discomfort with open hearts and minds. 

My community engagement journey has taken me to numerous spaces and places throughout the Greater Baltimore region:  from classrooms to courtrooms; playgrounds to juvenile detention facilities; and graduation ceremonies to funeral homes. Storytelling serves as a powerful tool to change narratives and minds. Recently, it brought me to a movie theater. 

Baltimore’s Charles Theatre hosted The New/Next Film Fest, featuring films with Baltimore connections. It was the Baltimore debut of “THE BODY POLITIC,” directed by Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough. This award-winning documentary follows Baltimore’s idealistic young mayor into office where he puts his personal and political future on the line to save his city from chronic violence. A post-screening Q&A  was facilitated by local radio station WYPR’s Tom Hall with THE BODY POLITIC (TBP) team.

The film begins with Mayor Scott campaigning for the Mayor’s office in 2020. Originally, the film crew followed several mayoral candidates. This was one of the world’s most challenging times, punctuated by the pandemic and the murder of George Floyd. Baltimore, a majority minority city, felt Mr. Floyd’s death deeply; a few years prior to filming TBP, Freddie Gray was killed in police custody.

Baltimore is a robust city with a complicated history. I have known it for 30 years. It has a long history of violence, structural racism built upon centuries of violence, displacement and disenfranchisement. The trade of enslaved people flourished in Baltimore’s port known as the Inner Harbor. The War on Drugs of the 1970s and 1980s led to mass incarceration of Black men and youths who were treated as superpredators.  

One of Mayor Scott’s earliest priorities was to make the city safer. He supported taking a public health approach to gun violence. Under the Mayor’s newly created Office of Neighborhood Safety and Engagement (MONSE), Safe Streets has been instrumental in this effort. Mayor Scott acknowledged that the program was created in Chicago and had been in Baltimore prior to his mayoral term. He also explained the past dysfunction of the political system was why Safe Streets had not previously worked.  

Merriam-Webster defines “The Body Politic” as “a group of persons politically organized under a single governmental authority; a people considered as a collective unit.” TBP changemakers included Shantay Jackson, until recently the director of MONSE and Erricka Bridgeford, the founder of the Baltimore Peace Movement. As lifelong Baltimoreans, they know the trauma of Baltimore’s gun violence. Safe Streets worker Dante Barksdale shared, “Something that everyone can agree on is wanting to feel safe.” 

This 91-minute documentary was a result of 700-800 hours of film beautifully shot by Gabriel Francis Paz Goodenough and John Benam. The cinematography was stunning as it captured many honest moments.

In the film, Mayor Scott laid down the gauntlet with a goal of 15% reduction in violence, piloting Safe Streets’ violence interrupting strategy in the Belair-Edison community. In the Q&A panel, Mayor Scott recommended to “tell folks your goals to hold you accountable. This is what we are going to do and how. Plant the flag. You might not be making popular decisions, but you are doing the right thing.” At the end of the film, closing out 2021, there were no murders in Bel Air-Edison. Suddenly, other communities wanted it, and NOW. 

I had a visceral reaction to the film, nothing to do with the popcorn I inhaled, nor the soda that washed it down. So many moments in this film made me “feel.” The scene where Erricka blessed the Mayor was a big one. Erricka encouraged the Q&A audience to do what’s in your heart and be aware of how you walk in your day. In one scene, Shantay Jackson wisely stated “the wolf you feed is the biggest.” Consider how you contribute to the narrative.

Success does not happen in a vacuum. The TBP team shared the importance of trust, relationship-building and teamwork. Simultaneously fascinating and frustrating, I felt like I had a front row seat to the power playing moves made by the then-Governor of Maryland .

Whether in the context of politics, non-profit organizations, educational institutions, etc., I wondered about leadership. When one moves higher in title and ranking, do they run a greater risk of being out of touch with their community?

Purpose and responsibility are at the core of this film. The further the distance that some politicians get in title and jurisdiction (local, state, federal),  the more they risk growing out of touch with their constituents. Now 39, Mayor Scott was just 27 years old when he was elected in 2011 to represent Baltimore’s 2nd District. There is no doubt how much this man of Baltimore cares about Baltimore.

During my first decade at The Shriver Center, I supported systems-involved Choice Program youth and families. “Once Choice, always Choice,” we say. Exactly a month after the New/Next Film Fest, Defying the approach of Hurricane Ophelia, The Choice Program hosted a “Rising Youth Relaunch” at its Inner Harbor kiosk near the Maryland Science Center to celebrate the rebranding of its Social Enterprise with….(to be continued next month).

Author: Lori L. Hardesty, MPA, is the Associate Director of Applied Learning & Community Engagement at The Shriver Center at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC). She enjoys strengths-based leadership, partnership-building, youth development, and coaching. Lori earned her B.A. in Psychology from Johns Hopkins University and MPA from the University of Baltimore. Email [email protected].

The picture was provided as a courtesy of the TBP team. 

TBP Social Media:

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/thebodypoliticfilm/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/thebodypoliticfilm/

X (Twitter): https://twitter.com/_TheBodyPolitic

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