Maryland Communities United
Founded in 2010, the mission of Communities United (CU) is to organize and empower low income Maryland residents to achieve transformative change. We cultivate relationships with and between people, organizations and other groups to promote grassroots power and cohesion in Baltimore, Maryland and the nation.
By providing opportunities for policy education, discourse and action we build resilient grassroots power among those historically shut out of economic and political life. Our work is centering the leadership of those most directly impacted by injustice – racism, poverty, trauma, addiction, criminalization.
CU Organizational Principles
Every individual has power, and we have more power together.
Organizing is the heart of all we do.
Membership is ownership of our collective work.
We activate communities to take action.
Our members are experts in their lives.
Q. What does that look like, exactly?
Short answer: we are in the trenches.
For example, our organizers knock doors in Baltimore's poorest neighborhoods. We start conversations and relationships to learn what is really happening on the streets. At the same time, in partnerships with other community organizations, unions and nonprofits, we are looking for legal and legislative levers to make life better for the people we love.
That meant that in 2015, with our Baltimore Renters' United partners, we helped to write and pass the law that requires all rental housing in Baltimore to be inspected to meet minimum requirements for health and safety.
While talking to our friends and neighbors in 2018, one of our organizers heard the stories of women in Gilmor Homes who were abused by maintenance workers who were demanding sex in exchange for repairs.
We connected them to lawyers at the Public Justice Center.
The results of our organizing were:
1) The women won their case, including a monetary settlement.
2) Passed the local legislation and did outreach to make sure tenants knew they were entitled to an inspection.
3) The combined pressures of misconduct and corruption forced Paul Graziano, the head of Baltimore Housing to resign.
This past year, we worked to pass legislation to prevent landlords who do not meet their legal obligations and provide safe, healthy living conditions, from using the courts to evict tenants.
We will continue to reach out, education and activate tenants to use our shared power to assure that the laws do what they are written to do: protect - especially low income - tenants.
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Issues we work on include...
Incarceration & Addiction
As people targeted by the War on Drugs, our communities have been routinely over-policed, under-protected and short of the kinds of investments that reduce crime and build real public safety. Our struggles have always included those who use or have used drugs and those who have been criminalized and marginalized
Education & Parent Engagement
It takes a village to raise a child. Our parents, community members, and students work together to advocate for long-term, equitable investment in functioning community schools. We organize in and around schools by building rich relationships between all the stakeholders.
COVID Response and Medicare4All
As COVID-19 ran through our communities, Communities United responded by supporting mutual aid efforts and connecting community members to both one another and the resources they needed: food, vaccination appointments, tools and skills to help them and their families bridge the Digital Divide.
Now, we continue to partner with organizations fighting for Medicare for all and critiquing the care systems in the city, state and nation that routinely underserve and exploit our community members.
Trauma & Resilency
Our communities grapple with loss everyday. In our member led support group, neighbors come together to support each other, share resources.They face trauma together, building networks of resilient support in our neighborhoods and schools.
Inadequate and unsafe housing conditions negatively affect everyone. We organize residents in public housing, rental housing and legacy housing to demand safe, affordable, healthy homes. We also organize all residents who are face forced relocation and gentrification-based displacement.
For three years we worked with youth both during the summer and after-school during the school year. In the summer of 2019 our Youth Organizing Leadership Academy (YOLA) provided education to Youthworks students and other city youth to get a real taste of organizing. After 5 weeks of paid training, several youth were promoted into our organizing practicum to hit the streets with our organizing team. These young leaders continue to raise their voices to demand what is right in Baltimore City, the state of Maryland, and the entire country.
My experiences with Communities United helped me so much. Now I know what is possible when people come together." - Janette Wheeler
When we fight, we WIN!
2010-2013 Fought for funding for community schools until they became a regular expense included in the Baltimore Budget
2013-2016 Won same day registration on early voting days. Restored the vote for citizens with felony convictions upon release from prison. Registered over 1,000 released prisoners to vote.
2015-2017 Increased funding (67% increase – $4 million for a total of just over $10 million) for community schools in Baltimore. Reinstated of funding for community schools, initially cut in the mayor's FY 2018 Budget.
2016-20 Organized monthly trauma support groups in Perkins, Gilmor and McCulloh Homes, as well as emergency meetings as requested by individuals in need. Established a new support group in Cherry Hill, at the request of staff & parents at Cherry Hill Elementary-Middle.
2018 Won landmark rental licensing regulation for 1-2 unit dwellings in Baltimore City homes.
2019 Won statewide minimum wage for nearly 600,000 workers who will see steady increases from $10.10 today to $15 by 2025.
2019-2023 We successfully re-framed the conversation about the Baltimore Budget process. While our voter initiative did not get on the ballot, city council members are looking into putting a charter amendment on the ballot modeled after our legislation. The new charter amendment giving the council power to direct spending goes into effect in 2022 (re Budget for FY23).
2020 COVID-19 revised our plans in the MD General Assembly. We shifted to mutual support in our communities, distributing food & having coffee in McCulloh & Gilmor Homes, holding a Holiday Free Market in Penn-North, and moving our organizing into virtual space. Participated with 1000s of other Baltimoreans in one of the largest, most peaceful rallies following youth leaders. Introduced #Defund2Refund to describe our fight to right-size the Baltimore Police budget.
2021 With other Baltimore organizations, relaunched Baltimore Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS) table to fight for the schools our children deserve.
2021 COVID vaccine outreach resulted in vaccinations in Sandtown-Winchester neighborhood.
2022 Introduced a bill into the Maryland State Legislature to decriminalize small quantities of drugs as our continued fight to end the War on Drugs
2022 Passed legislation granting the right to council before eviction for tenants in BOTH Baltimore City and the State of Maryland! We're still fighting to see it implemented.