About the “Baltimore Divided: How Historically Neglected Neighborhoods are Rising Up” series: Capital News Service journalists sought to understand how wealth inequality was changing in Baltimore after the last census. They compared neighborhood-by-neighborhood income data and then set out to speak to residents about the changes they were experiencing. These stories were produced by the Urban Affairs Reporting class at the Philip Merrill College of Journalism at the University of Maryland.
When Nneka N’namdi, 45, saw children playing near a dangerous demolition site in her neighborhood, she knew it was time to act.
“So I started researching, like, what is safe demolition?” N’namdi said. “Then it became, ‘Why are these being demolished?’ That became, ‘Why do we have so much vacancy in Baltimore? Like how did we get here?’ "
She took this knowledge and founded Fight Blight Bmore in 2016, a group that is working to help reduce inequality throughout her neighborhood and Baltimore in general. N’namdi, who holds a bachelor’s degree in information sciences from Morgan State University, has a broad skill set to tackle such a project. She describes herself as a Baltimore-based entrepreneur who engages in community wellness work. She has a real estate license, and worked as a software developer and engineer for several different companies. She is also a dancer.
Karim Amin is one of N’namdi’s co-workers who has known her for about four years and has worked with her on various projects. He said N’namdi’s passion is part of what makes her and her work stand out.
“One of her best qualities is really saying things how they are,” Amin said. “She is very authentic. She is also data-driven, so anything she talks about she can back up with data and words. Literally, every time she offers a workshop I learn more from her.”
N’nmadi now lives in Upton with her two sons. Fight Blight Bmore helps residents identify, report and track blight, defined as when properties become vacant or abandoned. Residents can get involved in organized events and take surveys to help spread awareness about blighted communities in the city.
“But [blight] destroys community continuity. Imagine being the only person living on a block,” N’namdi said, “everything else is vacant and falling down — what that does to somebody’s spirit.”
N’namdi is one of many local organizers trying to improve Baltimore from the ground up. Another is Lamontre Randall, a 29-year-old activist, entrepreneur and the neighborhood strategy manager for Innovation Works Baltimore. As a lifelong resident of the city, Randall’s mission is to improve low-income communities in Baltimore through his work.
At Innovation Works, Randall has many different responsibilities. As neighborhood strategy manager, his main goal is to ensure the company helps support, amplify and connect Baltimore’s most economically disadvantaged neighborhoods with the proper tools and resources. Innovation Works offers several different programs to help uplift these communities.
“Pretty much we help support social entrepreneurs,” Randall said. “We believe in community impact first. And we specifically believe that if we focus on social entrepreneurs and community impact, not only do we help entrepreneurs create businesses, but they also help with creating jobs.
“My main thing is just really figuring out different ways to come up with solutions,” Randall continued. “And so that’s why it was important for me to get that business background, because the business background is really what helps drive me to recognize the next leader within a community.”
Jay Nwachu, president and CEO of Innovation Works, appreciates Randall’s authenticity.
“Lamontre is the person on our staff who has the closest lived experience to the challenges that we’re solving in Baltimore,” Nwachu said. “What I love about Lamontre and how he approaches his work is that he shows up unapologetically. He has a deep sense of who he is as a person and his own life experiences.”