An estimated 8,500 young people ages 16 to 24 in Baltimore, including nearly 16% of all Black residents in this age group, were neither working nor in school, according to an estimate by Baltimore’s Promise based on 2022 U.S. Census data. Too many of these young people are at risk of instability as they transition into adulthood.

These are our kids, our family and friends.

Public conversations about this age group focus too often on crime and violence. It is time for Baltimore to shift that conversation to investment and preventive action instead of reactionary interventions.

The Baltimore’s Promise 2023 Baltimore City Youth Opportunities Landscape found that more than twice the number of opportunities for elementary school-age children than for those ages 19 to 24 — an improvement from our 2019 report but still leaving a gap we must close. Many of these programs take place in summer, leaving an acute shortage of opportunities for older youths to grow, learn and explore during the rest of the year.

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Why such a shortage? It’s not that no programs exist for older youths, but we have found through fund mapping with the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Maryland Philanthropy Network that funding flowing into older youth programs drops significantly from those for younger children. We must invest in our future.

At Baltimore’s Promise, we prioritize doing more to support older youths locally. That’s why we created the Youth Grantmakers initiative, in which young people decide how to allocate grants to community-based service providers.

This month, though, they are making an impossible choice. They have received $3.3 million in viable requests but only have $500,000 to allocate. Our Summer Funding Collaborative, too, will leave $10 million in grant requests, equating to thousands of missed opportunities, unfulfilled this year.

The solutions we seek as a city to create the safe, whole and wonderful spaces our city’s youths need and deserve are here in our communities, ready for our investment. Our city’s children are worthy of that investment — and our trust — especially as they enter adulthood.

But Baltimore’s Promise cannot do it alone.

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We need businesses to step up not only as funders but as mentors. These are your future employees and colleagues and partners.

We need funders to recognize that providing programs for small children and then leaving them without transitionary services as they head into adulthood doesn’t save money, it wastes it.

And we hope the General Assembly, too, will recognize this need and make new investments in programs for older youths.

There has been progress.

Gov. Wes Moore created the Governor’s Office of Children, smartly focused on economic mobility and creating new pathways for our older youth. Maryland lawmakers are considering the ENOUGH Act (SB 482 and HB 694), which would establish a $15 million state fund to support a wide range of programs. These include programs for young people, and the funding targets communities that have never seen the programmatic investments they deserve.

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It will also help build better strategies informed and led by communities, something that Baltimore’s Promise has proven can work: The people who are impacted by these inequities are also the closest to the solutions.

Along with these targeted steps, local and state leaders should do more to meet young people’s basic needs. For example, in our work, we often see young people who are on great paths through training programs or college but lack safe and reliable housing.

What is a college student experiencing homelessness supposed to do when they cannot stay in their dorm over break and during the holidays? How can we expect a teenager to attend high school every day when they are sleeping in a shelter without access to a reliable bus?

Baltimore’s Promise and others in the city can support some young people in obtaining emergency aid. We have rented hotel rooms, provided grocery cards and found affordable child care. But these are bandages, not a cure, and post-pandemic, the need is greater than we can imagine.

Young people in Baltimore have the talent and determination to do great things, but they can’t do it alone. Far too often, we fail them with inadequate support and enrichment services. The data paints a picture of what’s missing. Let’s work together to provide our young people with a future of possibility. We can all act today from wherever you reside in Baltimore. You can contribute to Baltimore’s success now.

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Julia Baez is CEO of Baltimore’s Promise. The organization is a citywide collaborative of public, business, higher education, nonprofit, community and philanthropic leaders working on behalf of Baltimore’s young people and their families.

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