by Larysa Salamacha, ICJS Justice Leaders Fellow

Imagining Justice in Baltimore (IJB) fellow colleague, Michael Hunt wrote in his blog post “Humility says — I don’t know what to do. I don’t understand it all. But I am going to show up and be present in a relationship with you…I can’t be all that I can be without you”. Michael’s words resonate for me, and the 2018 IJB fellowship has provided a supportive environment for me to examine closely why I identify myself as an advocate. What do I advocate? For whom do I advocate? Do I advocate for justice? Do I know what justice is?

Reevaluating my motives, peeling back my assumptions about justice, examining my lens of injustice, racism, entitlement, and privilege — I must acknowledge the lack of awareness of my biases. Paraphrasing Michael Kearney in “The Nest in the Stream”, I must recognize “…encrusted and encrusting way of being and seeing and acting.”I must commit to ongoing discernment to recognize these biases in moments of decision making. I understand I must be vigilant to injustice in my own voice and actions as well as the religious voices and actions in the public square. To be true to myself, I do not feel comfortable about quoting Bible verses, or making theological references or invoking a traditional religious framework in order to act or speak for justice. All I know right now is to show up and be present in a relationship with and for whomever I advocate. Each day is an opportunity for me to say — I want to understand. I am listening. Talk to me. Teach me. Help me understand. This is my religious voice but a voice, a voice that has matured since I joined the IJB cohort.

I work at the Baltimore Development Corporation. My world of economic development involves retaining, growing and attracting business, facilitating real estate development and supporting different partners’ efforts which underpin Baltimore City’s economic growth. Each of these components involves individuals, businesses and institutions which in many cases may be engaging in biased behavior and are unaware of their biases’ effect on their actions and decision making. A June 2018 publication called “Collectively We Rise: The Business Case for Economic Inclusion in Baltimore” published by the Baltimore Integration Partnership presents a strategy to address the patterns of discrimination and disinvestment in Baltimore. It is an invitation to the entire community of businesses, anchor institutions, government agencies, neighborhood organizations, and civic leaders to promote economic inclusion by opening up pathways to opportunities, economic advancement, and justice in Baltimore. The document argues that understanding implicit bias is an opportunity for our community to take a step towards equity. Building on a foundation of intentional economic inclusion, community and capacity building, and transparency, equitable development is one way to imagine and advocate for justice in Baltimore. Intentional economic inclusion and equity are necessary for a just society.

In my previous blog, I asked where were the law enforcement voices discussing justice or injustice within the context of their daily jobs and personal religious traditions. I asked if we perpetuate the separation of these voices from the meaningful dialogue by identifying them as ‘the other’, reinforcing bias and exclusion. I do not know if IJB or anyone has intentionally sought to include law enforcement voices in a conversation about injustice within the context of their personal religious traditions but difficult conversations around race, discrimination and policing must include all voices for us to travel the painful road from chaos and brokenness to healing and wholeness.

So I return to my initial questions and ask them within the context of economic inclusion — What do I advocate? For whom do I advocate? Do I advocate for justice? Do I know what justice is? While I don’t intentionally wear my religious hat while at work, I call on my religious voice to advocate for economic justice on a daily basis. I listen with heightened discernment when employers speak about their challenges in running their businesses and look for opportunities to intentionally identify resources which can lead to economic inclusion. To encourage involvement in providing jobs for youth in summer employment programs or job interview opportunities for candidates trained by local neighborhood nonprofit organizations is proactive inclusion. To invite companies to utilize local businesses when procuring goods and services builds inclusion into Baltimore’s economy. Educating one employer at a time is advocacy for justice.

Economic inclusion may require examining public sector business assistance tools to determine if they enable access to equity or create economic inclusion barriers for local businesses. A commitment to identify biases in the design of business assistance resources and remove the barriers is a step towards creating a business incentive toolbox sharp enough to reshape inequity in our disinvested communities.

To show up and be present as an advocate for equity each and every day is my challenge.

Thank you IJB fellows. Thank you ICJS.

Larysa Salamacha is Managing Director of Strategy, Research, and Analytics at the Baltimore Development Corporation, and a  member of the 2018 ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship.

Baltimore is part of a national conversation around questions of justice, race, and community. Members of the ICJS Justice Leaders Fellowship consider how Jewish, Christian, and Muslim teachings and practice can contribute to the public conversation about (in)justice. Opinions expressed in this blog are solely the author’s. ICJS welcomes a diversity of opinions and perspectives. We do not seek a single definition of justice between or within traditions.