The West Baltimore community where Freddie Gray was killed while in police custody, known broadly as Penn-North, was a thriving entertainment community—the most active in Baltimore until the 1968 uprising following the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King. Since then the area has struggled to hold and attract residents and businesses. It has seemed nearly impossible to build community wealth.
In 2021 two economists, Donald Harris (father of Kamala Harris) and Gladstone Hutchinson came to an event to meet with residents at the Arch Social Club, the oldest African American men’s club in the US. The event was put together by cultural organizer Denise Griffin, who Lee had been working since before Gray’s death, to document and stories of neighborhood residents and their concerns. Drs. Harris and Hutchinson had developed a new economic development model that begins with cultural organizing and activity as a way to establish strong and transparent networks, which they believe builds trust capital, upon which social capital can then be developed in a community. Social capital brings the capacity to build wealth of by and for the community without depending on external investments that are always promised, never come, and reduce the self-efficacy of the community.