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Baltimore CityLab 2017: Youth Perspective

 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Joelle Faison is a youth producer at Wide Angle Youth Media.
She goes to Bard High School Early College and
aspires to be a Filmmaker in the future.  
 
 

I was fortunate enough to attend the CityLab on August 2, 2017 at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theater.,  As I listened to a lot of panel discussions, I also took pictures. The event explored key issues and opportunities that impact cities like Baltimore. The event was organized by The Aspen Institute, Atlantic Live, and Bloomberg Philanthropies and I felt this event was successful and insightful.

Walking into the Parkway theater where the event was held, I sort of felt out of place because everyone there looked like important people. They were wearing suits and were grouped up talking about smart complex topics while laughing and eating homemade potato chips. While there I am, holding a camera bag and wearing an outfit I borrowed from my mom. Besides all that it was still a pretty tight set up and it felt like a privilege to be around so many important people like the Annie E. Casey Foundation and Open Society Institute-Baltimore who were the Underwriters for the evening . I liked each panel a lot and each were important topics to talk about, like the vacant housing problem also known as Blight, and how one city came together to create an art installation called #BrightLights to raise awareness on the issue.

But the panel that stuck out to me was Battling Opioids: Lessons from the Front Lines with Nicole Alexander-Scott, Michael Botticelli, Josh Scharstein, and Leana Wen . What I really enjoyed about this panel was when they said that we need to start looking at substance abuse as a disease, not a crime. Instead of being in jail for it, how about we focus on getting help for people with drug addictions. I can relate because I have a family member who is recovering from substance abuse. Luckily they checked into rehab, underwent a treatment program, and did not have to go to jail. I don’t know how my life would be if they got jail time for using drugs. They are so important to my life, and if they were in jail I would probably be a different person.

Another thing they talked about was the stigma around labels and words used towards people who abuse drugs. Words like “drug addict” or “junkie and being “dirty” because you are using  drugs. These words of course have a negative impact on the person. It can lead to discrimination against people that do drugs, and treats them like  untouchables instead of people who need treatment and support. I asked some of the attendees of the event and asked them what they would prefer to call someone that used drugs that was a bit more positive. “Human being” was the answer they gave me also saying that there doesn’t need to be labels put on people.

Scot Spencer, Associate Director of Advocacy and Influence at the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said something that stuck with me after the event:

“We tend to use words that demonize rather than humanize, and demonizing is just as effective in certain ways public policy strategy for punitive actions and humanizing can be for supportive actions supportive policies…”

The way I understood it was that we use words to demonize drug users, so it’s easier to put these people in jail because no one is really going to think twice about it. But if we as a society used more terms to make these people look human then we would have less people in jail and more people getting treatment.