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The newspaper of The Johns Hopkins University December 10, 2007 | Vol. 37 No. 14
Johns Hopkins and Faith-Community Leaders Address East Baltimore Issues

By Greg Rienzi
The Gazette

The East Baltimore community contains more than 250 churches and faith centers whose congregations number some 150,000 strong. Individually, these houses of worship can have a profound impact on people and the community. Collectively, they can effect significant change.

Realizing this, leaders from the East Baltimore faith community came together in the mid-1990s to form CURE, Clergy United for Renewal in East Baltimore, an organization focused on access to better health services for area residents.

This spring, the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute partnered with CURE to create a series of forums to bring together leadership from Johns Hopkins and the faith community to share perspectives, concerns and ideas for improved collaboration. The first forum addressed broad issues, and the second, held two weeks ago, focused on youth-violence prevention and improving access to health care.

Robert Blum, director of the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute, said that these forums were initiated to enhance communication between the faith community, community-based organizations and the leadership of Johns Hopkins institutions.

"The faith leaders have historically been the glue for the East Baltimore community," Blum said. "Close collaboration and coordination is critical between Hopkins and the faith community for our community's success."

The first CURE/UHI community dialogue was held in May at the Garden of Prayer Baptist Church. The event featured a panel of leaders from both the faith community and Johns Hopkins, including the pastors of five of the area's largest ministries; Edward D. Miller, dean of the medical faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine; Michael Klag, dean of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health; Martha Hill, dean of the School of Nursing; Ron Peterson, president of the Johns Hopkins Health System; and Jack Shannon, CEO of East Baltimore Development Inc.

The panel discussed ways to re-establish and strengthen ties between Johns Hopkins' East Baltimore campus and the surrounding communities and to identify areas for future collaborations. During the forum, pastors identified a variety of health issues that concerned their congregations, including chronic conditions like hypertension and diabetes. They also discussed issues related to adolescents, such as violence prevention and HIV and STD awareness and treatment.

The relocation of East Baltimore residents, employment opportunities and workforce development were also discussed.

The second and most recent community dialogue took place on Nov. 27 in Feinstone Hall at the School of Public Health. The panel included Miller, Klag, Hill, Peterson and the Rev. Harlie Wilson, pastor of the Israel Baptist Church, and the Rev. Marshall Prentice, pastor of the Zion Baptist Church. Blum moderated the forum, which drew more than 70 participants from both the Johns Hopkins and East Baltimore communities.

The panel members discussed several innovative youth violence prevention initiatives in which JHU is currently involved, such as the God and Gang Clergy Summit, which was organized by CURE, the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, the Family League of Baltimore City and the Mayor's Office. The summit, held June 15 at the Israel Baptist Church, drew more than 100 people and focused on the role of the clergy in "restoring hope and resurrecting morality in Baltimore."

Efforts discussed at the November forum included Operation Safe Streets, which involves community mobilization and the hiring of ex-offenders to engage youth and others involved in violence, and the new School of Public Health book Hands Off: Strategies to Combat Youth Violence, written by Sara Hassan, program coordinator for the Johns Hopkins Center for the Prevention of Youth Violence, and LaMarr Darnell Shields, co-founder and president of Urban Leadership Institute. The aim of Hands Off is to educate students, teachers and parents about youth violence, its consequences and preventive interventions.

Blum said that the forums have been tremendously positive and that the most important outcome to date is that people are talking and sharing ideas. Since the first faith forum, Blum said, much work has been done on issues related to health care services and a joint Johns Hopkins–CURE planning process on violence prevention.

Collaborating with a number of partners, the Urban Health Institute has jump-started several initiatives to help address the concerns that the faith community identified in the initial forum. With regard to issues impacting access to care, the UHI Community Health Workers program began working with pregnant women through the OB/GYN clinic of the East Baltimore Medical Center, encouraging mothers-to-be to stay in prenatal care, and providing them with both education and emotional support. UHI also has partnered with SOURCE (Student Outreach Resource Center), SPARC (Students for a Positive Academic paRtnership with the East Baltimore Community) and other student groups at Johns Hopkins to begin to explore how to better collaborate with East Baltimore churches for health screenings of parishioners.

In May, Johns Hopkins will host a conference called Violence and the Challenge of Healing in Our Communities, which will examine the topic of violence as a public health problem through theological and social ecology lenses. The conference is being organized by the School of Medicine, the Center for Prevention of Youth Violence, the Johns Hopkins Hospital Department of Pastoral Care and the Institute for Johns Hopkins Nursing.

Blum said that Johns Hopkins plans to host forums every several months. Based on the response from participants at the Nov. 27 event, the next forum will focus on after-school programs and will be held on or near the Homewood campus sometime this winter.

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