This Community Organizer Is Helping Baltimore Residents Find Their Voice At The Polls

The 12th Annual No Boundaries Coalition Block Party recently kicked off in West Baltimore with dynamic energy and wide range of offerings. The Baltimore Twighlighters Marching Band set the mood and residents were able to access all kinds of community resources, from bike repair to jobs opportunities to healthy food.

Behind much of this activity was the quiet determination and brilliance of a remarkable leader, Ashiah Parker. Ashiah took over as Executive Director of No Boundaries Coalition this year after four years in a variety of different roles throughout the organization. A longtime resident of Sandtown-Winchester, Ashiah first got involved with No Boundaries Coalition at a community meeting in 2015 when the neighborhood was working through the implications of the unrest and global spotlight that followed the death of Freddie Gray in the custody of Baltimore City Police. She liked how No Boundaries was “action oriented” and understood that a lack of power and representation was at the core of the many disparate challenges facing the community.

With a background running local political campaigns, Ashiah deeply understood the ways in which the neighborhood’s historically low voting rate limited residents’ ability to change the conditions on the ground. She got involved with the Get Out The Vote Committee in 2016, which set an ambitious goal to “Double Up 21217,” meaning double up voter participation in Central West Baltimore. To launch the initiative during early voting, a pastor went up on the roof of his church and said he wouldn’t come down until they reached the goal of doubling turnout. Residents ended up tripling it in the primary. In the general, turnout quadrupled from the previous election. Ashiah remembers the moment they hit the turnout goal in 2016 as “the happiest moment” she’s had in her time with No Boundaries Coalition.

In 2018, Ashiah helped No Boundaries Coalition grow its Get Out the Vote Program by building a strong partnership with Baltimore Votes and Vote Together. They added parties at the polls to a robust effort that already included rides to the polls, extensive door knocking, and local media. For the 2018 primary in June 2018, they made sure to schedule the annual block party during early voting and then provided rides all day to help residents vote early. And in the general election in November 2018, they held a family fun fest during early voting with a moonbounce and facepainting and Halloween arts and crafts to bring in young parents and a voter appreciation event on election day to ensure every voter in 21217 felt valued as part of the democratic process.

Under Ashiah’s leadership, No Boundaries Coalition is setting an incredible example of how to embed voter engagement within a broader commitment to place and community. It is so much easier to break through the sense that many residents have that “my vote doesn’t matter” when the organization doing the voter mobilization is also working on the Baltimore police consent decree, providing healthy food through a regular pop up fresh food market, and engaging youth through a youth civic education and organizing program the way No Boundaries Coalition. It’s easier for residents to believe that voting might make a difference when they see the people asking them to vote making a tangible difference in the community every single day. And by staying committed to doing voter engagement in the same community election after election after election, Ashiah is helping No Boundaries Coalition create a more dynamic culture of civic participation and engagement in Central West Baltimore.

Going forward, Ashiah is looking to grow the No Boundaries Coalition civic engagement program through campaigns to encourage participation in the census and the 2020 elections. What started as just a block party 12 years ago has become a wraparound effort dedicated to building the voice and power of the residents of Central West Baltimore. By making such a strong and sustained commitment to participation to the full participation of residents in a particular community, Ashiah and her team are able to break through where many other efforts falter. That doesn’t just make that community stronger, it also helps our nation live up to the ideal of an inclusive democracy that doesn’t leave anyone out.

[“source=forbes”]