Over the past few months Reuters’ photographer Stephanie Keith has been documenting some of the residents working for change in Baltimore, USA.

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STEPHANIE KEITH/Reuters

The city has been under the spotlight following a number of tweets by President Donald Trump, who referred to Representative Elijah Cummings’ congressional district, as a “disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess.”

Baltimore, a city of approximately 625,000 people known for its scenic harbour and historic neighbourhoods as well as its urban woes, is located about 40 miles (65 km) north of Washington DC.

While many in Baltimore have criticised Mr Trump’s language – he also tweeted that “no human being would want to live there” – some residents have acknowledged not only the city’s crime problems, but also that its political leaders have failed to take enough action.

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Baltimore resident Blondina Bean had mixed feelings about the President’s tweets. Ms Bean, whose 19-year-old son George Phillips was killed in a robbery attempt last year in Baltimore, said she was torn because she felt he was right about the city’s high crime rate, but wrong to use what she called “racist language”.

“I agree with what he said, unfortunately,” says Ms Bean. “We should totally be in a state of emergency. I don’t agree with his delivery. I look at him and think, ‘Wow, do I really want this message from him?’ Because his character has shown who he is.”

For many in Baltimore, Mr Trump’s remarks added to the damage those episodes had caused to the city’s image. That has both unsettled and animated community activists who are dedicated to improving life in the city.

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Brion Gill is a member of young Baltimore activists “Leaders of A Beautiful Struggle” – a grassroots public policy advocacy group founded a decade ago.

“Communities like Pennsylvania Avenue have been neglected in many ways economically and socially,” says Ms Gill.

“We’re trying to change that with places to enjoy the arts, dine, bring in jobs and tourism. It will be a model for change,”

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Francina Townes is an 18-year-old entrepreneur and high school graduate, who had a rough upbringing in West Baltimore.

She says she grew up seeing other young people get pregnant or go to jail, and was determined to find an alternative.

Two years ago, she launched her own home business applying false eyelashes, and steadily built a loyal clientele. She now rents space in a salon and wants to own her own shop one day.

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“One thing about Baltimore, we can talk about ourselves, but if somebody from outside comes in and tries to do something, we stick together,” says Ms Townes.

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Derrick Chase from an organisation called Stand Up Baltimore speaks with teenagers at a YouthWorks site in the Curtis Bay area of Baltimore, YouthWorks is a summer programme offering employment and mentoring to teenagers.

According to the Mayor’s Office of Employment and Development: “More than 8,300 Baltimore City youth and young adults have been offered YouthWorks summer jobs for 2019, with 700 employers at more than 900 different worksites.”

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Edwin Avent participates with students in a learning exercise at a summer session of Baltimore Collegiate School for Boys.

Mr Avent co-founded Black Professional Men Inc. in 1991 to try to lift up African-American men, offering lessons in topics from financial literacy to rap music.

Black Professional Men Inc. has mentored 3,000 boys and awarded 225 college scholarships, using education and positive reinforcement to divert young men away from gangs, drugs and guns.

“What we’re doing is building black boys into the next generation of doctors, lawyers, scientists and leaders, maybe even the next Barack Obama,” says Mr Avent.

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Young people ride their bikes outside the parking lot of a HipHop Fish and Chicken fast food restaurant. Every Sunday they gather to ride and hang out in a loosely affiliated group of bikers.

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A woman cares for a friend’s child during an event called Feed the City, which provides free food, mainly for the homeless, one day a month. The initiative was started and funded by local hip-hop and R&B artist, Charm City Cee.

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People dance in the street while holding signs that read “Ceasefire”. Ceasefire is an organization which stages events to draw attention to the gun violence in Baltimore.

All pictures Stephanie Keith / Reuters



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