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Chris Ryer

“We …have lots of evidence that diversity leads to economic well-being and economic health.”

I’m Chris Ryer. I’m the director of the Southeast Community Development Corporation, which was created 40 years ago by a group of community organizations in Southeast Baltimore to do real estate development where the private market wasn’t able to — Highlandtown was created as a suburban tract home development.

It was created a hundred years ago by developers that built long rows of brick row houses and sold them to young families that worked in the adjacent industrial area. This is one of three arts districts in the city of Baltimore, one of 20, I think, in the state of Maryland.

We use the arts events or what have you as a way to bring different kinds of people together and have some fun and build some relationships in the neighborhood. Some of these, certainly not all and maybe not even most, but some of these refugees are coming from very traumatic situations.

If you can imagine somebody landing at BWI that just left Syria — you can imagine from what you read in the newspaper what that person or household has been through in the last two years. We’re trying to create a really positive environment to help people who’ve basically lost everything re-establish themselves as American citizens.

The IRC had a really great impact on this commercial district. First of all, there’s sort of local color. Two of their client countries are from Africa. Of those, one of them is a rural country. There’s also a rural country in Asia, Bhutan, which is next to Nepal.

These folks are arriving from a rural situation after a 12-hour flight or whatever, and they often are wearing their traditional clothing that they were wearing in this rural environment halfway across the world. On a Monday morning, they’re walking down Eastern Avenue.

That’s a great local color. We are a community development corporation. Economic health is important to us. Diversity is important to us, both because we think it’s a total for economic health and because it’s something we believe in.

As an American, that’s part of our heritage. We also have lots of evidence that diversity leads to economic well-being and economic health. It leads to greater investment is what I should say. We measure our success, I would say, in two basic ways.

One is we measure it economically. We look at real estate prices. We look at business success. We look at vacancy rates on the avenue. We might look at average days on the market in the residential area, all kinds of indicators that are real estate grounded.