The Inner Harbor Project
Baltimore native Celia Neustadt was an urban sociology major at Pomona College near Los Angeles when a thesis project on participatory action research gave her the determination to return to her home city and work as a bridge to break down segregation.
“I grew up in the city and had the unique privilege to grow up in both Baltimores,” said Neustadt, the 26-year old executive director of The Inner Harbor Project. “I embraced the city as a young white girl exposed to these divisions, and this is my attempt to have people walk a mile in other people’s shoes and break down those stereotypes.”
The result is the Inner Harbor Project, a nonprofit the Pomona College and Baltimore City College graduate started at age 22 as a youth-led initiative. The Inner Harbor Project employs 40 youngsters year-round who meet every day after school. The students are sent as ambassadors to the Harbor (wearing blue T-shirts) to promote the group’s message of respect. They hold trainings with Baltimore City Police Department officers and work with police to intervene in some juvenile cases. The group also issues a Harbor Card — offering discounts at area merchants — to incentivize positive behavior among youths who hang out at the harbor.
“I think it took me time to find where my role was — I’m in between communities,” she said. “My role is not to be at the front of the crowd, but to be between two groups and help them navigate that space, and that’s a really comfortable place for me to be in.”
Neustadt said that her parents joke that her first words were “that’s not fair.” Social justice and Baltimore are her driving passions, and she hopes to expand her project to other cities in the future.
“I want Baltimore to be a model for social change,” she said. “I want to see Baltimore at the forefront.”