COLLEGE PARK, Md. — A last-minute change to a Maryland county’s redistricting map is throwing a wrench into a restorative justice process, which aims to compensate a once-thriving Black community destroyed by urban renewal.
Maxine Gross, chair of the Lakeland Community Heritage Project, which is preserving the town’s legacy, said the community in Prince George’s County’s College Park was mostly bulldozed in 1975 during a federal urban renewal project.
She explained a truth and reconciliation process for the town began last year after racial protests following George Floyd’s killing, which involved educating her district and its county representatives on Lakeland’s past, and pointed out the amended redistricting map means Lakeland will be in a new district with a new representative unfamiliar with Lakeland’s history and current work.
“These new people won’t know that story,” Gross contended. “They won’t care about the fact that we’re working now to bring about restorative justice. So to change the makeup of the people who are our fellow voters and who are our leaders just puts us back.”
A public hearing will be held Nov. 16 to get community feedback on the proposed map. The council will then decide to either accept the alternative map or move forward without changes.
Gross thinks Lakeland’s voice will be diluted in the new district, which includes much more populous areas such as Beltsville, with different priorities. She emphasized if the amended map goes through, she will have to start all over again with the restorative-justice process to gain a new council member’s ear.
“Now that we have gained some traction in that, rather than a particular leader that is concerned with Lakeland, we would have more than one individual where Lakeland would only be a very small portion of their concern,” Gross worried.
She added Lakeland would join a handful of other small cities, such as Asheville, North Carolina, in seeking restorative justice for urban renewal projects. More than 300,000 families across the nation were displaced by urban renewal between 1955 and 1966, the majority of them people of color, according to the University of Richmond’s Digital Scholarship Lab.