Justin Orlando Fair, 31, is a graduate student at Morgan State University in pursuit of his masters in city and regional planning. He also leads Beth Am’s BAYITT group for 20-30 year olds. Just recently, he was invited to join the Associated’s Baltimore Partnerships Commission. There, he looks at systemic racial injustice and structural injustices throughout city, and asks the Associated to develop coalition and capstone projects for community engagement. Beth Am referred him to the commission because he works in development and community organization.
Originally from Baltimore, Fair is eager to reconnect to the city with his husband, Oni. They found the best way to do that was through BAYITT (Beth Am’s Young Adult Initiative for 20s & 30s). BAYITT is a group of young Jewish adults. They hold religious, social, volunteer, and educational programs. Joining is free and encouraged.
How did you first join Beth Am?
I had a friend refer me. I went through my undergrad and was commuting — I wasn’t really satisfied with the synagogues there. I now live on the county city line. He said, hey, there’s this terrific, multicultural, diverse synagogue. It has a Conservative shul, tourist events, and more.
The first time I went with my husband […] I was mesmerized. Normally you don’t see people of color, people like you, kids running around. We loved the building, the neighborhood, the growing congregation.
What do you want to do with your degree?
I work in nonprofit community development, and now with state housing and community development. It has shown me a lot of different applications. My background is in art, which got me into that, and I also have a bachelor’s in theater, which moved me to urban planning. You can’t design a street if you don’t know the needs and ways people get around. Art can reach so many people in different places. When I go through a neighborhood, I say what’s the scene like, who lives here, what’s the personality of the street. I did charcoal, sculpture, and painting, and then I realized in my final year there was an art district just down the street. From that I applied to an internship with an art gallery, which led me to community drivers. From there just wheeled the wagon.
When I moved back to Baltimore, I wanted to go to an HBCU and get a degree in urban planning. It’s a mix of physical environment meets people and community goals. Just like a painting, you can wing it but without limits you may not go anywhere.
I want to remain in community development for the foreseeable future because I have an eye for design. I focus on urban design, planning, creating maps, and looking at income analytics.
How significant is your religion as a role in daily life?
I was raised Conservative, and my family is inter-religious. My brothers and I were all bar mitzvahed and actively Jewish.
[After moving here] I realized that too few of my friends were still in Baltimore, so I turned to BAYITT for meeting people, for Shabbat dinners, going to movie night, trivia — ways for me to develop an extended family that let me and my husband to meet other Jews.
To be religious is to not just fear G-d, but love G-d. Every interaction I get to make through BAYITT, I am thankful for. It marries that interest of being an active person and exposing yourself to wonderful opportunities.