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Harris Jones & Malone: Spotlight on Delegate Bilal Ali

Delegate Bilal Ali, Member of the House Ways & Means Committee (Photo: mgaleg.maryland.gov)

The 437th legislative session of the Maryland General Assembly saw an unusual amount of turnover in its first few weeks. As legislators moved from the House of Delegates to the Senate, resigned from elected office, or pursued ventures outside of the General Assembly, a host of invigorated newcomers began their legislative careers. Among the new legislators was Delegate Bilal Ali, a longtime community organizer and advocate from Baltimore City. Although new to the General Assembly, Delegate Ali has an impressive résumé with deep roots in community service. When I sat down with Delegate Ali, I learned about his community oriented background and how he plans to adjust to his first session in the Maryland General Assembly.

Delegate Bilal Ali was raised in a single parent home in Baltimore City. Growing up in West Baltimore, Delegate Ali acknowledges that he made many poor choices in his youth, including dropping out of high school. However, despite the adversity he faced in his formative years, Delegate Ali was able to rebound and learn from the mistakes he made early on. With a desire to improve his quality of life and serve others in any capacity he could, Delegate Ali returned to school to earn his GED. Finally eligible to attend a college or university, Delegate Ali first enrolled in Essex Community College where he earned his Associate’s degree. He would go on to earn his Bachelor’s degree in Psychology at the University of Baltimore and a Master’s in Psychology from Coppin State University, with a concentration on alcohol and substance abuse issues. Currently, Delegate Ali is waiting to take his licensed clinical professional counselor exam and in July will be the recipient of an honorary doctorate degree for his community and advocacy work. Speaking of how he’s been able to turn around his life, Delegate Ali recalls, “I’ve had some challenges coming up but it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish.”  Today, Delegate Ali is well respected as a community advocate and for his work with underserved populations in Baltimore.

Despite being new to political office, Delegate Ali’s background is rooted in grassroots community and constituent service. Almost fourteen years ago, Delegate Ali began taking an active role in his community with the hope of improving the lives of citizens around him. In his near decade and a half of community organizing, Delegate Ali has been responsible for leading initiatives focused on improving the lives of the less fortunate throughout Baltimore. In particular, Delegate Ali has committed himself to serving Baltimore’s youth. Observing the devastation of crime, abandoned housing and how these issues affected young people in his community, Delegate Ali sought to provide children an option to engage in extracurricular and recreational activities. To that end, Delegate Ali spearheaded an effort to establish a park to the corner of West Baltimore Street and Warwick Ave. Additionally, Delegate Ali holds an annual back to school drive for children who otherwise would be unable to afford school supplies. Leveraging his growing relationships with businesses and community stakeholders, Delegate Ali holds the annual drive in the same park he once helped develop. As someone who grew up in the area, Delegate Ali recognizes the importance of returning to his community to demonstrate to children that they can achieve success regardless of their economic status.

Another notable accomplishment of the Delegate is his substantial amount of work with the homeless population in Baltimore. With the assistance of “Angels helping Angels”, a Baltimore City nonprofit organization, Delegate Ali holds an annual Thanksgiving dinner drive for homeless individuals throughout the City. Thanks to Delegate Ali and the founder of Angels helping Angels, Curtis Black, the Thanksgiving drive feeds between two hundred and four hundred people annually. While the Thanksgiving dinner draws people to the event, the drive also endeavors to connect the homeless with the support systems they need to improve their quality of life. To the delight of Delegate Ali, many of the individuals who were once on the receiving end of the free Thanksgiving meals have returned as volunteers- rehabilitated, successful, and willing to volunteer their time to ensure the dinner continues. Lastly, Delegate Ali also helps organize an operation dedicated to keeping the homeless population warm during the winter months. Each winter, Delegate Ali buys gloves, hats, scarves, and other apparel to personally distribute to homeless individuals throughout the City. Given Delegate Ali’s exemplary record as a community advocate, he was an obvious choice to replace former Delegate Jill Carter when she vacated her seat to join Baltimore City Mayor Catherine Pugh’s administration. Having served on the Baltimore City Democratic Central Committee for three years, Delegate Ali was selected by his peers to serve as a Delegate representing the 41st district in 2017.

Despite his new role as a member of the General Assembly, Delegate Ali maintains he does not envision himself as a politician. Speaking of his new role, he says, “I never really looked at myself as a politician. I’ve been involved with a lot of political campaigns from Sharon Green Middleton to Marilyn Mosby, but I never saw myself as a politician.” Nonetheless, Delegate Ali fully appreciates the positive impact he can have in his new role and hopes to build upon the work he has accomplished prior to joining the legislature. Having joined the General Assembly mid-session, Delegate Ali plans to grasp a better understanding of how Annapolis works in the remainder of his first term. Given his late arrival, Delegate Ali has not sponsored much legislation, but has co-sponsored legislation that he fundamentally embraces. Of the legislation Delegate Ali has sponsored includes a bill requiring an alcohol establishment in his district to close at an earlier time. Delegate Ali believes that if this legislation passes, many of the illegal activities occurring late at night near the facility will cease.

Although new to public office, Delegate Ali is committed to remaining true to his roots as a community organizer. Describing his plans for the new few weeks, Delegate Ali explained, “I just want to be a good steward. My motto is putting people before politics. I don’t really look at myself as a pure politician, although I’m in a political position. I still have principles that I’m not going to negotiate.” Delegate Ali realizes that the success he has achieved after a rocky start to his life has helped him become the public servant he is today. Discussing his early life choices, Delegate Ali stated, “I look at this stage of my life and it’s about service. I didn’t get here by my own wits. I understand I’m sitting on the shoulders of other people who have paved the way for me. I just want to be remembered as a person who has some integrity, willing to go out on the limb to get the low hanging fruit, and principle-oriented.” Regardless of what Delegate Ali is able to accomplish as a legislator in the Maryland General Assembly, the impact he has had in his community is unquestionable. Though he faces an obvious learning curve and adjustment period, we expect Delegate Ali’s commitment to public service to follow him as he emerges as a leader amongst his peers in the Maryland General Assembly.

By:  Kenneth N. Harris, Jr.

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