Profiles: OSI Community Fellows Work To Make Baltimore a Better Place

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Open Society Institute-Baltimore announced today its 2012 Baltimore Community Fellows. The program is celebrating its fifteenth year supporting social entrepreneurs to improve the city.

Each of the 12 fellows will receive $60,000 to work full-time for 18 months, implementing creative strategies to assist and revitalize underserved communities in Baltimore.  From their proposed projects to their personal stories, the Class of 2012 is extremely diverse.  Fellows include Harold Bailey and Antoine Bennet, both of whom have served significant time in prison for crimes that were quite serious and are now  giving back to the community.  Both of their lives have changed dramatically because of their experiences and they are serving as positive role models to men and boys who come from similar circumstances.  Another fellow, Lauren Goodsmith, is working to establish a network of counseling and therapeutic services to refugees at minimal or no cost. There’s also Chris Merriam, who wants to increase the number of bike riders and advocate for the rights, safety, and equality of Baltimore’s diverse cycling community; Bashi Rose, who is bringing theater and poetry to men in prisons,  and to boys in the community; and a former Maryland Superintendent of Schools who will spend his fellowship working to strengthen the community schools network in Baltimore, and more.

To learn more about all the extraordinary community fellows, read the short descriptions of their programs, below. – The Eds.

Akil Rahim

Many parents might have heard the phrase “You are your child’s first teacher.” But not so many may have heard “Your three-year-old is a scientist.”

Akil Rahim is hoping to change that.

“Children are naturally curious, naturally inquisitive; they are natural scientists,” says Rahim, who has four decades of experience as a teacher and a teacher of teachers. “We come into the world wanting to know why, wanting to know what something is. We have to help parents become a part of not letting that die. We have to teach them not to be afraid of their children’s questions and to build off those questions, recognizing that any moment can be a moment for learning.”

Rahim’s fellowship, The George Washington Carver DISCO STEAM Inventurers Project, has a long name but a fairly simple concept. The idea is to help low-income parents develop and nurture in their pre-school-aged children a lifelong interest in science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM).  Additionally, Rahim would like to see more STEAM-related activities in elementary schools and Head Start programs throughout the city.

“There’s a national emphasis on students who are going into STEAM,” Rahim says. “There’s a big need in the country for people with those skills. But there’s an even  bigger deficit in those areas among African Americans. So the idea is to help parents return to their own lost interest in being inquisitive so they can nurture it in their children.”

For example, Rahim says, on a trip to the grocery store with a small child, a stroll down the produce aisle can be a great time to ask a question, develop a hypothesis and test it out.

“That’s the DISCO part of this: discover, investigate, stimulate and create opportunities,” he says. “We teach parents how to ask the right questions, how to look at a sweet potato and say, ‘What is this? What was it before it looked like what you see now? And what will it become?’ And then take the sweet potato home and get the child involved in cooking it. That’s science.”

Rahim plans to enroll up to 10 parents from 10 Head Start centers each around the city. The parents will participate in monthly trainings on various “inventures”—a combination of inventions and adventures —that they can do at home with minimal or no cost.

They’ll learn to track the changing colors of the leaves, experiment with food coloring in water or practice rudimentary astrology by searching for the moon in the daytime, as examples.

A larger piece of the project will involve training parents to be advocates for STEAM activities throughout their children’s school careers.

“I see this as a way to get the whole process started before the children ever get into the public school system,” Rahim says. “Then, once they get into the system the parents will be advocates for maintaining that kind of education in schools.”

Rahim also wants to be sure that all involved understand that art is equally as important as science, math and technology.

“Einstein said the most important thing about science is not knowledge but imagination,” Rahim says. “Imagination is the art of STEM. It’s the A that goes in between those letters.”

 

Anne Kotleba

The Baltimore United Viewfinders is a youth-led arts leadership initiative teaching young people in East Baltimore to use photography, video and other digital media to address local social justice issues.

For two years, the group has been working with the help of a loose configuration of partners, mainly under the auspices of the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and, in particular, its Community Arts program.

Anne Kotleba wants to use her Community Fellowship to expand and improve the Viewfinders and help it become much more community-owned.

“This fellowship will help to bring all the elements of the program together outside of the university, to grow it as a community group,” says Kotleba, a MICA graduate and lover of politics, art and history.

The Viewfinders already have experienced considerable success. Members have taken more than 8,000 photos and created 12 videos. The group has developed retail products, participated in solo and community group exhibitions and presented at national assemblies.

One recent project was the creation of an electronic book called “Eastside Stories,” which includes original photography and reflections from the middle- and high-school students who meet on Wednesdays and Saturdays to explore how to build their communities through the arts.

“This is for the outsider looking in: we see what you see, we hope this book will change your perception of our community so you will know how things ARE versus how they SEEM,” states one line in the book.

Kotleba says the book and other similar projects help the students who live in underserved neighborhoods in Middle East find their voices and showcase the unsung heroes of their community.

“They wanted to highlight the neighbors, the kids playing, the store owner who lets them come and hang out and not just the negative things like the trash and drug dealers,” she says. “So I think they’re making change by highlighting the positive things and then they bring people together—a wide range of worlds that don’t generally mix—and they talk about it.”

Another photo project ultimately became a permanent exhibition inside Johns Hopkins Hospital.

“There’s always been a tension between the Johns Hopkins Medical Center and the community, especially in terms of redevelopment,” Kotleba says. “But the people who walk by these students’ work every day are doctors, nurses, the president of the hospital and also people who go to the hospital, too, community members. So through the public display of their images, they’re bringing people together.”

Kotleba, who is originally from the Chicago suburbs, has always had an affection for art. But when her father—a talented graphic artist—died of lung cancer while she was in college, Kotleba said she learned to “use art to express her grief.”

After a stint as a wildland firefighter and several years spent rebuilding Gulf Coast communities and painting murals after Hurricane Katrina, she realized art could help entire communities.

Viewfinders is a way to do just that.

“MICA helped plant the seed, in resources and initial funding,” Kotleba says, “but now it’s really going to flourish with community support and leadership.”

 

Antoine Bennett

Antoine Bennett never wanted to go to prison, but as a young man growing up in Sandtown-Winchester, that path became a foregone conclusion.

He was a cut-up in school, bucked authority and ran with a crew of thugs who “inflicted a lot of negativity in our community.”

At 18, in a misplaced show of loyalty and bravado, he shot a man. He ended up spending three-and-a -half years in prison.

“It was my first big trip away from home; the farthest away I’d ever been was Kings Dominion in Virginia. To spend that much time away from home was frightening. I determined I never wanted to do that again, and my goal was to come out much smarter than when I went in.”

Bennett got his GED in prison, read scores of books such as The Autobiography of Malcolm X and felt compelled upon his release to give back to the community he’d once disrespected.

Twenty years later, Bennett now is the brains behind Men of Valuable Action (MOVA), a leadership development program that strives to reduce recidivism among formerly incarcerated men in the community by promoting education, encouraging family stability and offering career development support. The program also serves men who dropped out of high school and fathers in need of assistance.

The idea for his fellowship came to him after working for nearly a decade in a job search assistance program at New Song Community Church.

“It became more and more obvious that the men who were coming back to our community from penal institutions were underserved,” Bennett says. “We had a difficult job placing them, based on the fact that they did have these criminal records and these barriers from having little to no actual work history. It was through that experience that a passion started inside of me to serve these men.”

In addition, Bennett now has a 4-year-old daughter growing up in his beloved Sandtown-Winchester.

“She is a driving force,” Bennett says. “It’s all about having a safe and reliable community for her to grow up in and be nurtured by. And I feel it’s my duty as a father to provide that environment for her.”

The 18-30 men who will participate in MOVA will receive one-on-one and group counseling support from Bennett. He also will impart life and employment skills and direct the men to appropriate service agencies and programs. New Song, which is a partner, will provide mental health services.

Bennett’s program is centered on what he calls the 4 Ss: self, situation, support and strategies.  The men will be taught how to evaluate critically their strengths and their views of themselves, both good and bad. They will honestly assess the situations they’ve found themselves in and learn to be introspective about where they need the most support.

From there, Bennett will walk with the men on a path toward self-sufficiency and wholeness.

“I was incarcerated myself. I came home to the community of Sandtown needing a job, needing some stability, needing a hand-up,” Bennett says, “so I recognize what these men are going through.”

Bennett says he will work tirelessly to help them find housing and jobs, repair relationships with family members and others and, ultimately, see themselves as valuable contributors to Sandtown-Winchester.

“The support group services help the men to see that not only are there other folks in the world going through this, but other men in their own community,” he says. “And all the redemption happens right in the same community where we were so wretched with our actions. So they get to have a better narrative, a new story,[TD1]  right in the same community.”

 

Arthur Morgan

The epiphany hit Arthur Morgan at the Farmers Market one Sunday morning.

Just before noon, when the market was to end, vendors would begin throwing away food they could not sell. Morgan watched as hungry people rummaged through the discarded food, even picking up produce that had fallen on the ground.

“I said, ‘Holy Moly! Look at all this food that is going to waste,’” Morgan said.

So Morgan, himself an urban farmer, devised a way to salvage some of the scraps by collecting the food in bins and transporting it himself by pickup truck to Our Daily Bread, a nonprofit that serves daily meals to people in need, and Shiloh United Church.

Over time he learned from fellow farmers that the market’s waste was just the tip of the iceberg and was nothing compared to what the farmers were unable to harvest, sell or use from the farms themselves.

That problem gave birth to Morgan’s fellowship idea, From Farmer’s Markets to Farmer’s Fields: Collecting Fresh Food to Feed the Hungry.

The goal of the project is to scale up his farmer’s market food collection efforts and find an efficient way to glean foods that would otherwise rot on the vines at area farms. Morgan and volunteers will harvest the perishable produce and distribute it to a diverse network of organizations that can use the food right away to feed the homeless and hungry or else jar, pickle and store it for later use.

Morgan envisions such gleaning could take place even during the barren months of winter by forming an agreement with grocery stores and big box stores such as Sam’s Club and Walmart.

“Walmart is the largest seller of organic product on the planet,” Morgan says. “Farmers’ seasons are only so long and they might have a bad year with drought or heat. But Walmart has food all year-round and there’s so much waste. My goal is to tap into that and work with every place that needs food in Baltimore.”

Morgan has spent much of his adult life learning about food, land, gardening and farming.  And he has always felt the need to share that knowledge with others. He built a garden on top of a popular city restaurant. He is the creator of a robust urban garden at Hamilton Elementary Middle School and helps teach the students about farming and healthy eating.

With the help of this fellowship, Morgan hopes he can help even more people learn about food sustainability. But even more importantly, he hopes fewer people will go hungry.

“This is a problem that has a solution; it’s pretty basic,” he says. “I want more people to know that this is viable and I hope more people will contact me who really need this produce. I want to get food to as many people as I can.”

 

Bashi Rose

As a young man, Bashi Rose had trouble finding his motivation.

“I wasn’t an A student. I almost didn’t finish, actually,” he says. “I joined the Army Reserves when I was 17 because I didn’t think I had anything else to look forward to. It was either that or stay around Park Heights and get in trouble.”

When the Army proved uninspiring, Rose came back to Baltimore and enrolled in community college.

“Nothing really clicked,” he says. Until he discovered the city’s poetry scene.

“It definitely challenged me,” Rose says about reading, writing and watching others perform their original work. “And it helped me deal with a lot of issues I had: anger issues, self-identity, my perception of women, my insecurities with writing and reading, my lack of understanding of black history. It just opened up a whole world to me.”

A love of poetry turned into a love of theater and performing. And when Rose figured out that theater could help others the same way poetry and performance helped him, he knew he had found his motivation.

While volunteering at an internship in a prison program, Rose says he became convinced he could combat incarceration and its detrimental psychological effects with his passion for theater and social change.

Rose’s fellowship, D.R.A.M.A. (Direct Responses Alleviate Misdirected Aggression), will work within five Maryland prisons to teach incarcerated black men how to use theater and film as a tool to navigate conflict without violence, create healthy relationships, develop effective communication skills and ultimately prevent recidivism.

“Theater helps human beings develop in a really dynamic way,” Rose says, “sometimes without them even knowing it.”

He tells the story of a 2007 trial theater program he started at the Maryland Correctional Training Center that ultimately ended in prisoner productions of short plays, excerpts from August Wilson’s “Fences” as well as improvisational skits and original poetry.

Two men in the program had an obvious conflict.

“You could sense the tension; it was real on stage,” Rose says.

Rose helped to teach them to use role playing and theater techniques to break down their boundaries.

“When the process was done, the atmosphere was totally different,” he says. “Everybody was transformed. In addition to being encouraged and inspired to change their lives, some of the men developed a true love and passion for theater.”

Rose’s program also will blend the needs of at-risk boys and men from the Academy for College Career Exploration High School.

The D.R.A.MA. program will serve an average of 15-20 black males ages 14-70 in each prison and approximately 15 young black males ages 14-19 from the high school. Rose’s goal is that more than 1,500 inmates and community members will be exposed to the program through performances.

“I hope that it will do for them the same thing it did for me. It shows how education is not something that necessarily happens in a classroom,” he says. “It can happen in the community you’re in.”

 

Cheryl Carmona

Cheryl Carmona has a love-hate relationship with trash.

Her extensive background as a soil and environmental science/nutrient management buff gives her a great appreciation for the way manure, food scraps, recyclable paper and other refuse ultimately become good fertilizer for the earth.

On the other hand, when she and partners started the Boone Street Community Farm and Garden in Greater Greenmount, they didn’t appreciate confronting piles of litter and bulk trash in their flowers and produce every morning.

“Every day, it looked like people had just emptied out a house,” she said. “That felt really overwhelming. It also turned into a barrier for getting people in the community to come work with us. We didn’t sell a lot. We were not successful. It was eye-opening for the neighborhood.”

So what started in 2010 as an initiative to grow healthy food for the East Baltimore communities around the urban farm has now grown into something larger.

Carmona’s fellowship, the Greater Greenmount Trash and Recycling Education Campaign, will use the Boone Street Farm as a living classroom to help teach residents about sustainable agriculture. But in addition, Carmona hopes to increase neighbors’ knowledge and access to resources that will reduce exposure to solid waste, contribute to clean water ways and increase their access to healthy food.

“Community clean-ups are great, but they are not a sustainable way to keep a community clean,” Carmona says. “We want to find a way to share information and resources to get people to change their behaviors around trash.”

Carmona cites statistics that show her target community could really use this kind of trash talk.

“The rate of dirty streets and alleys in the East Baltimore Midway neighborhood is more than twice the average rate of dirty streets and alleys in Baltimore city” according to neighborhood indicators, she says.

The project will implement activities that result in reduced littering in the neighborhood, build community advocacy around illegal dumping and divert recyclable items from the waste stream.

One practical idea of Carmona’s is to encourage neighbors to use trash cans with lids by either giving them away or providing them at a low cost.

Additionally, Carmona wants to ramp up neighborhood participation in home recycling by helping residents understand how valuable their trash is to the farm and garden.

“Paper and cardboard are things we can recycle at the farm to help us fertilize our soil. We want our neighbors to know that they can bring their recyclable paper to us on Farmer’s Market days,” she says. “And so even if they don’t want to buy the food from us or have a lot in the community garden, they can still be involved.”

And as wonderful as old paper is, what Carmona really hopes is that neighbors will one day bring their food waste to the farm, which will get converted into rich, organic matter and improve the health of the soil, thereby producing more and better healthy food.

“Getting this grant is an amazing opportunity,” Carmona says. “I’ll be able to take what we’re getting from this opportunity and spread it around. Given the concentration of people in the city and the amount of trash that exists,  we could really embark on  something that’s truly sustainable.”

 

Chris Merriam

Roughly a third of Baltimore residents do not own a car, the fourth highest rate in the United States. Today, Chris Merriam is one of them.

Six years ago, Merriam accepted a job in Lutherville. He was told as a condition of employment that he must have a car. Merriam had a car, but was an avid urban cyclist who felt happier and healthier when he biked. He quickly realized the job wasn’t a good fit.

Ultimately, Merriam ditched his car and let his bike guide him to a new path.

The Baltimore native enrolled in Morgan State University to pursue a Master’s degree in urban planning. He was determined to share his love of biking with his community while helping create a healthier, more affordable lifestyle for Baltimore residents.

In recent years bicycling has grown in popularity in Baltimore. However, major gaps in the city’s infrastructure (i.e., bike lanes, bike parking, connections to transit, etc.) have created barriers to getting more people on bikes.

The 2006 City Bicycle Master Plan details a comprehensive vision for bicycling in Baltimore, but implementation has been a challenge, Merriam says.  Research he’s reviewed shows that Baltimore is in the bottom 10 percent of cities acquiring federal funding for biking and pedestrian programs and in the bottom third of cities for biking and pedestrian advocacy capacity.

“My vision is a Baltimore in which bicycling and walking are viable and safe options and embraced as tools for active, healthy lifestyles,” said Merriam. “In order to get there, we’re going to need to advocate for change, starting with getting the community on board.”

Merriam is using his fellowship to build a healthier Baltimore by promoting all forms of cycling; expanding the number of people who ride a bike; and advocating for the rights, safety and equality of Baltimore’s diverse cycling community through his nonprofit, Bikemore. He also is partnering with Bike Maryland, a nonprofit that addresses statewide bicycle issues through policy.

“We don’t want to reinvent the wheel,” Merriam said. “We want to embrace what has already been done in the community by nonprofits like Bike Maryland. From there, we can focus on what’s not being done and fill that void.”

Merriam believes that community advocacy and city-led incentives for bikers will increase the biking population in Baltimore. By 2014, Bikemore will be operating with a Board of Directors, installing bike infrastructure in the Mount Royal neighborhood, working on updating and implementing the City Bicycle Master Plan, increasing enforcement of laws protecting bikers and implementing and managing bike community resources.

“Bringing high-quality bike infrastructure to communities that need it the most is our goal,” Merriam says. “By using both community and state resources, I can help determine where that need is.”

In addition to providing affordable transportation, bicycling is a form of active transportation. Currently, Merriam says, 63 percent of Baltimoreans are overweight and 27 percent are obese.

Merriam hopes that by building a safe infrastructure, Baltimore residents will have the opportunity to adopt the lifestyle that has helped shaped his own life for the better. Bikemore serves as an extension of this vision, working to get Baltimoreans into an active lifestyle to combat growing obesity.

“I am so grateful for this opportunity,” says Merriam, reflecting on his fellowship grant. “We owe it to our community to give them opportunities to live a healthier, more affordable lifestyle.”

 

David Hornbeck

Working in senior positions in various school systems around the country, including as Maryland State Superintendent of Schools for more than a decade, David Hornbeck had a good understanding of the strengths and challenges facing public school children, their families and the schools trying to serve them.

But in between the bookends of his high-ranking administrative career, Hornbeck devoted time to more grassroots work in various communities from East Harlem to the western regions of Nigeria.

“Being exposed to a variety of new experiences led me to focus on issues of justice as a core value,” Hornbeck says. “And it became clear over the years that student academic success depends on a lot more than having a good curriculum and sound facilities and even a good teacher. There are influences on a child’s life that lie outside the classrooms.”

Those experiences and that realization led Hornbeck to the idea behind his OSI-Baltimore fellowship, the Community Schools Development Program (CSDP). The project is intended to work with the city’s network of so-called “community schools,” which bring together a variety of community partners to provide social services and programming to students and families that supplement and enhance traditional academics. Some of those amenities include health services, youth development activities, parent and community engagement and after school and summer instruction and enrichment.

Twenty Baltimore schools self-identify as being a part of the city’s official network of Community Resource Schools. Hornbeck plans to begin working with up to half of those schools this year and hopes to expand to all 20 by the fall of next year.

His work will focus on two aspects of improving community schools.

First, Hornbeck plans to help increase and improve the services the schools provide to students and families, then strengthen the connections between the schools and their communities.

“Community schools tend to operate in a kind of an opportunistic way,” he says. “They say, ‘Hey, there’s a church down the street or a social services agency nearby or a guy I met who has an interest in kids and wants to volunteer.’ And so they become a part of the school’s partnerships in a kind of an ad hoc way. One of the premises of this effort is that we’re not going to be able to move this idea to scale unless it becomes a whole lot more strategic and a whole lot less ad hoc.”

Secondly, Hornbeck would like to establish an effective way to document and communicate to key leaders and stakeholders the schools’ successes.

“It is my belief and my own experience—and it’s supported by research—that community schools connect very directly with children and family success in terms of their overall well-being and in terms of academic success,” Hornbeck says. “But it’s not just about producing results. An important feature of this project needs to be sending the right message to the wider public, and particularly to policy and budget makers, that this works and should be normative in city schools.”

Hornbeck’s project will “create an organized advocacy base in and around each school that is equipped to send out a substantive message about community schools.”

Hornbeck already has enlisted several partners—such as the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education, the Episcopal Cathedral of the Incarnation and the city schools’ Office of Community Engagement—that have agreed to participate. He will be bringing on more throughout the course of the fellowship.

At the end of the day, Hornbeck says, he’s learned that it’s the schools and partners working together that will ultimately bring about the long-term results that community schools advocates know are possible.

“I’m just the puller-together of all the pieces,” he says.

 

Harold Bailey

Harold Bailey’s three siblings went to Brown, Yale and Loyola, respectively. At the age of 23, Bailey went to prison.

His near 20-year incarceration—for a fight that resulted in a homicide—affected his entire family. But instead of turning their backs on him, family members’ support helped Bailey muster the determination to keep learning and improving through reading and continuing his formal education. As a result, Bailey’s post-prison life has been successful. He earned his bachelor’s degree and a Master’s degree. He has been steadily employed, is a dedicated church-goer and has worked as a literacy tutor for others.

Too many former prisoners don’t share his post-release experience, Bailey says, and much of that has to do with the lack of support while in prison and after release.

“Fortunately, I had incredible family support,” he says. “Many individuals who have been incarcerated are around negative naysayers and toxic personalities. And they are disabled in terms of literacy. They cannot read, cannot write and cannot compute. My life’s passion is to assist them because I know the struggles they go through.”

Through the Re-entry Employment and Economic Empowerment Program, Bailey will work with formerly incarcerated black males to help improve their re-entry outcomes. Over the course of his fellowship, he will work one-on-one with up to 125 men to help them finish their schooling—or even learn to read and write, if necessary—and go on to sustainable careers.

Heritage United Church of Christ, of which Bailey is a member, will serve as host site to the project. And Bailey also will partner with Tuerk House, a substance abuse treatment and recovery center.

With the assistance of these and other partners, Bailey will help his program participants develop a resume and short- and long-term goals. He’ll provide educational, employment and life counseling as well as deceptively simple practical information such as how to replace a lost Social Security card, the meaning of internal fortitude and persistence and why smiling is a much better way to greet people than scowling.

“When you’re incarcerated, smiling may not have been the thing to do,” Bailey says. “But we’re not incarcerated anymore. Many of them have to learn how to relate outside of prison.”

He’ll also motivate the men he works with by continuously reminding them of their value to their families and their communities.

“I came out of prison a better person, so I feel I have a moral incentive to give back,” Bailey says. “Many of these men fear failure, but many of them fear success. They don’t believe they deserve it. It is important that they learn to wake up to their own humanity and self-worth.”

In prison, Bailey read voraciously.  One book that motivated him was Long Walk to Freedom, Nelson Mandela’s autobiography.  A quote from Mandela serves both as Bailey’s personal inspiration and a mantra for the men who he hopes will experience success in his program:

“There are few misfortunes in this world that cannot be turned into personal triumphs if one has an iron will and the necessary skills.”

 

Lauren Goodsmith

Baltimore has become a major center for refugee resettlement. Between 2005 and 2009, nearly 4,000 refugees from 44 different countries were resettled in Maryland and more than 40 percent of those came to Baltimore.

Last year alone, the city welcomed more than 1,000 refugees.

But despite the serious mental and emotional issues that many refugees bring because of the trauma of displacement or the hardships and tragedies they fled, no real network of mental health providers exists in the city to help them.

Lauren Goodsmith’s fellowship will go a long way toward changing that.

“Refugees often flee with nothing but the clothes on their back. They have experienced violence, displacement; some of them have spent years, even decades, in refugee camps before coming here. And then they confront the stress of acculturation, a new society, a different language,” says Goodsmith, who has spent her career in public health, health communications and working with refugees around the world. “This project is designed particularly to provide therapeutic care and counseling to address the psycho-social needs of people who have been displaced.”

Goodsmith will work in close collaboration with agencies and nonprofits in the area such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC), which is the lead partner agency within the Baltimore Resettlement Center; Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services; the Episcopal Refugee and Immigrant Center Alliance, and Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma.

The first goal will be to train interested and committed mental health providers to work with refugees, some of whom come from places such as Burma, Bhutan, Eritrea, Iraq and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

“There’s no absence of highly-competent, qualified mental health providers in the Baltimore area,” Goodsmith says. “But there are not many who have the depth of experience working with refugees, who have an understanding of the nature of the refugee experience. I know that many would welcome the opportunity to gain training and experience in working cross culturally.”

Goodsmith already has approached some agencies and individuals about joining this effort and has been warmed by the response.

“I’m honored that so far all the people I’ve approached have said ‘yes,’” she says.

Once the providers are trained, Goodsmith wants to develop a network of referrals and mutual support for the refugees.

“We’ll find places to appropriately refer clients,” she says, such as House of Ruth; TurnAround, a domestic violence and sexual assault center; and Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma.

After the network is established and she and her partners have completed outreach to make refugees aware that services exist, Goodsmith hopes the refugees will directly seek out help for their mental health concerns, something that happens infrequently now.

“My hope is that refugees will feel they would benefit from speaking with someone who understands what they have been through,” she says.

 

Lawrence Brown

For a brief period as an undergraduate at Morehouse College in Atlanta, community activist Lawrence Brown spent a few homeless nights sleeping on the street.

“Even though the circumstances that I found myself in were partially my fault, I still felt an intense and real sense of anger,” says Brown, who went on to graduate from Morehouse and eventually earned a doctoral degree from the University of Tennessee. “I felt like there weren’t a lot of people I could turn to. And it made me realize that black men in general need a lot of help.”

But years later, when he began to think about what his peers needed—in terms of achievement, health, employment and self-sufficiency—he realized that it was just as important to think about how to help  them.

“I had the thought that this intervention, whatever it’s going to be, has to be male-centered, male-focused and culturally relevant,” Brown says. “And what’s more male-centered and male-focused than football?”

That’s how Brown came up with a program to serve black men and families in central Baltimore that has a football metaphor as its guiding principle.

You’re the Quarterback: Gameplan for Life aims to strengthen the families of men with children by focusing on barriers to employment, increasing health insurance coverage and providing support services to up to 150 men.

“Football is associated with machismo but also with planning; no quarterback just showed up on game day ready to play. There’s a lot of strategy involved,” Brown says. “The name of the project is the actual statement we want to make to our men: ‘You’re the quarterback. You need to do some game planning. Your team is your family. If you’re going to move them down the field to score, to be successful, then you need to game plan for life.’”

Many of the men who will participate will self-select or be referred from a Head Start program at Union Baptist Church of Baltimore or The Men and Families Center, which aims to improve the quality of relationships between fathers and their children.

Brown and his partners will work with the men during group sessions (team huddles) and in one-on-one meetings with “coaches.” They will provide each man with a general “playbook” for life as well as an individually tailored “game plan” that addresses barriers to success in both their work and family life. Plans may include GED-program enrollment, rectifying child support payments, finding affordable health insurance or steps toward making the transition from incarceration to freedom.

One major resource Brown wants to develop during the fellowship is an easily searchable database of services and programs for the men who participate.

“There are a lot of services in Baltimore but many men don’t know about them,” Brown says. “And there’s a lot of information out there that is not easy to wade through. You look at health insurance alone; it’s complicated.”

The database, Brown says, will allow coaches and participants to plug in relevant information about a specific individual and pull up useful resources more specific to him.

“I’m so thrilled at the opportunity OSI-Baltimore has given me to expand and further develop the project,” Brown says. “I’m excited for the men.  We’ve already been able to develop a rapport with many of them and this allows us to build something on that foundation.”

 

Pascha Lee

What if young girls in the city could imagine for themselves a life unhampered by poverty or crime or other negative circumstances?

What if the city’s residents could imagine its young girls as intelligent, confident and full of possibilities?

Pascha Lee started pondering those questions after agreeing to mentor a girl from her old middle school, which had declined over the years.

“I realized that not everyone has the benefit of a caring adult,” she says. “And also that what you’re exposed to makes all the difference. If you’re born and raised in one part of Baltimore, then that’s all you know. But if somebody broadens your horizons and exposes you to other states and cities and other countries and other cultures, it makes all the difference.”

In 2007, Lee started Imagine Me, a mentoring program that is now in two middle schools. The goal was to use one-on-one, group- and peer-mentoring relationships to foster young girls’ talents and abilities. Lee worked to equip the young women in her program with tools and life skills to transition from middle school to high school to adulthood confident and socially balanced.

Over time, however, Lee says it became clear the girls, ages 12 to 15, also needed help making the connection between academic success and financial stability.

“It became increasingly difficult to get the girls engaged in the academic component of the program,” she says. Her efforts to get the girls to participate in a book club or to complete homework assignments were unfruitful and “honestly disheartening.”

To combat that, Lee dreamed up a new component of the after school program—the Imagine MEBook project. She will use her fellowship to teach her charges how to write their own stories for compilation in a book that they will publish, market and sell. And in the book, they will be the stars.

“My goal is to get them—from start to finish—to write their own chapter on who they are as a girl in Baltimore city. The book will be a compilation of all the girls’ stories,” Lee says. “What person doesn’t want to read their own book?”

Through the process of writing their chapter, the girls will work on many of the aspects of the original after-school program: critical thinking, reflection and self-image.  But the girls also will be developing important academic and job-related skills such as writing, reading, proofing and computer skills.

They will have to work together to improve each draft of the book until it is just right, encouraging teamwork and collaboration. In addition the girls will learn how to develop a website and will lead the process of marketing and selling the book.

“We’ll put together a marketing plan and talk about what is going to be our price. How are we going to sell it?” Lee says. “We’ll all have to brainstorm about things like what will be the book cover? What do you want the world to see about you?”

When the book is complete, Peay hopes the girls will have learned new skills as well as new things about themselves, including that they are capable of accomplishing great things.  She also hopes people will buy and read the book and learn something about these girls.

“I feel like, having been born and raised in the city, just being a black woman, we are judged right off the bat, even by our own,” she says. “People should know that what they think they know is not all there is. There’s a lot of light in Baltimore.”

To learn more about OSI-Baltimore, visits the website. 

 



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2 COMMENTS

  1. Bashi took a comp course that I taught. He was a good student—and, it seemed to me, motivated by SOMEthing. Every time I see the cool things he’s doing, I’m proud of him.

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