Contact: Tanika Davis
OSI-Baltimore today announced its 17th annual class of Community Fellows and dedicated $660,000 to support this diverse group of social entrepreneurs who will lead creative and inspiring approaches for improving the community.
OSI-Baltimore’s Community Fellows program, which began in 1998, has had an enormous impact on the city. The newest class of 11 fellows brings the network of other engaged leaders to 160, most of whom continue to bring fresh energy and ideas to effect social change in Baltimore.
Each of this year’s fellows will receive $60,000 to work full-time for 18 months, implementing creative strategies to assist and revitalize underserved communities in Baltimore. The group of fellows will work in schools and courts, in recreation centers and low-income housing units. Many of them will work directly with people on the streets of Baltimore.
OSI-Baltimore has designated two of the awardees as Black Male Achievement (BMA) Fellows, who will strive to reach some of the city’s most underserved populations—black men and boys. Van Brooks and Vincent Purcell will receive additional recognition from the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement, a strategy to address the exclusion of black men and boys from economic, social, educational and political life in the United States. The BMA Fellowship is dedicated to improving the life outcomes of black men and boys and is the first fellowship program of its kind.
“We are proud to announce our newest class of fellows, all of whom are motivated to improve Baltimore City and tackle challenging issues,” said Pamela King, OSI-Baltimore Director of Community Fellowships. “City residents are fortunate to have these 11 galvanizing leaders and activists working to create new opportunities in major areas of need. Each year we are impressed with the innovative solutions our fellows are working to execute. These fellows bring new optimism and rejuvenation to Baltimore and we are excited to see positive results in our communities.”
The Class of 2014 is composed of 11 people with extremely diverse backgrounds and a wide range of proposed projects.
One fellow with over 20 years of experience in the criminal justice system will work with pre- and post-release female offenders to give them the opportunity to obtain necessary reentry services. Another fellow, who understands the struggle of returning home from prison, will provide essential housing, and employment services, mentoring and discipline to formerly incarcerated men. And a former high school football player, who became paralyzed from the neck down, will work with at-risk youth to emphasize the importance of education and having an alternate career path.
Catherine Gonzalez, an attorney with experience fighting for underserved populations, is bringing her expertise to Baltimore City. Gonzalez will provide counseling for individuals eligible for student debt relief, and assist them in completing the necessary paperwork to have the debt discharged, forgiven or alleviated.
“What really affected me is that students are drawn to these programs with promises of a better future,” Gonzalez says. “Instead, they get trapped in a cycle of poverty.”
Another fellow, Zina Makar, will work to help low-income city residents who were assigned high bail amounts, or denied bail altogether. Makar will use the power of habeas corpus—a legal procedure that keeps governments from holding people indefinitely without showing cause—to challenge such bail determinations, on the grounds that the defendants have been denied due process.
“Hundreds of people are affected by this—we pass so many people through the detention center daily,” Makar says. “We want to educate the bench that there’s a lot of injustice being done to indigent people.”
After more than two years in the Peace Corps in Guatemala, Charlotte Keniston moved to Pigtown where she was shocked by the lack of fresh food.
“My neighbors in Guatemela, while from the 2nd poorest country in the Western hemisphere, had abundant access to healthy food in their backyard gardens,” she says. “Yet in my neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore, in the richest nation in the world, I couldn’t walk to any food sources that sold items such as an apple or carrot.”
Keniston is helping Pigtown residents establish more community gardens and community interaction, a food and nutrition education program and a neighborhood mural arts project.
Fellow Brian Francoise will use his background as an educator and artist to facilitate a “civic theatre” project called Sister Neighborhood Arts Program (SNAP). The program will try to create bridges between two divided Northeast Baltimore neighborhoods and encourage them to work collectively on issues that would benefit both communities.
Vincent Purcell will use the power of technology to connect people in East Baltimore neighborhoods to technology, workforce development and entrepreneurial opportunities.
As a child, Shawn Burnett used art to express himself and escape his neighborhood. Now, he is giving underserved youth in Baltimore City the same opportunity by partnering with various organizations to hold art workshops. His Walks of ART program will help young people’s cognitive development, emotional health and social lives.
“I think I’m showing everyone that you don’t have to put on a suit and tie to affect change and be taken seriously,” Burnett says.
Another fellow, Agatha So, will work to connect undocumented, tax-paying Latino families in Southeast Baltimore to a mortgage loan product that will improve their opportunities for homeownership. And Roxanne Umphrey’s Powerful Peers will connect volunteers and advocates who want to help returning citizens successfully transition back to the community.
Since its launch 16 years ago, the Baltimore Community Fellowships program has received support from OSI-Baltimore and several other foundations and individuals, including The Clayton Baker Trust, The Lois and Irving Blum Foundation Inc., the Cohen Opportunity Fund, The Marion I. & Henry J. Knott Foundation, the John Meyerhoff and Lenel Srochi Meyerhoff Fund, the Moser Family Philanthropic Fund, The Osprey Foundation, the PNC Foundation, the Alison and Arnold Richman Fund, The Henry and Ruth Blaustein Rosenberg Foundation, Barbara K. and M. Sigmund Shapiro, and numerous individual donors.
A six-person committee selected the 11 fellows after extensive evaluation, including peer reviews, site visits and interviews.
2014 OSI-BALTIMORE COMMUNITY FELLOWS
**Van Brooks – Community Development
A former high school football player who became paralyzed from the neck down, Brooks will emphasize to youth in the Franklin Square/Poppleton communities the importance of education and having an alternate career path. Through the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education (SAFE), Brooks will provide youth with afterschool and extracurricular activities to help develop the leadership, life skills and additional tools necessary to take advantage of opportunities that will help them achieve success.
Shawn Burnett – Creative Director
Growing up, Burnett used art as a way to free himself from his neighborhood and express himself. Now, he wants to give other young people that same opportunity. Through his Walks of Arts organization, Burnett will use art as a tool to have an impact on the cognitive development, emotional health and social lives of underserved youth in Baltimore City.
Brian Francoise – Artist
In partnership with the Morgan Community Mile Initiative (MCM), Francoise will establish the Sister Neighborhood Arts Program (SNAP!) to create a civic theater ensemble that will stimulate cultural organizing, dialogue and healing between two historically segregated neighborhoods in Northeast Baltimore.
Catherine Gonzalez – Attorney
Studies show that students in for-profit colleges are more likely to leave school with greater student debt loans and are more likely to default on their student loan debt obligations. In partnership with Civil Justice, Inc., Gonzalez will address and alleviate the impact of predatory student loan practices for Baltimore city residents.
Dwayne Johnson – Community Activist
Johnson,understands the struggle to find employment and housing after being incarcerated. In partnership with the Union Baptist Headstart Center, Johnson will establish the From Prison to Man of the House Initiative to provide essential housing and employment services, as well as mentoring to formerly incarcerated men returning to the Upton community.
Charlotte Keniston – Artist
After three growing seasons, Keniston’s Pigtown Food for Thought Initiative (PFFT) has not only created access to fresh food for those in Pigtown, but has also created lasting friendships in the community. Keniston will expand on her work with the initiative to creatively re-imagine the Washington Village Pigtown community as a place to have access to healthy food through community gardening, the creation of a neighborhood farm stand, food and nutrition education and a neighborhood mural arts project.
Zina Makar – Attorney
Many Baltimore residents accused of a crime spend long stretches in jail awaiting trial because of what transpires during an initial step of the criminal justice process: the bail hearing. Makar will work in partnership with the Baltimore City Office of the Public Defender (OPD) to establish Pipeline to Habeas—an initiative that ensures that indigent defendants denied due process at the time of their bail hearings have equal access to justice.
**Vincent Purcell – Social Designer
Purcell, an engineer-turned social designer, will establish Boomspace—an entrepreneurial development and makerspace social design initiative that combines technology and workforce development to give opportunities to young adults ages 18-25 in underserved communities in East Baltimore. Purcell will partner with organizations with a strong history of working with people who have barriers to employment.
Renita Seabrook – University Professor
Seabrook, a strong believer in rehabilitation, will partner with Alternative Directions, Inc., to establish Helping Others 2 Win (HO2W), an experiential learning environment to give pre- and post-release adult female offenders the opportunity to benefit from evidenced-based programming to support their reentry into the community. The women will work on their self-esteem with mentors, learn decision-making techniques and essential computer and job training skills.
Agatha So – Community Organizer
So will partner with the Southeast Community Development Corporation to establish a path to homeownership for undocumented Latino immigrants in Baltimore City. The would-be-homeowners have steady jobs or small businesses, and pay taxes, but aren’t qualified to buy a home because they don’t have a social security number. The program will include home-buying counseling and mortgage lending opportunities.
Roxanne E. Umphery – Legislative Coordinator
Umphery will partner with the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative (MRJI) to establish Powerful Peers. Powerful Peers will organize and train volunteers in effective advocacy strategies to support those returning from prison to transition to stable living situations.
*Designated as a fellow funded by the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement.
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As the only field office for the Open Society Foundations’ U.S. Programs, Open Society Institute-Baltimore focuses on the root causes of three intertwined problems in our city and state: drug addiction, an overreliance on incarceration, and obstacles that keep youth from succeeding both inside and outside the classroom. We also support a growing corps of social entrepreneurs committed to underserved populations in Baltimore. Before we make a single grant, we analyze the root causes of a problem and examine research and innovative practices aimed at tackling the problem. Because we aim for lasting, sustainable solutions, we engage public and private partners from the start. It is only then, with a clear picture of the problem, that we begin to focus our approach and diligently craft a road map for change.