Fellowship initiatives have offered guidance and support to students and residents in undeserved Baltimore communities, helping them build connections within their communities, prepare for their futures, and have equal access to opportunity.
Van Brooks was just 16 years old and a standout football player at Loyola- Blakefield high school when he was paralyzed during a game. Despite being told he’d struggle to do even the most basic of tasks, such as sitting up on his own or feeding himself, Brooks never gave up. He not only graduated high school on time, he went on to get a degree in Mass Communications from Towson University. And not long after that, he took his first steps. But that wasn’t enough for Brooks. Just days after that major milestone, he decided he wanted to help others, so he started Safe Alternative Foundation for Education (SAFE). The organization emphasizes to youth the need for getting a good education and having an alternate career path, stressing the “importance of always having a plan B in an event the A is altered.”
Brooks’ 2014 OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship allowed him to expand SAFE’s “Yards for Success” program, a six-week flag football program that brings together local law enforcement officers, fire department personnel, and local middle school students. It’s designed to provide education, fun, and fitness while helping students develop healthy relationships with community leaders. In October of 2015, the SAFE Center opened its doors in the Franklin Square/Poppleton communities—where Brooks grew up and still lives. The center hosts free, hands-on afterschool and summer learning opportunities in three key areas—physical fitness, literacy, and S.T.E.A.M (science, technology, engineering, art, and math).
WIDE ANGLE YOUTH MEDIA
If you tuned in to national news in late April 2015, you saw images from Baltimore of police in riot gear, smoke-filled streets, smashed storefront windows, and a pharmacy in flames. At the same time that these images were endlessly amplified, young people from Wide Angle Youth Media were documenting another side of Baltimore—theirs. The organization, founded by Gin Ferrara in 2000 and expanded in 2001 when Ferrara became an OSI-Baltimore Community Fellow, provides media education and resources to young people. Through afterschool and summer programming, WAYM promotes an awareness of social issues and gives Baltimore youth a voice and a way to represent themselves.
A recent project, “This is Baltimore,” is an online publication that celebrates the Baltimore few outsidethe city (and some in it) ever see, or even realize exists. The young people took photos of their friends on basketball courts, playing the piano, volunteering at the Y or just hanging out at school. They snapped pictures of classmates finding their own voices at protests and rallies, holding up signs that said “Black Lives Matter,” “Silence Breeds Injustice,” and “End Racism Now.”
That publication is only one of the hundreds of projects produced by the more than 4,000 young people who have
benefitted from the organization’s programing. Students have produced short films such as “Save My School,” which documented the rallies around Baltimore City Public School’s budget gaps, print campaigns to highlight the high rate of school suspensions, and a toolkit to help fight chronic absenteeism.
Lanaea Featherstone is a tireless advocate for Latinos and other underserved communities in Baltimore, believing that everyone deserves access to high quality education and economic opportunity. In 2008, she and her husband created the William and Lanaea C. Featherstone Foundation in order to put those beliefs into action.
The foundation, which has won numerous awards, including a citation from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan for promoting economic growth across the state, and Nonprofit of the Year from the Maryland Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, works to create solutions to bring about “a world where underserved communities have equal access to opportunity.”
Through her work with the foundation, Featherstone began to see that one of those gaps was in technology and computer literacy. She then successfully applied for a 2013 OSI-Baltimore Community Fellowship to create “Empowering Latinos One ‘Click’ at a Time,” a six-week course in which participants learn basic computer skills. Instructors teach participants how to navigate the Internet, sign up for email accounts, and create professional résumés. Mentors assist with professional development and job searches, and parents receive guidance on how to provide academic support to their children.
“Technology is revolutionizing our nation at a rapid pace,” Featherstone says. “But not being connected to technology puts Latino parents and their children at a disadvantage both economically and socially.” The project Featherstone launched during her fellowship continues to help Latino immigrant families in Baltimore use technology to get and keep better jobs and help their children do better in school.