Are you ready for Tax Season?

— Tax season is now in full swing and if you are like the rest of us you are just now getting your W2’s or 1099’s and thinking about when you’re going to file. Now some people want to file as soon as possible while others prefer to wait to the absolute last minute, but it’s important to file your taxes as soon as you are able.

Three reasons why you should file early:

  1. Starting the process early gives you a chance to look a tax specialist you feel will work with you to ensure that you get all of the deductions you qualify for and will give you the best assistance and information for you tax obligations moving forward.
  2. Filing early in the tax season gives you time to gather any additional records you need to complete your tax returns and get the best possible refund or tax reduction possible. This is much better than waiting until the last minute to file and then having to leave out a lot of possible deductions because you do not have the time to gather all of the required information.
  3. And last but not least, the quicker you file the faster you get your refund back (if you qualify for a refund).

If you are an small business owner/entrepreneur or do work that pays you as a 1099 you will be responsible for all of your tax due to the state and federal and most likely will owe money if your business has turned a profit. Working with a tax professional early comes in handy for you so that they can help you gather all of your pertinent records for filing purposes and help you fine tune any of your bookkeeping processes moving forward.

Keep in mind that this 2014 tax year is the first year in which a penalty will be enforced for not having health insurance during any part of the tax year. This penalty can quickly eat up any tax refund you would be getting, so if you did not have health insurance in 2014 I strongly encourage that you get some health insurance as soon as possible! There are even some tax credits for being a part of the state government health care exchanges.

Bottom line, file as early as possible and get it out of the way. Filing taxes is something that cannot be avoided and it is in your best interest to find a specialist that is going to educate you as well as submit your paperwork (something that is not always guaranteed with the commercial tax prep companies).

DeMaurio W.

Licensed Tax Specialist

Champion Tax and Bookkeeping

Phone: 1 (800) 413-6311 x 507

Black Theatre Symposium scheduled at University of Maryland

Like megastars Sidney Poitier, the late Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, a host of African-American film stars have also mastered the black theater.

And, as the black theater struggles with some even labeling it an endangered species, the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center in College Park, Maryland will cap Black History Month on Saturday, February 28, 2015 with an introspective symposium beginning at 9 a.m.

The event, titled “The Black Theatre Symposium,” explores the expansion of an inclusive presence and influence in the field of theater.

Produced by the University of Maryland’s School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies, the symposium encourages participants to ask questions about the influence and future of black theater including; “How do we facilitate inclusion and diversity in the technical and administrative aspects of the field? And, how can black performers expand their artistry and marketability?”

“Theater professionals, scholars and students will convene to discuss and take action around these questions as we explore the expansion of an inclusive presence and influence in the field of theater,” said Sarah K. Snyder, a theater spokesperson.

“Sessions will include panel discussions, workshops and a special performance of Seret Scott’s one-woman play, ‘Artistic Housing.’”

Scott’s play counts as a compilation of memorable moments, events and images that recall a life in professional theater in a time far different than today. The stories are told from Scott’s artistic perspective as a black woman and veteran theater director, writer and actress who has worked in regional, off-Broadway and Broadway theater for nearly 50 years.

“The School of Theatre, Dance, and Performance Studies and the African Continuum Theatre Company joins forces at the University of Maryland with support of the College of Arts and Humanities to present the second annual Black Theatre Symposium,” said Leigh Wilson Smiley, the director of the School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. “This day offers a chance to delve deeply into the historical, present, and future significance and development of the unique cultural heritage of the black theater in this region and this nation.”

In a published interview in 2014, Sade Lythcott, the CEO of the National Black Theatre (NBT), called black theater companies “an endangered species” and expressed concern that unless drastic measures are taken, companies like NBT may not be in existence 45 years from now.

That followed news of Minnesota’s famed Penumbra, one of the most critically acclaimed black theater companies in the country, announcing it was closing its doors and later, the Kuntu Repertory Theatre in Pittsburgh also closed.

The symposium at the University of Maryland will be geared toward awareness and the strengthening of the black theater, officials said.

“Last year we examined how black theater fits into the framework of our nation’s history and culture. We challenged assumptions about the boundaries of race and engaged in a spirited dialogue about the past, present and future of black theater,” said Scot Reese, a professor in the School of Theatre, Dance and Performance Studies. “This year, we are examining which institutions are successfully cultivating black theater practitioners. We will explore ways to facilitate inclusion and diversity in the technical and administrative aspects of the field and how black performers expand their artistry and marketability.”

Theater professionals, scholars and students also will convene to discuss and take action around the presented questions, the professor said.

“We will explore the expansion of an inclusive presence and influence in the field of theater,” Reese said.

For tickets and more information, visit

Decisions, decisions: when weather forces school delays, closures

— Snowstorms and extreme cold can create a situation that makes it unsafe for students, parents and staff to travel to and from school.

So, with forecasters predicting the Baltimore area isn’t out of the woods just yet, with the possibility of more bone-chilling temperatures, students and even school officials must still think about potential delays and closings.

“Due to the extreme weather this season, there have been several two hour delays,” said Edie House-Foster, a spokesperson for the Baltimore City Public School District. “To date, we’ve had two full-day closings.”

Mychael Dickerson, the chief communications officer for the Baltimore County Public School District, said while schools in that district rarely close because of low temperatures, it must take into consideration the safety of students when deciding whether to have a two hour delay or to cancel school for the day.

“If we close, it’s because the temperatures caused other issues, such as issues getting the boiler started or a pipe bursting,” Dickerson said.

Meanwhile, some 1,350 miles away in a place known as the nation’s “Ice Box,” the past several days have brought real-feel temperatures down to between -30 and -40 degrees below zero. When asked how many school delays or closures residents have experienced this year, Minnesota’s International Falls School District Superintendent Kevin Grover gave a response that’s almost certain to raise eyebrows, at least locally.

“None. Zero,” he said.

“We don’t have a hard and set boom, where we say we’re canceling school or we will have a delay,” Grover said. “The wind and road conditions are factored in but we have extra buses always at the ready.”

Grover said while it’s not a hard and fast rule, officials in his district would consider canceling or delaying the start of school if the combined thermometer reading and wind chill factor equals -50 degrees.

“In the past, if it was 40 below zero that would apply in making the decision to close. [Monday] it was 20 below zero and -37 with the wind chill, but we still had school.”

Attendance usually is at or near 100 percent even with those conditions, but Grover said the district pretty much leaves it up to students and parents to decide if they will attend. If not, there’s usually no punishment, he said.

While snow day closings have long been a staple of local winters, shutting schools or delaying the start because of bone-chilling cold has fast become normal because officials said the cold has the potential to cause some serious problems for students trying to get to school.

“We’ll get calls from folks who say where they live the sidewalks are clear and they’re fine,” Dickerson said. “But, we’re a big county and some of our kids have to walk to school and in some areas it may not be conducive to walking.”

Well before daybreak, staff from the city schools’ operations office assesses road conditions, neighborhood sidewalks, school parking lots, and school walkways and obtain input from the Baltimore City Department of Transportation and the Maryland Mass Transit Administration, House-Foster said.

The schools’ CEO or someone designated reviews the assessment and the most current weather forecasts available, and makes the decision whether to open schools on schedule, delay opening schools for two hours, or close schools, she said.

“The CEO or designee also determines whether conditions are sufficiently severe to warrant a closing or delayed opening of district offices where students do not regularly attend,” House-Foster said.

However, in Minnesota, it takes more than just a blizzard or sub-zero temperatures.

“We do well,” Grover said. “We’re used to this weather.”

Eight tips for safely shoveling snow

— A study published in the Clinical Research in Cardiology looked at 500 people and found that seven percent started experiencing symptoms of heart problems while shoveling snow. The cardiologists believe there could be as many as double that number given the fact that the patients may not have connected their heart problems with snow shoveling. The Snow & Ice Management Association (SIMA), the North American trade association representing snow removal professionals has tips for shoveling snow safely.

“Shoveling snow has a number of health risks associated with it, including the most serious one— a heart attack,” said Martin B. Tirado, CAE, Executive Director, SIMA. “Other more common health risks include dehydration, back injuries, pulled muscles, broken bones and frostbite. But the good news is there are ways to safely shovel snow,”

Here are SIMA’s tips for safe snow shoveling:

TIP #1: Stay on top of the snow. No we aren’t suggesting that you make snow angels but when there’s a heavy snow, the best advice is to stay ahead of the storm. SIMA recommends that to prevent snow and ice from adhering to the sidewalk or street, clear the snow every few inches instead of waiting for the snow to stop falling before you head outdoors.

TIP #2: Wear breathable layers. Layering is typical cold winter weather advice. We suggest wearing layers of loose clothing so you can peal a layer off if you get hot. Avoid wearing heavy wools, manmade materials or other materials that don’t allow perspiration to evaporate. Better choices are cotton and silk.

TIP #3: Watch your feet. No you aren’t on Dancing with the Stars, but nonetheless, you need to pay attention to what’s on your feet when heading outdoors to shovel snow. SIMA suggests wearing quality outdoor winter wear such as waterproof boots with good traction. Good traction is critical to ensuring that you don’t slip and fall.

TIP #4: Take a few minutes to stretch. Shoveling snow is a workout so you need to stretch to warm up your muscles particularly because you are shoveling snow in the cold weather. Stretching before you start shoveling will help prevent injury and fatigue.

TIP #5: Push don’t lift. Sounds like something a high school wrestling coach may say but if you push the snow to the side rather than trying to lift the snow to remove it, you exert less energy thereby placing less stress on your body.

TIP #6: Drink up! Water that is. SIMA recommends taking frequent breaks and staying hydrated. You should drink water as if you were enduring a tough workout at the gym or running five miles.

TIP #7: Don’t play in traffic. Sometimes people get so focused on the task at hand they don’t pay attention to their surroundings. When shoveling snow near streets, pay attention to the traffic since vehicles may not have good traction in the snow and ice.

TIP #8: Call and text. We’re not suggesting that you make calls and text while shoveling snow, but it is important to have your cell phone on you so you can make a call in event of an emergency.

Following these seven tips will help ensure that you survive and thrive through winter. For more snow and ice removal tips, visit visit:

Empowering Our City Committee strives to make improvements in Annapolis

Along with a group of action-oriented individuals, Octavia Brown is on a mission to make substantial improvements in Annapolis, Maryland. Brown is the 27-year-old founder and chair of a new Annapolis-based community organization called Empowering Our City Committee (EOCC).

Along with others who have joined her, Brown aspires to help youth, adolescents, low-income and underrepresented populations. The community leader earned a bachelor’s degree in social work from University of Maryland, Baltimore County. She will graduate with a master’s in social work from the University of Maryland, Baltimore in May. Additionally, Brown has experience working with adolescents, domestic violence clients and youth. Her passion to help others extends beyond traditional work hours.

“I have been raised to empower other individuals,” she said. “I was on Facebook one day around the time of the Ferguson decision. There were a lot of people who were hurt. They expressed their outrage behind the race-relations situation. I decided to figure out what we can do to empower our own community. I decided to organize an empowerment meeting for the city on Jan. 22, 2015, so that we could all come together to talk about how we could evoke change.”

After Brown posted a call to action on Facebook, she garnered positive responses from individuals who attended her first meeting. EOCC was created to formally take the next step. The organization’s mission is “to promote positive change within the city of Annapolis and Anne Arundel County through community involvement and unity.”

Kendall Barnard, a 27-year-old job developer, is EOCC’s co-chair. Barnard possesses a diverse human services and health care background. Brown and Barnard are like sisters. The socially conscious pair have known each for most of their lives.

“I’ve always been about economic development. I believe that in order for everyone to be a success, it boils down to making money, generating money and therefore building your community. You cannot build a community without that revolving dollar,” Barnard said. “We had ideas throughout the years on different nonprofits we could do to give back to our community. This just so happens to have been the one that came into fruition.”

Jacara Davis, Mike Somerville, Veronica Grant, Kirsten Yasa and Wanda Stansbury are also a part of the EOCC movement. The multi-generational group is comprised of seven native Annapolitans. Collectively, they offer valuable skills that will help support EOCC’s mission.

“Each one has something passionate and powerful to bring to the team,” Brown said.

Brown explained that EOCC members desire to connect with others who are willing to take action. Even if prospective volunteers can commit to helping on a short-term basis, pitching in with tasks such as event support or donating space could be useful.

EOCC will host “What’s Next?” Life After a Criminal Conviction on March 21, 2015 from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at the Stanton Center. The first empowerment event will be designed to assist individuals who have criminal convictions in their past. Both Brown and Barnard agreed that the ex-offender population needs more resources to help them to overcome obstacles.

“We’re going to have an employment seminar where individuals are able to learn job readiness skills, interviewing skills, resume building skills—all the skills that are necessary to make it to employment. We’re actually blessed to have a job fair. At least three employers are already on board and looking to hire individuals who come to this event,” Brown said.

Information will be provided about expunging a record along with other seminars, resource information and referrals given by partnering community agencies. On-site job application stations will also be available.

Barnard, who grew up on Clay Street, is already thinking about working toward long-term goals. The owner of Bio Clean aspires to leverage job creation through her own business venture. Bio Clean is a new company that cleans homes through property management companies. Barnard remarked that she “will be that employer that’s all about that second chance.”

“We have tons of ideas that would be refreshing and rewarding to a population that doesn’t have those resources otherwise. To be a part of that, I wouldn’t change it for the world,” Barnard said.

Visit to obtain more information about EOCC. Limited seats are available for the upcoming March event. Register via You may also call 443-223-2945 for assistance. EOCC members currently utilizes their own funds to operate. To donate to the organization online, please visit Your support will help implement change in Annapolis.

Fifth Annual Marine and Maritime Career Fair helps students learn about marine, maritime careers

— Back for its fifth year, the Annual Marine & Maritime Career Fair will be held on Saturday, February 28, 2015 from noon to 3 p.m. at Annapolis High School Cafeteria & Auditorium located at 2700 Riva Road in Annapolis.

Students in grades six through 12 (public, private and home-schooled) from Maryland and the Chesapeake Bay region are invited for this popular and free event. The fair offers students and parents something new to discover about marine and maritime careers. This year, students and parents can learn about marine trades in the Chesapeake Bay region plus meet and talk with engineers, scientists, publishers and boat builders who represent a wide range of marine and maritime careers. Students are also eligible for valuable door prizes. For further information contact or 888-383-8777.

”The fair is a great time to explore all the different fields and to decide what interests you the most. To keep track of what you learn, you should bring a pen and a backpack for carrying all the fun swag, freebies, and cool information from exhibitors,” said Laura Carty, a Severna Park High School student who attended last year.

Exhibitors will share their knowledge and expertise about careers connected to the Chesapeake Bay and our nation’s oceans, rivers and lakes. Students can meet industry experts from educational institutions, industries, non-profits and the military about different career paths including: the marine trades (electronics, carpentry, plumbing, engines, boat building, marina management, sail making, sail rigging, Interior design, etc.); engineering, naval architecture, product development, marketing, publishing, port management and commercial shipping.

Students can attend informative presentations on: Marine Trades in the Chesapeake Bay Region (2pm); STEM Role Models: Engineers, Scientists, Boat Builders …careers based on Science, Technology, Engineering & Math (1pm).

For more information contact or 888-383-8777.

Indie Soul: Kem

“I love performing in Baltimore. The people in Baltimore are going to get the BEST show out of all the shows we have.” —Kem

Indie Soul has been lucky enough to see many artists perform live over the years, but the one artist that we kept missing was Kem. On Sunday, February 15, 2015, not only did we get a chance to see Kem perform at Royal Farms Arena in Baltimore but we also had a chance to talk to him about his music, what drives him, his show, and much more.

“God is in everything I do, so when I perform I am performing to thank Him for what He has done for me and also to touch the lives of those who come to see me perform,” said Kem.

For those who don’t know, Kem was an addict and homeless. He now readily admits the mistakes that he made and credits God for changing his life. “If it wasn’t for the grace of God, I would not be here today,” he said.

There is no doubt that Kem is thankful— it comes through in his performance. He gives his all in his performance and has a very clean show. He says that he is not doing it his way but the way that God has directed him— through song.

One of the things that Kem does during his show is to get couples to show love to one another, especially the men. In one set, Kem stepped into the audience and had the men sing a verse to their mates.

”When people come to see me perform, I want them to really enjoy themselves and be moved by love,” said Kem.

His CD “Promise to Love.” recently received a Grammy nomination. When asked what it meant to receive the nomination, he responded, “ We [performers] all want to be noticed for our work. To be nominated is a blessing and a honor.”

Kem believes that performers should be clear in their artistic vision. “Be true to yourself. Do not sell-out for the money and the other things that go with it. When you do that and keep God by your side, you will truly be blessed.” Kem said.

“Kemistry” is available on iTunes. For more information about Kem or to find out tour dates and locations, visit:

Indie Soul Review: Patti Austin and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra

— On Friday February 20, 2015, while the entire East Coast was preparing for a winter storm, many people braved the brutal cold to go out to see one of the most incredible performers in the music business— Patti Austin.

Austin made a stop in Baltimore to perform with The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (BSO). The Grammy and Oscar-winning singer joined the BSO in a performance dedicated to the brilliance of Duke Ellington and “The First Lady of Song,” Ella Fitzgerald.

For those of you who may not know Patti Austin, just think, “Baby Come To Me” and “How Do You Keep The Music Playing,” both duets with James Ingram.

Austin delivered a magnificent show! Her voice was smooth and soothing as she sang the standards of Ellington and Fitzgerald, which brought many in the audience to tears. People were just groovin’ through her entire performance. Other songs included in Austin’s performance included: “Cottontail,” “I Got It Bad,” and “It Don’t Mean a Thing.”

All the people who braved the weather certainly got their money’s worth and more!

Indie Soul welcomes your questions and comments. To contact Phinesse Demps, call 410-366-3900 ext. 3016 or 410-501-0193 or email: Follow him on Twitter: @pdemps_btimes

Jeremy Butler plans big come back from injured reserve

— A lot of emphasis has been placed on the amount of wide receivers the Baltimore Ravens interviewed at the 2015 NFL Scouting Combine. Some draft experts are saying that the Ravens will select a receiver with their first pick in the 2015 NFL Draft. One thing to consider is that the Ravens have a solid group of young play makers already on the roster.

Second year receiver Jeremy Butler is a player who was on injured reserve last year. Butler plans to have a big comeback from his season spent on injured reserve. He has yet to take snaps in a regular season game. Butler was a guy that the Ravens really liked in training camp. They liked to line him up in the slot.

Butler says that he learned a lot from sitting out this past year. He learned how to be a pro and how to train like one. This includes taking care of his body. Butler is learning how to cook healthy meals for himself which excites him.

Having a positive mindset when faced with adversity is a strong trait. Butler uses that mindset. “In a weird way, it added to my career. It taught me how to watch film, take coaching and things like that. My mindset is that I didn’t play last year, so attack this year. Most guys are trying to take time off and recoup from the season but I am looking to come right back and get a good start.”

Steve Smith Sr. and Wide Receivers Coach Bobby Engram are two guys who have helped Butler both on and off the field. “Coach helped me out on the field and made me I feel part of the mix each and every week. He kept me focused and tested me to make sure that I was locked into the game plan.”



Jeremy Butler #17 of the Baltimore Ravens lines up against the San Franciso 49ers during an NFL preseason game at M&T Bank Stadium.

Butler learned how to set both short term and long term goals from Smith Sr. There are countless things that Smith Sr. has taught Butler but one thing stood out the most to him.

“The thing that stands out the most is understanding that you have to make the most of what you have and make the most of your ability. He told me to make the most of what I as given.”

The work that Butler has put in doesn’t go unnoticed. The Ravens coaching staff has kept an eye on Butler because they appreciate how he is willing to do everything that he could to make it onto an NFL roster. Ravens head coach John Harbaugh has spoken about Butler very often when the idea of a young receiver on the team comes up.

Butler has big plans this season. “ I am not letting him down. I am coming in to make an impact. I am not coming in to be just a guy in the jersey, just a guy on the team, happy to be there. I want to be great and I am putting the work in to be that.”

Life in Baltimore: Highlighting organizations with a history of 40 or more years

Among the many organizations in Baltimore with an extensive history, the Guardsmen, Women Behind the Community, Inc (WO-BE-CO), and the DuBois Circle stand out as real treasures.

The Guardsmen – 1933

In 1933, several young men most of whom were graduates of Howard University, Lincoln University, and Morgan State (College) University began the Guardsmen in Brooklyn, New York. In 1934 a second chapter was established in Baltimore by the Brooklyn members who were friends of the new inductees. The Guardsmen’s objective was to form an organization of black men to foster social programs that would include their wives and significant others. Their program was designed for socializing, networking and community service.

Later chapters were established in Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Richmond. This association of men has grown from Massachusetts to Florida and west to Los Angeles, California. Currently, there are eighteen chapters. Each chapter hosts three extravagant weekends a year to gather across the country or outside the continental United States. The Guardsmen also sponsor local events.

Women Behind the Community, Inc. – 1968

Women Behind the Community, Incorporated was founded in 1968 as an adjunct to Baltimore’s chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE). It was originally known as Women Behind CORE founded by Cardrienne and James Griffin. About a year after the group’s inception, CORE slowed its activities locally and nationally and the club’s services were no longer needed.

Recognizing that there were many unmet needs among African Americans in the Baltimore Metropolitan area, the members felt this viable organization should continue. It changed its name to Women Behind the Community (WO-BE-CO) and was incorporated in 1969.

The mission of Women Behind the Community Inc. is to promote the well-being of Baltimore residents through constructive programs and projects. The objectives are to provide services to the community such as political, cultural and educational programs; to provide financial assistance toward civic projects; and provide and lend personal services to families and schools.

Through the years, WO-BE-CO has exemplified dedicated service to many deserving communities. They have assisted students by providing monetary gifts and clothing for school; volunteered in hospital and gift shops; sponsored numerous voter registration forums; volunteered for political campaigns; sent care packages to Liberia, West Africa and Tutmiller, Mississippi; and donated time and supplies to the Women’s Housing Coalition. During the 2012 election year, WO-BE-CO sponsored two public forums; Voter Suppression and Voter Education as well as voter registration campaigns. Last year, WO-BE-CO partnered with the American Institute for Urban Psychological Studies, Inc. to host a conference, “Spotlight On Depression” held at the Baltimore Convention Center, which was open to the public.

WO-BE-CO has donated over 2,000 new books to elementary schools and read to students during special observances at least twice yearly. In addition, the club has a mentoring program for fourth grade girls at Edgewood Elementary School. The organization supports many community projects such as Mrs. Santa, Orchkids, the Lyric Opera Camp and the Maryland Food Bank.

Currently, WO-BE-CO proudly operates the Dressing Room, a clothing resource for women entering or re-entering the workforce. The services are available at no charge and by referral to women who have completed job-training programs and are seeking employment. While members of WO-BE-CO volunteer time and service to the Dressing Room, they do acknowledge that they are only able to provide this community service because of donations from generous supporters.

The DuBois Circle — 1906

At the turn of the century, a firm insistent voice was beginning to be heard. Dr. William E. Burghart DuBois called upon Negroes to strive for rights that included voting, civic equality and the education of youth. In 1905, Dr. DuBois called for a conference to meet in Niagara Falls on the Canadian side, because no hotels were open to Negroes on the American side. A group of 29 Negro professionals; ministers, editors and teachers from various parts of the country, met and formed an organization known as the Niagara Movement.

It was in the same climate that the DuBois Circle came into being. A mass meeting was arranged at the Lyric Theatre in Baltimore. A number of young women were invited by Dr. Garnett Waller of Trinity Baptist Church to serve on a special committee that evolved as an auxiliary to the Baltimore Niagara Movement Branch.

On January 5, 1906, Miss Caroline Cook, Mrs. Minnie L. Gaines, Mrs. Margaret Hawkins, Miss Eva Jennifer and Mrs. Garnett Waller met in response to Pastor Waller’s request. This group of ladies sought to continue their relationship. They welcomed experiences that permitted them to meet together and keep abreast of the times. The Circle affiliated itself with the Federation of Colored Women’s Clubs and the Maryland League of Women’s Clubs.

Speakers of the highest quality have addressed the Circle throughout its history. Response to critical social needs within the community have been addressed by the Circle’s donations to My Sister’s Place , Christopher’s Place, and The Nathan Carter School of Music at New Shiloh Baptist Church, The Enoch Pratt Library, the Afro-American Newspaper, and Florence Crittenton Services. In a rapidly changing technological and industrialized culture, the DuBois Circle, the oldest Black women’s organization in Baltimore, continues in its 109th year to have an active concern for politics, immigration, and education.