Bon Secours launches re-entry program

— The transition from inmate back into the community can be tough on the ex-offender, families and the neighborhood itself.

With 458 individuals from the Sandtown-Winchester Harlem Park neighborhood of West Baltimore currently serving time and accounting for one of the highest incarceration rates in Baltimore, officials at Bon Secours Baltimore Health System decided to spring into action and become proactive in helping the transition.

The health organization, which assists the West Baltimore Community with a comprehensive array of services that include a 72-bed acute care hospital and comprehensive behavioral health care, has launched a re-entry program for returning citizens to that area of Charm City.

“The division of corrections releases approximately 9,000 inmates annually from their system who return to Baltimore City. After statistics revealed this incredible number of ex-offenders returning home, we learned that 59 percent return to the city and, more specifically, 30 percent of those return to just six zip codes which surround Bon Secours Community Works and the hospital,” said Anees Abdul-Rahim, Bon Secours Community Works Re-entry Coordinator. “Therefore, it just makes sense to have programs in place to assist this population with their reintegration back into society. Something had to be done and Bon Secours stepped up.”

Funded by the Bon Secours Health System Mission Fund, the Bon Secours Community Works “Re-Entry Success” program is a 12-week training course that addresses the challenges of reintegration and teaches various life skills in what officials said takes place in a positive, collaborative environment.

The program emphasizes character building to ensure participants are ready to fully integrate back into society.

“Our executive director, Talib Horne, CEO Dr. Sam Ross and his staff at the hospital are all committed to the success of the program,” Abdul-Rahim said.

Following the 12-week training, graduates receive a year of comprehensive follow-up services by the Career Development Program team that include individual, personalized coaching for motivation; help with real-life issues and tasks like transportation, child care and support, mental health and substance abuse concerns; mentoring; peer support; and job placement assistance.

The program also offers certification and occupational training for careers such as construction and urban landscaping.

Traditional education classes such as GED classes, community college courses, online classes in our computer lab with reading and math tutoring are also offered.

Additionally, services such as housing assistance, credit repair, childcare, tax preparation, parenting classes and expungement assistance are available for program participants through the Community Works program.

“As an ex-offender, who was released in 1989 after serving a lengthy sentence, I did not have services to assist me with integrating back into society,” Abdul-Rahim said. “Ironically, as the two attached letters from division commissioner will bear witness, I had more support on the inside, than what was available upon returning to my community and it was hard for me. However, I forged ahead and I persevered. I made a determination to help others coming behind me.”

To be accepted into the program, an individual should simply call Bon Secours and make an appointment. No one is turned away because of the crime they’ve committed and the requirement is that participants must have a willingness to change their lives, according to Abdul-Rahim.

“The most important thing they should know is incarceration affects you very deeply emotionally and psychologically. Institutionalization during the prison experience that hinders the progress of imprisonment long past their release from prison,” he said.

“Without the help of professionals who really understand its impact on the offender and his family, there is very little hope for success. There are many well-meaning folks who desire to help; they just do not know how to help.”

For more information about the program, visit

It takes a a village to raise a brown girl

So many girls of color live in fear of their own beauty and potential because of the labels and limitations society imposes upon them. From social media posts of cat fights gone viral to “Love & Hip Hop’s” glorification of silicon injections to attract men and success, brown girls are encouraged–even expected– to be any and everyone except for who they are.

Baltimore's own R &B artist Brave Williams and Bravo Television's Cyrene Tankard were just two of the many speakers at the Brown Girls Village event.

(Photo: Renita Clark)

Baltimore’s own R &B artist Brave Williams and Bravo Television’s Cyrene Tankard were just two of the many speakers at the Brown Girls Village event.

Sharon Page, founder of the Brown Girl Village (BGV) movement, understands how self-hatred gone unchecked can defer dreams and dim hope for the future. She also understands that a little exposure can change the way a girls sees herself and the world.

“I was a little brown girl, but my mother exposed me to things like theater, ballet, traveling and the opera when I was younger, and that exposure just opened my eyes to all the possibilities of who I could be and where I could go,” said Page, a Turner Station native. “But, I realized that a lot of inner city girls are not awarded the same experiences as I had when I grew up because they lack the economic resources to take advantage of opportunities that may help them find their purpose in life.”

Given all that has transpired in Charm City this past year, Page, and BGV co-founders Shelonda Stokes, and Michelle Huff believe that the village approach to raising children still works and has put the old adage to action with the development of the Brown Girls Village Retreat, an initiative that aims to empower young women of color to serve, innovate and lead.

Over 100 young women from all corners of the “Charmed City” converged upon the Inner Harbor’s Four Seasons Hotel on Saturday, May 21, 2016 for a day of empowerment, education, and girl talk with a host of seasoned black women who have met with success because of their courage to walk courageously in their browness with no apologies.

“I think African American women are just so incredibly fly. I like that we can be who we want to be at any time,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake shared with attendees during a segment entitled “Used To Be You.”

“We can dress down and be fly. We can dress up and be fly. I just feel like as an African American woman we are the ultimate and the most fabulous chameleons. And I think it’s silly when [females] want to tear each other down when we can learn so much from one another. Instead of looking for ways to bring others down, we should look for ways to build ourselves up.”

Youth advocate and community organizer Erika Alston, founder of the Safe Kids Zone, was also among presenters at the conference. Her message to young women touched on practicing empathy toward one another by breaking down the definition of a “hater” as a wounded individual who has yet to realize their own potential.

Young women were given a taste of charm school with a lesson in fine dining etiquette over a three course meal by Joi Thomas, director of media relations at The New Psalmist Baptist Church and host of WEAA’s Gospel Grace.

“One thing I want you to always remember: If you were invited to a nice restaurant where the tables are set like this, don’t be intimidated. You are there because you deserve to be there,” said Thomas.

Over the course of the retreat, presenters imparted wisdom on topics from financial literacy and social networking etiquette to natural hair care and entrepreneurship, including Senator Catherine Pugh; singer, songwriter and actress China McCain of Tyler Perry’s House of Pain and Disney Channel’s “ Ant Farm;” and singer and R&B Diva Brave Williams.

“The most important part of your body are your eyes,” said Brave, a Baltimore native. “They hold your vision. You can be whatever you want to be if you protect your vision.”

Moving forward, The Brown Girl Village Retreat is slated to be an annual event in Baltimore and other major cities. It will be a part of the Baltimore African American Festival’s “Road to the Festival,” July 2-3. There will also be a BrownGirl Village event during the festival weekend.

“Our hope is that this experience will also inspire and empower our brown girls to continue to dream, no matter what their current situation,” said Page. “Brown Girl Village will help our young women to realize that anything is possible with hard work, dedication and determination and open their eyes to new possibilities.”

Maryland AIDS Drug Assistance Program’s medicines list expands to help more clients

The Department of Health and Mental Hygiene’s Infectious Disease Prevention and Health Services Bureau is expanding the Maryland AIDS Drug Assistance Program (MADAP) formulary to include medications for hepatitis C. This action enables MADAP clients to access treatments known to cure hepatitis C in as little as 12-24 weeks.

“We are pleased to be able to include medications to the list of treatments available to Maryland residents co-infected with HIV and HCV who are enrolled in our MADAP program,” said Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Dr. Howard Haft.

Hepatitis C medications added to the formulary as of April 2016 include Harvoni (ledipasvir/sofosbuvir), Viekira Pak, Sovaldi (sofosbuvir), Ribavirin and Zepatier. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, about 25 percent of people living with HIV are co-infected with HCV. Co-infection of HIV and HCV increases the risk for liver disease, liver failure and liver-related death.

“The Infectious Disease Prevention and Health Services Bureau is committed to working to ensure that Marylanders co-infected with HIV and HCV have access to medications that enable them to prevent life-threatening complications,” said Bureau Director Jeffrey Hitt. Marylanders with HIV are encouraged to call 410-767-6535 or 1-800-205-6308 to learn more about the MADAP Program.

The department urges baby boomers— persons between 1945 through 1965— to get an HCV test. Although anyone can contract HCV, 75 percent of adults infected with the virus are baby boomers. Health and Mental Hygiene’s Maryland Community-Based Programs to Test and Cure Hepatitis C, a CDC-sponsored initiative, is a collaboration between public health, primary care and specialty care to provide access to quality HCV screening and treatment.

For the Maryland AIDS Drug Assistance Program (MADAP) Formulary, visit:

Hopkins clinic offering relief, cure for hepatitis C

In Greater Baltimore, Hepatitis C affects African Americans more than any other group, according to Joseph Cooke, a senior outreach worker at the Blalock 319 Hepatitis Clinic at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

If left untreated, hepatitis C can lead to liver cancer and cirrhosis which is why treatment and awareness should be a priority in local communities where conversations should be held in churches, barber shops and other local gathering spots, Cooke said.

“It is now a very exciting time in hepatitis C treatment and new oral regimens have extremely high cure rates,” he said. “However, we still face challenges as individuals must first know that they are infected and then be linked to hepatitis C care.”

A report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that was highlighted earlier this month by the U.S. National Library of Medicine revealed that the number of hepatitis C-linked deaths in the United States reached a record high in 2014, and the virus now kills more Americans than any other infectious disease.

There were 19,659 hepatitis C-related deaths in 2014, according to preliminary data from the CDC.

“Why are so many Americans dying of this preventable, curable disease? Once hepatitis C testing and treatment are as routine as they are for high cholesterol and colon cancer, we will see people living the long, healthy lives they deserve,” Dr. Jonathan Mermin said in an agency news release.

Mermin directs the CDC’s National Center for HIV/AIDS, Viral Hepatitis, STD, and TB Prevention.

If not diagnosed and treated, people with hepatitis C are at increased risk for liver cancer and other life-threatening diseases. They may also unknowingly infect others.

The new CDC study found that the number of hepatitis C-related deaths in 2013 exceeded the combined number of deaths from 60 other infectious diseases, including HIV and tuberculosis.

The numbers might even be higher because the new statistics are based on data from death certificates, which often underreport hepatitis C.

Most cases of hepatitis C are among baby boomers— those born between 1945 and 1965, according to the National Library of Medicine. Many were infected during medical procedures such as injections and blood transfusions when these procedures were not as safe as they are now. Many hepatitis C-infected “boomers” may even have lived with the disease for many years without knowing it, according to the report.

On Thursday, May 19, 2016, Johns Hopkins held a National Hepatitis Testing Day at the William H. Welch Medical Library where providers, clinic staff and patients networked and where free testing was offered.

Johns Hopkins officials also celebrated the curing of 1,000 individuals who had hepatitis C.

“We are seeing a huge surge in youth because of the rise in drug use and tattoos,” said Nancy Haselhuhn, a nurse practitioner at Johns Hopkins. Normally, blood work that could detect the virus isn’t ordered for young people and insurance companies usually won’t authorize such procedures unless there’s already a serious health problem, Haselhuhn said.

What’s more, deaths due to hepatitis C-related illness tops HIV and tuberculosis which is alarming, Haselhuhn said.

“Often it takes several years to realize damage but once the liver shows scarring you’re now at risk for cirrhosis. I tell people that if you’re feeling sick, it’s probably late, your liver is already infected,” she said, adding that some symptoms could include nausea, vomiting and the yellowing of the eyes.

The most common complaint is feeling tired, Haselhuhn said. “A lot of people are quick to blame getting older for feeling tired,” she said.

For more information, visit

Terra’s Kitchen Partners with the Ed Reed Foundation

— Terra’s Kitchen, the Baltimore-based, innovative meal-kit delivery service, which helps families and friends connect in the kitchen and around the table announces a partnership with the Ed Reed Foundation, led by Ed Reed, former Baltimore Raven Super Bowl Champion and Future Hall of Famer.

The Ed Reed Foundation is a non-profit public charity focused on improving the lives of youth and expanding the opportunities available to them. In launching this partnership, Terra’s Kitchen is offering an exclusive code, REED20, to consumers for $20 off their first order, and will subsequently make a donation of $20 to the Ed Reed Foundation, with proceeds going directly to Friends of Great Kids Farm. Great Kids Farm is a working farm that educates Baltimore students of all ages about healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and the natural sciences.

“Ed Reed and his foundation’s emphasis on improving the lives of local youth goes hand-in-hand with Terra’s Kitchen brand mission— it all comes down to fostering family, community and healthy living,” shared Michael McDevitt, Chief Executive Officer of Terra’s Kitchen. “As we continue to build and develop Terra’s Kitchen, we are proud to support Friends of Great Kids Farm through the Ed Reed Foundation and contribute to efforts to ensure Baltimore students have the opportunity for healthy and nutritious lunches, while learning more about the food they eat and where it comes from.”

“The Ed Reed Foundation is grateful to have supporters like Terra’s Kitchen that champion and share our goals, specifically our work in supporting local Baltimore kids,” said Ed Reed, founder of the Ed Reed Foundation. “For kids, being healthy starts with education and family life in the home, and as a community we will continue to support this message and cause.”

Reed and Terra’s Kitchen share a belief in the importance of the three pillars to a successful and healthy lifestyle: nutrition education, family and clean eating. For more information on the Terra’s Kitchen and Ed Reed partnership benefiting the Ed Reed Foundation and Friends of Great Kids Farm, including videos off the All-Pro Safety giving his thoughts on nutrition, family and how to conveniently eat healthy, please visit

“We’re very excited to be partnering with two organizations, in the Ed Reed Foundation and Terra’s Kitchen, that are passionate about healthy eating and educating the children of Baltimore about food and farming,” said Jessie Lehson, executive director of Friends of Great Kids Farm. “Together we can move closer to ensuring that all children in Baltimore have access to healthy food and an opportunity to learn about where that food comes from.”

Edmondson-Westside High School holds ‘College Decision Day’

College bound Edmondson-Westside High School seniors had the opportunity to showcase their higher education choices during ‘College Decision Day,’ a special program held at the school on Monday, May 23, 2016. Principal Muriel Cole-Webber was joined by Congressman Elijah Cummings, members of the school’s faculty, college representatives, 92Q FM, the Baltimore City Health Department, and hundreds of the school’s freshman, sophomores, and juniors.

The seniors proudly held signs, which included Bowie State University, Coppin State University, University of Maryland Eastern Shore, Morgan State University, and Arundel Community College. This is the first year for the event, which took place in the school’s gymnasium. Edmondson-Westside High School is located at 501 N. Athol Avenue.

“The goal of the event was to really showcase the graduating seniors’ college choices, and to encourage the other grade levels to get excited about making their college choices, said Principal Cole-Webber, who is an alumnus of Morgan State University.

During the program, each of the participating seniors took photos with a representative from their chosen school, along with Cole-Webber and other Edmondson-Westside High School staff. The students also received a ‘care package,’ which included school supplies, snacks, toiletries, and other items.

“We have approximately 128 students who have committed to a school,” said Cole-Webber. “We wanted to put together something memorable for them.”

The day of the event fell on the same day that Officer Edward Nero was acquitted of all charges in the 2015 death of Freddie Gray.

“This program is an opportunity to show the city and the state that Baltimore City has a lot of positive things going on,” said Principal Cole-Webber. “A lot of focus has been put on the Nero trial and Freddie Gray, but Baltimore City is not about that one negative thing. If we spend more time investing in the schools, and the students, we can get away from the negative. We have to uplift our kids, and our mindset has to always be that they are our future.”

Principal Cole-Webber also highlighted the accomplishments of Edmondson-Westside High School Valedictorian Shawn Barnes, who will be attending Hood College, and Salutatorian, Marvin Watts who will be attending Susquehanna University.

“Many times the females are highlighted for their academic achievements,” she said. “But this year, we have two males who are graduating with the top honors.”

The busy day included lunch, and workshop sessions. Topics included: Healthy Me & Making Healthy Decisions for Your Body, conducted by Stacey Dennis of the Baltimore City Health Department. The workshops also included Collegiate Life 101:The Real Deal presented by Pure Potential Enterprises’ ‘Collegiate Dream Team.’ Pure Potential Enterprises is a nonprofit organization made up of three divisions: Clear Vision, Le Pearls, and Collegiate and Career Counseling. The organization was founded by Phyllis Coley, a counselor at Edmondson-Westside High School.

“This event is all about sowing seeds into the next generation of greatness,” said Coley, noting that 90 percent of the students are first-generation college students. “This event provided them with an opportunity to tell the world they have made their college decision, and to showcase the next chapter in their lives. This was a great event.”

Slide the City is back, and bringing a block party

— Hillen Road will be transformed into the biggest block party of the summer when Slide the City arrives on Saturday, May 28, 2016. Families and friends alike can slip and splash down the giant waterslide while onlookers enjoy the surrounding block party. Event organizers expect this year to be their best yet.

“This unique event was a huge success last year, but for 2016 we are going to be adding some fun entertainment to give it more of a community feel,” said John Malfatto, Slide the City co-owner. “You can experience your hometown like never before!”

Event organizers have added street entertainers, music, local vendors and more to create a block party around the slide itself. When families, friends and neighbors want to take a break from the heat, they can ride the one-of-a-kind urban slide. Last summer, over 3,000 adventure-seekers sped down the sped down three city blocks on inner tubes. Since, then Slide the City has made various improvements to the event. “For our 2016 season we implemented wave times for all of our events so participants can slide without the wait,” said Slide the City spokeswoman Amy Gessel.

Sliding starts at 9 a.m. Participants can purchase a single, triple or ultimate slider pass during a selected wave time and are encouraged to sign up before April 1 to take advantage of the current rate. Pricing starts at $10. Online registration is now open at

All those over five years of age and 46 inches tall are welcome to slide! Visit the Slide the City Facebook page to see what fans have to say.

The first event of its kind, Slide the City has seen massive growth since its beginnings in 2014. The 2015 summer tour stopped in over seventy cities around the world, and this year Slide the City is on track to produce more than 100 events. The family-friendly company brings its massive slides to locations from coast-to-coast. With music, local vendors, activities and more, city streets are transformed into the biggest block party of the summer.

SEED School of Maryland names Baltimore campus for Ruth and Norman Rales

— Maryland’s only public, college-preparatory boarding school, The Seed School of Maryland located at 200 Font Hill Avenue in Baltimore has named its campus for late philanthropists Ruth and Norman Rales.

The couple began their lives under humble circumstances. However, Norman became a businessman who eventually established the Norman and Ruth Rales Foundation. Three Rales brothers— Mitchell, Steven and Joshua— attended the ceremony with their families in Baltimore on April 22, 2016. After Mitchell provided generous gifts to both The SEED School of Washington, D.C. and to SEED Maryland, he elected to name both campuses after his late parents. The capital gift reportedly allowed for the renovation of SEED Maryland.

Jon Tucker, head of school at The SEED School of Maryland, remarked that Ruth and Norman began an amazing legacy of giving back to support young people and education. Their children continue to provide assistance and encouragement.

“They (The Rales’ children) just carried it on from the giving of their time and their resources, but also giving back just that same spirit in their words today, and their message to our kids about continuing to give back once they graduate and get their college degrees, Tucker said, after the program.

Attendees had an opportunity to hear firsthand accounts about the extensive efforts that were made by SEED School founders, Eric Adler and Rajiv Vinnakota, to bring their educational model to fruition. SEED Maryland opened in 2008, welcoming its first class of sixth graders. Students from across the state are admitted to the five-day-a-week boarding school through a lottery process. SEED Maryland students must be from a family whose gross income is 200 percent below the federal poverty guidelines and meet designated at-risk criteria. The school’s leadership believes that every student who enrolls can earn a college degree and achieve at the highest levels, regardless of barriers he or she may face. Performance on standardized tests is not considered. In 2015, 100 percent of SEED Maryland’s graduating first class was accepted into a four-year college. The third SEED School campus is located in Miami, Florida.

Additionally, the ceremony also honored the commitment of other people who also believed in SEED Maryland’s students enough to help start the school. Guests who attended the ceremony included Senator Ben Cardin, Congressman John Sarbanes, Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith, and Dr. Gregory E. Thornton, CEO of Baltimore City Public Schools. The effectiveness of SEED’s school model was exemplified by student emcee, Maia Fulton. The member of SEED Maryland’s first inaugural graduating class currently attends Towson State University.

“With the help and support from SEED and the College Transition & Success Team, I was able to overcome obstacles standing in my way of a college degree,” Fulton said.

Cheers and applause erupted after Afnan Laghei, the second student emcee, reminded the audience that Ruth and Norman believed that everyone, regardless of background, is entitled to an excellent education. Afnan added that naming SEED Maryland’s campus after them would serve as a reminder of their belief.

Congressman Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) was a close friend of Ruth and Norman. During his keynote address at SEED Maryland, he revealed the roots of their generosity.

“Norman Rales knew what it was like to grow up without the promise of opportunity. Raised in an orphanage, he began his adult life with nothing more than five dollars, a toothbrush, and the clothes on his back,” he said. “And his beloved Ruth was the daughter of immigrants who had survived the pogroms and came to this country with nothing but their dreams to build a better life for their daughter. Their difficult early experiences shaped their belief that personal success brings with it a responsibility to lift others up. ”

Hoyer encouraged the students who attend SEED Maryland to excel in their studies and challenged them to make the principle of repairing the world a part of their lives. While reminiscing about Norman and Ruth, he asked the students to act whenever witnessing injustice, need or despair.

“Just as others have planted seeds to help you grow, you have an opportunity and a responsibility to be seed-sowers yourselves,” Hoyer said

Young entrepreneur ‘sneakin’ up the ladder of success

Chase Reed, 18, recalled when he borrowed money from his father and handed over a pair of his tennis shoes.

“I have always loved tennis,” said Reed. “I needed to borrow some money from my father, and gave him a pair of my tennis shoes. The tennis shoes were an incentive for me to pay the money back so I could get my sneakers back. At the time, we were working on opening up a sneaker store, and thinking about unique ideas and names that would make it different.”

He added, “We were watching a program on television one day about pawn shops. We said, ‘we should open up a sneaker pawn shop.’”

Thus Sneaker Pawn was born. Sneaker Pawn is located at 292 Lenox Avenue (125th Street) in New York, NY. Reed, and his father Troy Reed run the store, which he says is the first sneaker pawnshop in the world to his knowledge. Sneaker Pawn buys and sells new and used sneakers, consigns and pawns sneakers. Their stock includes exclusive new releases, limited edition and retro sneakers.

The father and son opened the store in 2014. At the time, the younger Reed was just 16.

“We sell brand new and used tennis,” said Reed. “Not too many stores sell used tennis shoes. A pair of $ 600 tennis shoes can be sold for $160 just because they are used. We also buy a lot of tennis shoes, so we can sell a brand new tennis shoe valued at $600 for about $300. We are one of few stores that actually buy sneakers and pay cash for brand new and used tennis.”

He added, “We try to give people as many options as possible whether they need money and want to sell their sneakers, or want to buy sneakers. Business has been good. When I think back on when we started, things happened very fast. We were able to do this in less than two years.”

Reed is a native New Yorker and just turned 18 in February. He has been featured in numerous publications including The New York Post, Kids Sports Illustrated online; The Root, Dime, Sportswear International and Source magazines. He has appeared on CBS World News; Bloomberg TV; CNBC; Teen Nick; and The Steve Harvey Show.

“A variety of different people come to Sneaker Pawn to purchase tennis,” said Reed. “A lot of tourists who saw me on The Steve Harvey Show also come here to buy tennis. We also attract people from all over New York of every generation, every race, and all ages looking for all kinds of tennis shoes. Some want retro styles [and] others want new styles. Some people come in wanting to buy the updated version of their sneakers.”

Reed is the recipient of the Black Wall Street award and recently was listed on Forbes’ 2015 ‘30 under 30’ and Crain’s ‘20 under 20.’ As an ambitious, young entrepreneur and trendsetter, he continues to explore new opportunities to expand his brand globally in the sneaker and fashion industries. He shared this advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

“You have to be consistent, and do something that you like doing. If you don’t like doing something, you’re not going to put forth as much effort. I also advise people to open doors of opportunity. You never know what doors will open for the next opportunity. We did a media interview, and that opportunity turned into a hundred other interviews. Take all opportunities that are positive and will benefit you.”

Reed shared his future plans.

“Right now, we are working on opening another store and launching an online store,” he said. “I want to be as successful as possible and to own as much as possible. I also want to supply jobs and employ as many people as possible. Right now, we employ about 10 people, but I would like to see that turn into 1,000 people and then 10,000 people in New York, and all across the country. I want to supply jobs, and a way for people to like what they are doing.”

Sneaker Pawn is open Monday through Saturday from 12 noon until 8 p.m. and on Sundays from 12 noon until 6 p.m.

Crash demonstration highlights need for seat belt use in all seats

Overlooking an isolated stretch of runway at Martin State Airport, officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Baltimore County Police and safety advocates witnessed a sudden and violent impact between two cars on Tuesday, May 24, 2016. The T-bone crash simulation effectively showed the devastating consequences of unbelted occupants during a typical car crash and demonstrated the need to wear seat belts in every seat during every ride. Officials specifically focused on the need for backseat passengers to wear seat belts to avoid becoming human projectiles in a crash and killing others in the vehicle, including those who did the right thing by buckling up.

“Our message is simple: buckle up in every seat, every time, day and night,” said Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete K. Rahn. “The most effective way to save your life— and the lives of others— is to wear your seat belt.”

On average, about 120 people who died in traffic crashes each year in Maryland were not wearing their seat belts. Over the past five years, 59 percent of all backseat passengers who died in Maryland were unbelted.

“Seat belts prevent ejection during rollovers, and they stop back seat passengers from becoming projectiles during a crash,” said Dr. Beth Baker, Region 3 Administrator for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. “No matter how short or far you’re traveling, buckle up.”

In 2015, Maryland’s seat belt usage rate was 93 percent, an increase from the 2014 rate of 92.1 percent. Despite the increase, the number of traffic fatalities in Maryland went from 443 in 2014, the lowest number since 1948, to a preliminary number of 521 in 2015. Thirty six percent of people who died in Maryland motor vehicle crashes last year were unbelted. Not wearing a seat belt continued to be a leading cause of death on Maryland roads last year. If Maryland could reach a 100 percent seat belt usage, about 54 more lives could be saved each year.

“The tragic increase in traffic deaths on our roads last year is unacceptable,” said Motor Vehicle Administrator Christine E. Nizer. “Maryland’s efforts to reach zero traffic deaths must include more people wearing this simple, life-saving device.”

“As a police officer, there is nothing worse than notifying a family that they have lost a loved one and knowing that the loss could have been prevented if they had simply buckled their seat belt,” stated Baltimore County Police Chief James W. Johnson.

“As drivers and as passengers, we all have choices to make each and every time we get into a vehicle,” said Suzanne Elzey, founder of the CruiseSafe Foundation, a nonprofit driving safety organization. “Whether you realize it or not, the choices you make at that time, will impact hundreds of people for the rest of their lives. So make safe, smart choices – buckle up, drive the speed limit and avoid distractions— as a driver or a passenger.”

Suzanne founded CruiseSafe after a horrific crash claimed the lives of her teenage son and his three best friends on Kent Island in April of 2013. Suzanne shared her personal story and spoke about the choices people make as drivers and passengers, and the long-term impact those choices have on family, friends and communities.

The crash demonstration marks the start of the national Click It or Ticket media campaign aimed at increasing seat belt use across Maryland and the country. The campaign features a television spot, which was designed specifically to address the issue of unbelted back seat occupants. The spot, which was developed using federal highway safety funding, can be seen here. The campaign also features radio advertisements and digital media, as well as grassroots partnerships with local radio stations and Uber.

Buckling up in every seat is the law in Maryland. Every person who is not buckled faces the possibility of an $83 ticket. Along with not wearing seat belts, officials highlighted areas that have historically been leading causes of deaths on Maryland’s roads, including: impaired driving; speeding; distracted driving; and not using crosswalks.