Baltimore’s Own Ethel Ennis, Famous Jazz Singer, Passes at 86

Ethel Llewellyn Ennis was born November 28, 1932, in Sandtown-Winchester, a neighborhood in Baltimore, Maryland, where she spent most of her career. She performed from a young age, starting as a pianist in her local church. From there, she would go on to lead a solo career spanning several decades, eventually signing and producing albums with the likes of Atlantic Records and Capitol Records. She received national recognition for her debut album, Lullabies for Losers, and was even selected to tour Europe for six years with the famous Benny Goodman. It was not uncommon to her name on the bill at Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater, next to Cab Calloway’s.

Mrs. Ennis was the first ever singer recruited to perform the National Anthem at the re-inauguration of Former President Richard M. Nixon in 1973. This opened a pathway for her to perform her another former President in the White House, Jimmy Carter. Mrs. Ennis was able to act as a liaison for Baltimore, culturally, bringing parts of home as far away as Xianmen, China and Rotterdam, Germany.

By this time the seasoned veteran entertainer had returned home to Baltimore, where she would stay for most of the remainder of her singing career. Here, she shared the stage with the historic Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Count Basie Band. Her and her husband Earl Arnett founded their own music club, named Ethel’s Place during the 80’s, but sold it and continued pouring heart, soul, sweat, blood, and tears, into their various art pursuits.

Mrs. Ennis passed away from a stroke on February 17th, 2019, in her birthplace, and final resting place of Baltimore, Maryland. She was 86 years old.

Smithsonian Channel Airs Special Presentation Of ‘The Green Book’

On Monday, February 25, 2019, the Smithsonian Channel is scheduled to air a special presentation of “The Green Book: Guide to Freedom,” a first-hand account of historians, business owners and others who experienced the phenomenon of “traveling while black” in pre-Civil Rights America.

The film, which will air at 8 p.m., tells the story of Victor H. Green’s eponymous travel guide that allowed African Americans to safely travel the country during a time of severe institutionalized racism.

Directed by acclaimed documentary filmmaker Yoruba Richen, also behind “The New Black, The Green Book: Guide to Freedom,” looks at the daily realities that African Americans faced on the road— the struggles, indignities and dangers, but also the opportunities and triumphs that were won along the way.

While the story isn’t new to the Smithsonian— it won three 2019 Golden Globe Awards— the network also chronicled “The Green Book” in an online

article in 2016 where it noted that for black Americans traveling by car in the era of segregation, the open road presented serious dangers.

While driving on the interstates to unfamiliar locales, black motorists often ran into institutionalized racism in a number of pernicious forms from hotels and restaurants that refused to accommodate them, to hostile “sundown towns,” where posted signs warned people of color that they were banned after nightfall.

Paula Wynter, a Manhattan-based artist, recalled in the 2016 article a frightening road trip when she was a young girl during the 1950s. In North Carolina, her family hid in their Buick after a local sheriff passed them, made a U-turn and gave chase. Wynter’s father, Richard Irby switched off his headlights and parked under a tree.

“We sat until the sun came up,” she said. “We saw his lights pass back and forth. My sister was crying; my mother was hysterical.”

Also, “It didn’t matter if you were Lena Horne or Duke Ellington or Ralph Bunche traveling state-to-state, if the road was not friendly or obliging,” said New York City-based filmmaker and playwright Calvin Alexander Ramsey.

The Green-Book was indispensable to black-owned businesses.

For historians, the listings offer a record of the “rise of the black middle class, and in particular, of the entrepreneurship of black women,” said Smithsonian curator Joanne Hyppolite.

Earlier this month, Comcast, the Smithsonian Channel and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture in Baltimore hosted a private premiere screening for Black History Month, inviting community stakeholders and others, including Mayor Catherine Pugh.

Panelists at the event included Linda Goldman, executive producer of Mission Critical for the Smithsonian Channel and Dr. Dexter Blackman, an assistant professor of History at Morgan State University. Vic Carter of WJZ moderated the event.

“We treasure our engagement in the Baltimore community throughout the year, and co-hosting the Smithsonian Channel’s The Green Book: Guide to Freedom during Black History Month at the [Museum] afforded us a great opportunity to bring authentic programming to our community members and to connect with one another,” said Jessica Gappa, director of Community Impact for Comcast’s Beltway Region.

“It was important for our standing room-only audience to see the Smithsonian Channel documentary which revealed our shared history about travel restrictions imposed on African Americans during the Jim Crow era,” said Jackie Copeland, the executive director of the Lewis Museum. “It is a painful history, and many watching the film learned about The Green Book for the very first time. The Lewis Museum is dedicated to providing space for dialogue about our history and current events. ‘The Green Book’ film allowed us to do that.”

Since its inception, the Smithsonian Channel has been committed to African American history because officials there believe that it’s essential to a greater understanding of America’s national story, according to Linda Goldman, executive producer of Mission Critical for the Smithsonian Channel.

“We found the Green Book story compelling on several levels. It leads us to many fascinating stories, from fabulous vacation resorts like Idlewild, to women entrepreneurs and progressive corporations, to civil rights battlefields,” Goldman said. “If history were a map, the Green Book guides us off familiar highways onto important, but easily overlooked, scenic routes.”

You Get What You Pay For In A Police Commissioner, Baltimore

The recent hoopla and sometimes disdain, heaped on Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh, the City Council and the Board of Estimates regarding the eyebrow-raising compensation package extended to the presumptive new commissioner of the Baltimore City Police Department, Michael Harrison, at first glance, elicits an understandable W-T-H reaction.

In a city of nearly 612,000 persons whose poverty rate is roughly 25 percent, which translates to 80,000 households subsisting on an income of less than $21.000 per year, the new police commissioner’s contract, which will pay him approximately $1.5 million over five-years, and nearly $300,000 if his offer of employment is rescinded before he assumes the office, it’s not surprising that the visceral reaction of citizens at-large might be one of shock and outrage.

Is it possible City Hall could have brokered a better deal for the public’s money? Perhaps. However, after an examination of the national talent pool for big city police commissioners demonstrates that Harrison’s pay package is near but not at the top. Relative to Baltimore’s size and the scope of crime here, the offer Mayor Pugh has extended to Harrison is competitive but this does not completely let the mayor off the hook for her decision.

Whether Catherine Pugh’s choice of Michael Harrison and his lucrative pay will ultimately be seen as a folly or a strategically wise leadership decision, will become obvious based on Harrison ‘s effectiveness.

Mayor Pugh’s motivation is clear. She is genuinely alarmed at the depth and scope of Baltimore’s crime and murder rates and has recruited a demonstrated law enforcement professional to address the situation on her constituents’ behalf.

Her heart is clearly in the right place. However, as the fourth commissioner to serve under Mayor Pugh in her 26 months in office (including acting commissioner Gary Tuggle) it remains to be seen whether the mayor’s leadership and management efficacy, in tandem with Harrison’s policing acumen, will achieve the desired result— drastically reducing crime, violence and murder in Baltimore City.

At the end of the day, the responsibility to police Baltimore is not the purview of the mayor or police commissioner alone. In a democracy, we the people must ultimately shoulder that responsibility. Pugh and Harrison are on our, the public’s payroll.

Baltimore’s crime and violence condition is in direct correlation to a terribly economically depressed city, with a large population of drug-addicted citizens, and a host of chronic social conditions in the areas of education, illiteracy, health, housing and jobs— fertile ground for a protracted crime epidemic.

It is left to those of us who are socially aware and engaged to not only set the agenda for the city— insisting where the government needs to target and channel precious resources for overall revitalization— it our moral and civic responsibility to protect our very substantial investment in the person hired to secure our safety and well-being by supporting him in his task and stacking the deck in favor of his success.

Our government exercises its authority with the consent of the governed. Mayor Pugh and Commissioner Harrison’s ultimate effectiveness to curb crime in Baltimore will be largely determined by the commitment of citizens to oversee and to vigilantly participate in municipal affairs. It’s largely up to Baltimore’s taxpayers and voters whether we get the bang for our buck from Michael Harrison as our new police commissioner.

Angela Wilson’s Tears Of The Soul Production Looks At Memphis Sanitation Strike

On February 1, 1968, two Memphis garbage collectors, Echol Cole and Robert Walker, were crushed to death by a malfunctioning truck. Twelve days later, frustrated by the city’s response to the latest event in a long pattern of neglect and abuse of its black employees, 1,300 black men from the Memphis Department of Public Works went on strike.

The Memphis sanitation workers’ strike is remembered as an example of African-Americans standing up for themselves. During their strike, sanitation workers marched in the face of racial injustice donning signs which read “I Am A Man.” The strike is also remembered as the prelude to the assassination of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was shot by a sniper who was identified as James Earl Ray, as the civil rights leader stood on the balcony of Memphis’ Lorraine Hotel.

One local playwright has captured how this historic movement played out through the eyes of a Memphis family through her stage play drama “Tears Of The Soul.”

“Tears Of The Soul is historical and educational,” said writer Angela Wilson, who also produced and directed the gripping production. “I love Black History. As a playwright, you come across something you believe makes a good story. When I began researching James Earl Ray, I was struck by the sanitation workers’ sacrifice.”

Sanitation workers, led by collector-turned-union-organizer, T. O. Jones, and supported by the president of the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), Jerry Wurf, demanded recognition of their union, better safety standards, and a decent wage.

“They didn’t have anything, but were willing to stand up and say, ‘this isn’t right, and we deserve to be treated better’”, said Wilson. “I was really inspired by them and began to see them as heroes. Everyone knows about Dr. King, but I wanted to share the story of the AFSCME union workers.”

(Left-right): Evelyn C. Liggins, Memphis sanitation worker Cleophus Smith, and Playwright Angela Wilson

Courtesy Photo

(Left-right): Evelyn C. Liggins, Memphis sanitation worker Cleophus Smith, and Playwright Angela Wilson

The story is centered around the Barnes Family, and how the strike and impending death of Dr. King impacted their household. “Fred Barnes” (Pierre Walters) and his wife “Vivian Barnes” (Joelle Denise) endured their share of pain, which included marital challenges, militancy in their children, and the shocking news of King’s assassination. The family also included “Ida Mae” (Regina Gail Malloy), “Dexter” (Devin King), and “Gina” (Leah Mallory).

Despite the many challenges they encountered, the close-knit family weathered the storm, and grew closer together. Through “Eileen Bridgewater” (Sharon Goldner), the play also highlighted the sacrifices made by Caucasians who supported the movement.

The cast also included Robert Freemon, who portrayed Memphis sanitation worker“ Turner Davis” and Michael Roxie Johnson who played his wife “Maxine Davis.”

“Most of the cast were not even born, and had very little knowledge of this story,” said Wilson. They did research on their own and really delved into some ugly stuff. You could see that they understood what they had learned, and it came through in their performance.”

“Tears of the Soul” was performed in April and October of 2018 at the Chesapeake Arts Center located on Hammonds Ferry Road in Brooklyn, Park, Maryland. Plans are in the works for a return engagement of the production.

Pierre Walters (Fred Barnes) and Robert Freemon (Turner Davis) portrayed Memphis sanitation workers in the production.

Pierre Walters (Fred Barnes) and Robert Freemon (Turner Davis) portrayed Memphis sanitation workers in the production.

Cleophus Smith, who was among the Memphis union workers, attended the October performance.

“He is very humble and a wealth of information,” said Wilson. “He was able to really help me to understand what it was like for them, which was something you could not read in a book.

“There are 28 remaining workers, and they travel a lot. I felt blessed and honored that he thought this was important enough to come and share this experience with us.”

Wilson is the founder of the AngelWing Project, Inc (AWP), a 501(c) 3 non-profit performing arts organization that promotes the development of the performing arts in the local community.

“Where are we today 50 years later?” asked Wilson. “There are a lot of parallels. The message of this play can help us to deal with some of the things we are dealing with today, especially when it comes to listening to one another.”

Decades later, in 2017, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced a group of 14 city sanitation workers from 1968 would be getting $50,000 grants from the city, totaling $700,000.

“They did get an increase in wages, but it still took a long time,” said Wilson. “In 2017, the remaining workers were awarded back pay. It was 50 years later, but the remaining ones received a nice contribution from the city.”

AWP’s next production is RISING UP: A Dramatic Presentation of Notable African American Firsts. The admission price is $10, and will take place on February 24, 2019 at the Chesapeake Performing Arts Center.

For more information about AWP, visit www.theangelwingproject.org.

Author Recalls Brave ‘Maryland 400’ In New Book

A few years ago, Baltimore author Chris Formant happened upon an announcement in a local newspaper describing a ceremony that was taking place in Brooklyn, New York, to honor the Maryland 400, the Revolutionary War regiment that fought in the Battle of Brooklyn in 1776. Now, Formant has written “Saving Washington: The Forgotten Story of the Maryland 400 and the Battle of Brooklyn.”

The 320-page historical tome that weaves in literature and fiction reveals that the soldiers were untested in battle, many only teenagers. However, by the end of the vicious and bloody Battle of Brooklyn on August 27, 1776, the Maryland 400 would turn the tide of the Revolutionary War and ensure the birth of a new nation.

After reading the newspaper clipping, Formant recalled that he went to Brooklyn so that he could find out more about the lives of those soldiers whom historians said were vastly outnumbered and who suffered heavy losses in the first and biggest battle of the war as they tried to hold off the British while Gen. George Washington’s army regrouped.

“I had never heard of them before,” said Formant, who also authored “Bright Midnight,” a book that one reviewer said weaves Formant’s vast knowledge of rock history in with “a page turning thriller” to provide his version of the deaths of legendary rock stars like Jim Morrison and Janis Joplin.

“This book wasn’t something that I planned on doing but I immediately googled the Maryland 400 and there was very little information about them,” Formant said.

After he discovered more details, Formant said the little-known military engagement, and the citizen soldiers who made the ultimate sacrifice, counted as the inspiration for his novel.

“Saving Washington” follows two young merchants-in-training, Joshua Bolton, who swears to avenge his father’s murder by British forces, and his best friend, Benjamin Wright, a free black man. Enlisted in the Maryland militia as part of the Maryland 400, they marched to New York with only minimal training.

“Their mission: to prevent the British from taking Brooklyn Heights, which will turn into a battle for the survival of the Continental Army and General George Washington,” Formant writes.

The book’s publisher notes that the novel seamlessly blends real-life historical figures and events with colorful, richly developed fictional characters and crisp dialogue in a time of unknown loyalties, intrigue, spies, romance and betrayal, friendship and comradeship, survival and sacrifice.

Transported back in time to the docks of Baltimore and the muddy carnage of the battlefield, the publisher says the book counts as an enthralling opportunity to be an eyewitness to the dawn of the United States of America.

“Four hundred citizen soldiers from Maryland— bravely stood up to a superior British Army in order to allow George Washington and the Continental Army time to escape,” Formant said. “It was a true suicide mission, only six weeks after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, that saved the young country and its revolution. They were America’s 300 Spartans.”

Baltimore Comedian Wins NBC Stand-Up Competition

If you don’t know comedian Mike E. Winfield, he at least wants to make sure that you correctly say his name.

“Mike … pause … E… pause… Winfield,” said the excitable Baltimore native, the winner of the 15th annual StandUp NBC comedy competition.

Winfield beat out 1,600 applicants during the peacock network’s annual search for comedians of a diverse background.

“It was incredible,” Winfield told the Baltimore Times. “I try to feel like a winner on a daily basis but when someone hands you a trophy, it just legitimizes you and I haven’t stopped grinning since that day.”

For his triumph, Winfield received a talent holding deal with NBC Universal and a headlining spot at the National Association for Campus Activities annual convention where he will perform for talent bookers from across the country. Also, Winfield will headline the regional semi-finalist showcases for the 2019 StandUp NBC competition later this year.

“Since its inception, StandUp NBC has forged a path for some of today’s most sought-after comedians,” said Karen Horne, SVP, Programming Talent Development & Inclusion, NBC Entertainment and Universal Television. “Following the program, many of our finalists have appeared in substantial roles on notable TV series and feature films as well as hosted their own stand-up specials on major networks. Their continued success speaks to their undeniable talent as well as the effectiveness of our program to help launch emerging comedic talent.”

A total of 1,600 stand-up comedians auditioned last year through online submissions and open calls in Charlotte, Chicago, Houston, Las Vegas and New York.

Winfield and fellow finalists join Michelle Buteau (Isn’t It Romantic?), Deon Cole (Grown-ish), Lil Rel Howery (Get Out), Hasan Minhaj (Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj), Phoebe Robinson (2 Dope Queens), and Dulcé Sloan (The Daily Show) as alumni of StandUp NBC, one of the network’s tent pole talent infusion programs.

A special celebratory event honoring the program’s 15th anniversary and a finale showcase hosted by comedian and StandUp NBC alumnus Orlando Leyba (The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon) were held in December at The Improv in Hollywood.

The finalists performed their sets in front of an audience of NBCUniversal television executives, casting directors, agents, managers and industry tastemakers.

Winfield credits his success to his Charm City upbringing.

“Baltimore molded who I am,” Winfield said. “I have thick skin and I believe in myself more than anyone else.”

Winfield says he has always allowed everyone else to talk, but he prides himself on being a risk taker.

“I’m attracted to thrills and that’s how I got here,” Winfield said. “My Baltimore surroundings and the energy from hip-hop has been a driving factor— from rags to riches has fueled me to want more than what I was raised with. The sky is the limit.”

Closer Look At Westside Baltimore Neighborhood Cause For Concern

Good news. Baltimore’s murder rate declined 10 percent in 2018, with 309 killings versus 342 for all off 2017. However, the scope of violence overall continues to plague the city’s neighborhoods and our reputation.

This month will mark one year since USA Today caused a local uproar and brought national scorn upon Baltimore by proclaiming our city the most violent in the country. Unfortunately, the empirical data cited from the FBI’s annual national violent crime index report is irrefutable.

More frightening is that upon closer examination of the research presented to support USA Today’s designation of Baltimore as the “Nation’s Most Dangerous City” reveal grim statistics about a relatively small community located in the Southwest corner of the city, and about Baltimore’s west side in general.

The roughly 2.5 square mile area of Carrollton Ridge located north of Carroll Park, east of Edmonson Village, south of Sandtown-Winchester, and west of the central business district has the apparent dubious distinction of being Baltimore’s most violent neighborhood.

The murder rate in Carrollton Ridge in 2017 was one killing for every 850 residents in a community of roughly 25,500 people, nearly double the city homicide rate. Citywide, Baltimore’s rate of 55.8 per 100,000 equates to one murder for every 1,792 residents. The murder rate in the state of Maryland is eight per 100,000, and in the U.S. six victims for every 100,000.

By comparison, the Sandtown-Winchester community, number two among neighborhoods for killings in Baltimore, had a rate of one murder per 1100 residents, followed by the Park Heights area, with three murders for every 2000 residents. All three communities are on Baltimore’s west side.

The unfortunate trend is that Baltimore’s west side neighborhoods have been historically more violent than other city communities. Among the Baltimore Police Department’s nine districts— Central, Eastern, Northern, Northeastern, Northwestern, Southern, Southeastern, Southwestern and Western – the three western districts collectively have consistently outpaced the other regions of the city for murders.

The swath of Baltimore City from north to south that includes the Northern, Central and Southern districts,

except for occasional outliers, have typically had much lower murder rates. The eastern and western districts have experienced a macabre competition for murderous behavior, with the west side usually ranking higher.

Consider these statistics from the last five years: 2017 total Baltimore murders, 342. Eastern districts: 116 v Western: 131; 2016 total Baltimore murders, 318. Eastern districts: 108 vs Western: 142; 2015 total Baltimore murders, 342. Eastern districts: 111 vs Western: 161; 2014 total Baltimore murders, 211. Eastern districts: 73 vs Western: 89; 2013 total Baltimore murders, 235. Eastern districts: 81 vs Western: 99.

In the five-year period from 2013 through 2017, the three west side police districts accounted for 43 percent of total murders committed. In every one of those years except 2013, when the Carrollton Ridge neighborhood placed second with one in 1275 of its residents becoming murder victims, that community has been number one among Baltimore neighborhoods for murder, peaking in 2015 with on in 671 of its residents falling victim.

Another important statistic that may not be getting sufficient attention while the emphasis is placed on firearm murders is the proliferation of shootings overall in Baltimore. Most of the shootings were not fatal, but severely maimed victims. The spike in non-fatal gun violence is trending sharply upward.

From 2014 to 2015 non-fatal shootings in Baltimore increased 72 percent from 370 to 637. The number slowed but continued to increase in 2016, climbing to 670 attempted firearm killings, almost two per day. According to Maryland Shock Trauma Physician-In-Chief, Dr. Thomas Scalea, the average cost to treat a gunshot victim— most of whom are uninsured— is $112,000. Extrapolate this amount by 2016’s 944 shootings for a total cost of $105 million.

Regi Taylor is a West Baltimore native. The married father of four is an artist, writer and media professional specializing in political history.

Eric DeCosta Kicks Off First Season As Ravens GM

Few teams are as well represented as the Baltimore Ravens at the various colleges’ all-star games, which take place leading up to the NFL Draft. It’s a habit that was established by Ozzie Newsome, the only other general manager the Ravens have ever had.

Newsome was always one of the few GMs that attended the East-West Shrine Week practices in St. Petersburg, Florida. Current Ravens GM Eric DeCosta was always right by Newsome’s side at Shrine week, as well as the Reese’s Senior Bowl in Mobile, Alabama. It’s only fitting that the torch is now passed on from Newsome to DeCosta.

As a long time assistant for Newsome, DeCosta was a perennial GM candidate for other NFL franchises. DeCosta declined each of the interview opportunities and kept his eyes on the future job of running the Ravens. The future is now for DeCosta.

Newsome’s final first round pick, quarterback Lamar Jackson has the arrow pointing up for Baltimore, having led the Ravens on a mid-season turn around resulting in the AFC North division title. DeCosta is now tasked with the burden of unloading former starter Joe Flacco’s big contract and adding more weapons for Jackson.

That’s why DeCosta was hard at work in St. Petersburg and Mobile getting a first hand look at prospects. This year’s draft will be the first one that DeCosta navigates without Newsome being the captain.

DeCosta got his start with the Ravens in 1996. He was a member of a group the organization referred to as the “20-20 club.” The reference is to a group of 20-year-old scouts hired for a modest salary of $20,000. The opportunity wasn’t as much for the money as it was for the learning experience. Many of the graduates of the group have moved on to roles within the Ravens’ personnel department.

After graduating from the 20-20 club, DeCosta worked his way up the ranks and eventually became the heir apparent to Newsome.

What’s the biggest lesson DeCosta learned from Newsome?

“Patience. Just don’t panic,” DeCosta explained when he was asked during a pre-draft press conference in 2017. “Take your time and consider everything— and don’t rush the process. Don’t create something, let it come to you.”

Patience is something that DeCosta exhibited in spades while he waited for his turn to take over as the team’s GM. Now, he has his chance to carry on the tradition of excellence his mentor established in Baltimore.

Get Your Heart In Good Health

About 610,000 people die of heart disease in the United States every year but that doesn’t have to be your fate. Some risk factors like your family history, sex or age you can’t control but there are some lifestyle changes you can make to decrease your risk.

1. Start moving!

Just getting 30 minutes of exercise each day can reduce your risk of heart disease. Physical activity can help strengthen your heart, which is helpful in preventing high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

Don’t let the idea of exercising scare you. It can really be as easy as walking. Try taking a 30-minute brisk walk most days of the week. Consider getting a

pedometer and make a goal of 10,000 steps per day.

If these goals are tough for you, don’t give up. Even breaking the workout into smaller chunks can offer heart benefits. Take 10-minute walks during your lunch break or do jumping jacks during commercial breaks while you’re watching television.

2. Cut out smoking

Smoking is the number one cause of preventable disease and death. Heart disease is no exception. Smoking or using tobacco of any kind is one of the most significant risk factors for developing heart disease.

Smoking damages the lining of your arteries, leading to a buildup of fatty material (atheroma), which narrows the artery. This can cause a heart attack or a stroke.

Carbon monoxide in cigarette smoke replaces some of the oxygen in your blood. This forces your heart to work even harder to supply enough oxygen.

No amount of smoking is safe. But, the more you smoke, the greater your risk. So decreasing the amount that you smoke can help improve your heart health. Remember, even smokeless tobacco, low-nicotine cigarettes, and secondhand smoke can be risky. Eliminating smoking and tobacco products from your life is your safest bet.

Your risk of heart disease significantly reduces one year after quitting smoking. Your risk of coronary heart disease drops almost to that of a nonsmoker in about 15 years.

3. Eat for your heart

Paying attention to what you put in your body plays a large role in preventing heart disease. Eating heart-healthy foods don’t have to be too restrictive, small choices can amount to a healthier lifestyle.

Use smaller plates when preparing your meals. This is a small tip that will prevent you from overloading your plate and filling up on unhealthy items. Eat larger portions of low-calorie, nutrient-rich food like vegetables.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables and whole grains can help protect your heart. These foods are usually low in calories and rich in nutrients. This all works to give you better cardiovascular health overall.

4. Know your Numbers

When it comes to your cardiovascular health, there are a few important numbers that you should know. Those numbers are your blood pressure, cholesterol and A1C (diabetes) levels.

Regular screening can tell you what your numbers are. This will help you know when you need to take action to decrease your risk. Here’s why those numbers are important.

Blood pressure. Aim to have your blood pressure checked at least once every two years. High blood pressure is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke.

If you’re age 40 or older, or have a high risk of high blood pressure, get your blood pressure reading every year. Optimal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

Cholesterol levels. Your body naturally builds up from your liver. But when there is too much cholesterol, it builds up in the walls of your arteries, causing a form of heart disease. You should have your cholesterol measured at least once every five years starting at age 18.

Diabetes screening. Since diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease, you may want to consider being screened for diabetes. Visit your doctor to have a fasting blood sugar test or hemoglobin A1C test to check for diabetes. If you don’t have any specific risk factors for type 2 diabetes, the American Diabetes Association recommends starting screening at age 45, and then retesting every three years.

This article originally appeared in the Dallas Post Tribune.

Lillie May Carroll Jackson Middle School gets brand new home

Monica Mitchell remembers well the privilege she enjoyed while attending an all-girls private school as a child growing up in Baltimore.

Mitchell, who leads the Maryland Wells Fargo Foundation which is dedicated to improving the community through corporate philanthropy combined with volunteer service, has parlayed that privilege into a life of service throughout Baltimore where she serves on the boards of Junior Achievement of Central Maryland, the Eddie and Sylvia C. Brown Family Foundation, and recently named to the boards of Associated Black Charities and Baltimore Community Lending.

A founding member of the United Way Emerging Leaders United Program to promote the professional development and community involvement of our next generation of leaders, Mitchell spearheaded the opening of the Lillie May Carroll Jackson School for girls five years ago.

Today, Mitchell says she is proud to announce the purchase of a new building to house the charter school, which should help continue its mission of creating an experiential learning community for Baltimore City girls.

“We will move into the building [at 2200 Sinclair Lane] in August or September, in time for the new school year,” Mitchell said.

Currently, the school is located at 900 Woodburne Avenue.

“Last week, we closed on the former [Laurence G.] Paquin School for Pregnant Teenagers on Sinclair Lane and we’re now the owners and operator of a new building,” said Mitchell, the founding president of the school board.

The history of the new site isn’t lost on Mitchell. The former Paquin School was “so important and revolutionary because its existence acknowledged that investing in a girl’s education can change the trajectory for future generations,” she said. “We are excited to continue the rich history of ensuring that girls are loved, supported and educated within its walls.”

Because the building sat vacant for several years, it has been subjected to vandalism and some environmental abatement needs to occur. The renovation will include updates that will provide a 21st century learning environment for girls, and a community resource to the surrounding neighborhood as a part of the East Baltimore Revitalization Project Master Plan.

Mitchell says that a committee of board members, community leaders and volunteers are in the midst of a capital campaign in an effort to secure the $4.5 million necessary to renovate and sustain the long-term growth of the school.

“I am particularly invested in identifying strategies that will increase our African-American donor base,” she said, adding that closer to the end of construction, the committee hopes to engage volunteers and others who are interested in opportunities for murals, landscaping and beautification.

“In addition to bringing an educational asset to the community, we are also an important part of the neighborhood revitalization work that’s happening,” Mitchell said.

Five years ago, Wells Fargo afforded Mitchell four months of paid leave so that she could work on the organizational development of the school. She credits the banking industry giant, who has been a partner in many successful Baltimore initiatives, with the school’s success.

“I think it’s important because had they not given me that critical time off, we never really would have been able to get the school off the ground,” Mitchell said, adding that the time also allowed for the hiring of staff members including a principal and the recruitment of students.

“Now, we are in a position with the building acquisition to do more and what Wells Fargo did was demonstrate that if more companies invest in their employees in this way, we can do some pretty incredible things in Baltimore,” she said.

Wells Fargo also made a financial contribution in recognition of Mitchell’s role, work and commitment to the school, which also received contributions from other foundations and corporations including Legg Mason, Under Armour, Charles T. Bauer Foundation, Jane Egenton Foundation, France Merrick, The Middendorf Fund and a loan guarantee from the Abell Foundation.

The school also has received operating support from Royal Bank of Canada, Brown Capital Management, The Eddie and Sylvia Brown Foundation, and numerous individuals.

For Mitchell, it’s all about giving back.

“I attended Roland Park Country School, a private school in Baltimore. I was privileged to attend,” Mitchell said.

“But, not every girl in Baltimore has access to those resources and that level of education. I was born and raised in Baltimore and it’s important for me that every girl does have those resources and opportunities to succeed,” she said. “I felt this school was my responsibility, and a chance to pay forward my incredible education and experience.”