‘Community Conversations Series’ Begins With Meaningful Discussion On Housing

NEXT & LAST COMMUNITY CONVERSATION – Conversation 3 (Vision For A Healthier Baltimore) March 7, SAT btcommconvo3.eventbrite.com at the Impact Hub 10 E North Ave, 10am-1pm. See you there.


Cheryl Casciani: Reflections in Baltimore’s Changing Neighborhoods

Cheryl Casciani, Director of Planning and Community Revitalization, Baltimore’s Department of Planning reflects on Baltimore’s Changing Neighborhoods: A Community Conversation sponsored by The Baltimore Times. This first of three sessions was held February 22, 2020 at The Impact Hub. Morgan’s Department of Strategic Communication students are media partners on the project.

The Baltimore Times opened its three-part community conversations series with a forum entitled “Baltimore’s Future: A Conversation on Baltimore’s Changing Neighborhoods” on February 22, 2020 at Impact Hub Baltimore.

The meaningful discussion, made possible by a grant from The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Facebook Journalism Project Community Network, was a way of bringing the community together to create informative sharing opportunities.

Community members, stakeholders, real estate investors and nonprofit leaders convened along with the editorial staff of the Baltimore Times to participate in a session centered around the importance of fair and affordable housing, home ownership and real estate investment.

Table Talk

David Marshall

Table Talk

Following the welcome address by emcee Cassandra Vincent and Baltimore Times publisher Joy Bramble was an informative panel discussionbetween Khalil Uqdah and Kyara Gray of Charm City Buyers, Pamela Curtis of Park Heights Renaissance Inc., Nneka Nnamdi of Fight Blight Bmore and LaQuida Chancey of Smalltimore Homes.

In addition to providing insight on their respective organizations and their community involvement, panelists covered a diverse array of subject matters, including opportunity zones, revitalization, improvements and innovation, investing in disadvantaged communities, redlining and gentrification.

Further, panelists identified unfair housing policies and practices and expressed solutions for what many may perceive as a worsening housing crisis in Baltimore – particularly for Black residents.

Joy Bamble, publisher of the Baltimore Times, gives a welcome address to the participants of the opener of a three-part community conversations series at Impact Hub Baltimore.

David Marshall

Joy Bamble, publisher of the Baltimore Times, gives a welcome address to the participants of the opener of a three-part community conversations series at Impact Hub Baltimore.

Cassandra Vincent, special project lead for the three-part community conversations series at Impact Hub Baltimore and special project and programming manager at The Baltimore Times.

David Marshall

Cassandra Vincent, special project lead for the three-part community conversations series at Impact Hub Baltimore and special project and programming manager at The Baltimore Times.

“There’s a lot of information about how we got to today that most people don’t know of. There’s a lot of things that are happening today that people aren’t aware of, so it’s good to have these community assemblies,” said Nnamdi, the CEO of Fight Blight Bmore.

“It also gives an opportunity for what they call creative collisions where people come together and create something authentically in that moment, and it opens the door for more collective and cooperative work going forward.”

Community and economic development, social advocacy, building generational wealth, establishing partnerships and tax credit programs were among some of the solutions discussed along with actionable recommendations like developing in estate plans, seeking financial counsel and investing in land trusts.

“I do think that it’s all about resource sharing, but more importantly it’s about getting the word out there that these organizations exist,” said Chancey, who has endeavors to reduce homelessness by creating more affordable housing through micro shelter and tiny home communities.

“So much of the work that’s done in Baltimore is really siloed and kind of split up, and everybody doesn’t know the impact that is happening around the city, so these kinds of conversations are necessary.”

Chris Ryer, director of Baltimore City Department of Planning, delivered a brief presentation following the panel discussion. In his lecture, Ryer discussed the federal disinvestment in housing and presented a framework for community development as he identified “impact investment areas” and outlined a plan to work with community partners to redevelop underserved neighborhoods.

Lucky Crosby Sr., a concerned resident and public housing advocate, is part of an organization based in Sandtown-Winchester that represents public housing residents and low-income residents in distressed communities. He attended the community conversation and offered insight, too.

“I’m very concerned about the changes in the community, the type of demographics that’s being brought in [and] the safety of the deconstruction of the demolition of the homes in my community,” Crosby said.

To conclude the afternoon, participants engaged in a table talk facilitated by Nnamdi and Chancey, which was somewhat of an extension of the panel discussion. During the roundtable discussion, attendees asked questions, expressed concerns and exchanged ideas related to housing in Baltimore City.

One of the suggestions at the table talk was partnering with the educational system to implement financial literacy in the school curriculum in hopes of increased home ownership for future generations.

The Baltimore Times opened its three-part community conversations series

Courtesy Photo

The Baltimore Times opened its three-part community conversations series

“I think there’s a lot of very important information being imparted here and I highly recommend it,” said Jacqueline Fulton, a pediatrician based in west Baltimore. “I just think that it’s been very informative. For me, I didn’t know a lot about housing and it’s also letting me know about things happening in Baltimore that a lot of folks like me aren’t aware of.”

Likewise, Erika Jernigan, came to the community conversation to support the Baltimore Times and connect with different resources available at the forum.

Jernigan, the owner of Lexi’s Lil Bug, a children’s rideshare service that serves busy-working families in Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County and Baltimore County.

“I think it will make a major impact,” said Jernigan, “especially if we’re able to track all of the work that’s coming out of the community conversations, and then be able to replicate these conversations in a bigger scale, so that way they’re able to support and grow through the Baltimore Times.”

Harvard Lawyer and Criminal Justice Activist Bryan Stevenson Moves the Fight Against Injustice The Bastions of Culture

“Let’s keep fighting!” Bryan Stevenson implored the audience as he stood on stage with Jamie Foxx, Michael B. Jordan, Brie Larson and other cast members of the film Just Mercy, based on his bestselling book of the same name, at the latest NAACP Image Awards. What the Harvard trained defense lawyer and longtime criminal justice activist was referring to was fighting inequities in the US criminal system that harshly discriminates against Black and Brown people, and the poor of all races.

Perhaps the Delaware born and raised Stevenson got this spirit of justice and courage from his mother. She was a woman who urged little Bryan and his sister to get back in a hotel swimming pool hastily exited by a group of outraged whites when he and sister entered as pre-teens. It was also his mother who forced Bryan to apologize, hug, and say “I love you” to a little boy in his community after he had joined his peers in making fun of the little boy’s speech impediment. These were lessons in courage and compassion that Stevenson never forgot and those two characteristics define the work he’s been doing for over thirty years.

Working as a defense lawyer and criminal justice crusader for over twenty years now, Harvard-educated Stevenson has freed multiple innocent men such as Walter McMillan from death row after many years. He’s also become a leader in the movement against mass incarceration. The organization provides legal representation to prisoners who may have been wrongly convicted and to those who may not have received a fair trial.

Stevenson, beginning to realize that much of the sentencing was unfair and discriminatory, started his non-profit, the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama in 1989.

We arrived at massive inequities in the criminal justice system, Stevenson believes, by people’s feigned and real ignorance. “We have to educate people and once we do that, people can’t say they didn’t know.” To that end, Stevenson who is also an talented pianist, has branched out from solely being an actor in the criminal justice system to using culture to frame the narrative around America’s criminal justice system, which includes the history from which it’s derived.

After twenty years of fighting behind the scenes for justice, Stevenson realized that he needed to make his voice heard more loudly and to shape a narrative that is closer to what he has personally observed, and to provide solutions. “I realized, we should start talking more publicly to create the environment that we need to execute justice.” The book was the first part of that, and it’s the reason he consented to the film adaptation.

When the opportunity to film Just Mercy came around, he thought it would be a great vehicle for raising people’s consciousness. “A lot of people will see a movie who won’t read a book and if you can use two hours to get people to understand really complex issues and think about them, that’s, that’s an opportunity you don’t want to miss.”

In addition to the book and the film, Stevenson has opened a museum and memorial in Alabama to visually memorialize the thousands who have been lynched. The National Peace and Justice Memorial and just steps away, the Legacy Museum, provides a symbolic thruway showing the connection from slavery to the disparities in law enforcement we see today.

Perhaps the most prominent exhibit is the one consisting of 800-plus hanging steel rectangles inside the museum. These name and represent each of the counties (and their states) where a documented lynching took place in the United States. Outside are corresponding temporary markers which each state is encouraged to retrieve and use for their own commemorations of lynching. Maryland has retrieved theirs. “There’s been a pretty active movement in Maryland and the state legislatures actually commissioned people so there’s this group of people working across the state to erect markers on lynching sites. We’ve worked with people in Wicomico County, Anne Arundel County, Prince George’s County. There is a pretty active community of people who are working on this.”

Says Stevenson, “It’s shameful that it’s the 21st century before we actually have cultural institutions that even talk about slavery or lynching. We’re at the very beginning of what I hope will become a cultural revolution that makes it impossible for people in this country, to live here without full awareness and knowledge about the damage that was done.”

Please visit https://eji.org/ for more information.

Annapolis Restaurant Week From February 29 To March 8

Annapolis Restaurant Week started twelve years ago to support local restaurants in the off-season. It is a fun way to support our local restaurants, save a few dollars, have an amazing meal and get out of the house and enjoy time with friends and family.

This is one of the best times to eat out in Annapolis area restaurants. This year’s event starts on February 29, which is Leap Day. The nine-day event runs through Sunday, March 8, 2020 and features over 40 of the Annapolis area’s best restaurants. Those participating in this annual event will be offering price-fixed meal selections for just $12.95 for a 2-course breakfast, $15.95 for a

2-course lunch and a three-course dinner for $34.95. Select locations will also offer additional bonus items and specials, which may include half price bottles of wine, discounted appetizers or specialty drinks.

Courtesy Photo

“Due to the popularity of Annapolis Restaurant Week, we traditionally see a huge upswing in reservations at participating restaurants. So we encourage you to make reservations early especially if you are bringing a larger group,” said Erik Evans, executive director of the Downtown Annapolis Partnership.

This year’s dining options have also increased with four new restaurants joining in the event. The new participating restaurants include Rodizio Grill, Camp Severn Shore, Paladar Latin Kitchen and Rum Bar and Main & Market. Many of the restaurants have also added options to accommodate vegetarian and gluten-free diners. For a complete list of all participating restaurants, locations, menus, gift cards and reservations, visit: www.annapolisrestaurantweek.com.

This is the perfect time to try out new restaurants along with your favorites. The City of Annapolis has become a culinary dining destination over the years and this event highlights some of the area’s most popular dining destinations. Several of the areas local restaurants regularly make the list of the top restaurants in nearby metropolitan publications like the Washingtonian Magazine, Baltimore Magazine; and local publications including What’s Up? Magazine and Bay Weekly Newspapers and the show Diners Drive-ins and Dives has also featured participating restaurants.

“Annapolis Restaurant Week is popular with both locals and tourists. With so many dining options and specials you will want to go out to eat every day this week,” said Matt Schatzle Chairman of the Downtown Annapolis Partnership.

For additional information, visit: www.annapolisrestaurantweek.com

Dreading A Dental Visit? Five Tips For Getting The Most Out It

Many people would just as soon avoid scheduling a dental appointment, unless an unbearable toothache lands them reluctantly in the dentist’s chair.

Fear of pain is one reason for procrastination, but it’s not the only factor. People worry a routine checkup could reveal the need for expensive, major work. Wary patients also sometimes harbor doubts about whether a costly procedure is even necessary.

But patients can put themselves at ease and get the most out of their dental visit by fully vetting their dentist and learning how to weigh options, says Dr. Rick Mars (www.dentalcaregroup.net), author of The Big Smile: The Principles of Modern Dentistry – for Dentists and Patients.

“Many dentists don’t do a good job of educating their patients and communicating with them,” Dr. Mars says, “and most patients don’t do a good enough job educating themselves. We have a saying in dentistry that if you put 10 dentists in a room with a single patient, they will come up with 10 different treatment plans.

“But the great thing about dentistry is the multitude of creative solutions available to patients. You need to ask the right questions to make sure you understand the treatment options.”

Dr. Mars offers these tips for finding the right dental treatment at a fair price:

Educate yourself and listen when your dentist educates. “The worst thing that can happen is that you don’t get the treatment you need and something disastrous happens,” Dr. Mars says. “The second worst thing that can happen is that you do get treatment, but you didn’t actually need it. Taking an active role means you not only do your own research and get a second opinion, but you also listen carefully to your doctor when your doctor educates you.”

Read online reviews with a critical eye. “The internet can be very helpful when you’re vetting a new dentist, but there’s also a lot of misinformation out there with patients’ reviews,” Dr. Mars says. “In today’s world, patients wield power like they never previously had. In general, people who bother to write reviews are disgruntled and want recourse and even revenge. On the other hand, numerous positive reviews, ideally from people you know who were treated by that dentist, can add up to a trustworthy referral.”

Interview your dentist and their team. “You can ask them how many times they’ve done a certain procedure and even ask to see photos of their cases,” Dr. Mars says. “It may require a specialist rather than a general dentist. And find out why they charge what they charge.”

Get an honest second opinion. “Even though you trust your dentist, you might hear a treatment plan that just doesn’t sit well with you,” Dr. Mars says. “Get a copy of your radiographs from your current dentist to take to your second-opinion dentist. Never show the second dentist your treatment plan until they give their final suggestions.”

Ask to see the results of your dental investment. “Rather than limit your evaluation of your dentist to time, cost, or customer service, think about your dental work like you consider mechanical work to your car,” Dr. Mars says. “After treatment, dentists can and should show you radiographs of your teeth and point out the details proving your problem is fixed.”

“If you’ve done your homework,” Dr. Mars says, “your dentist, whether a general practitioner or a specialist, should leave no room for doubt that you’re in the right place.”

Dr. Rick Mars is a general dentist and the author of The Big Smile: The Principles of Modern Dentistry – for Dentists and Patients. Dr. Mars has practiced patient-centered dentistry in the Miami area for over 25 years. For more information, visit: www.dentalcaregroup.net.

Driven With Power, Aligned With Purpose

My favorite line from Poet, Rumi, would be, “Set your life on fire and seek those who fan your flames.” There is so much power in this statement as life without passion can feel worthless. It is so important to live passionately and boldly in the direction of the dreams that are calling you. When you live passionately, you will be called to others and them to you to support your personal and collective evolution. There is power in community and purpose and together we not only can set our lives on fire but we can light up the world.

It was close of business on a Monday and my co-worker leaned over and asked me, “Is it Friday yet?” While I laughed, this question allowed me to reevaluate. If you come into your place of work on a Monday longing for Friday there is something wrong. That ultimately means the passion for the work you are putting in isn’t 100 percent and it may be time to reevaluate. Evaluation and internal conversations are so important. Through daily prayer, I ask for alignment to make sure I’m serving my purpose and everything that God wants for me.

In life there will always be haters who may not believe in your vision and people around you who aren’t driven at your level. This may be easier said than done but you can’t let that affect or distract you from your purpose. Remember that this life is yours and today is also yours so, own it. Rise above the naysayers and separate yourself from others who t bring you down and do not have the same passion about life as you do. You owe yourself a lot in this lifetime— be relentless with your alignment and

remember that you set the pace.

“Who you’re around is who you become,” is one of the most accurate statements and I’ve learned this through personal experiences. Over the past year, I made an effort to build meaningful relationships and surround myself with likeminded souls who are driven in spirituality, uplift me, have purpose, and that has made all the difference. Be picky with your inner circle.

In life, you will go through situations that may throw you off track and make you feel worthless or devalued. Growing in spirituality and self-confidence has given me the power to take a step back and say to myself, “It’s not me, it’s you.” I realized that I would often allow the implications of others, how they treated me and viewed me to ultimately impacted how I saw myself, my drive and the way I moved in life. Over time I also realized that comparison is the thief of joy and there is only one me. Through that I made the conscious decision of no longer allow others to devalue my worth staying strong in my power.

Affirmations are necessary and

important. According to PsychologyToday.com, affirmations are used to reprogram the subconscious mind, to encour- age us to believe certain things about ourselves or about the world and our place within it. Manifestation is the key because once you believe it all is possible.

Start here: wake up every morning and give yourself reminders, “I am beautiful, I am powerful, I am worthy, I deserve the most.” Personalize your affirmations, write them down and make it plain, and watch these words come to life. Your mind is powerful, and you must fill it with purposeful thoughts.

There is power in purpose. Live a purpose driven life.

Positively Caviar, Inc. (PCI) is a grassroots nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization focused on instilling mental resilience by way of positive thinking and optimism. Each month, a member of their Nucleus Team will feature a column focused on mental and physical health tips, scientific studies, nutrition facts and stories that are positive in nature to support a positive and healthy lifestyle. To learn more about how you can support, volunteer, or donate to Positively Caviar, Inc. visit: staybasedandpositive.com.

Hairstylist On A One-Women Crusade To Turn Black Hair Salons Into Business Powerhouses

When Najah Aziz nodded off during an annual job performance review, she knew she had to make a move. She wanted out of the insurance business and into the hair salon, feeding a passion she developed as a child styling her six sisters’ hair.

Quitting the security of corporate America after 16 years, she told Zenger News, came with a second ambition: to inject a new sense of professionalism into the African American hair industry.

Aziz eventually took the leap and put her evening cosmetology classes to work. Fifteen years later she is a nationally recognized stylist, owns the Like The River Salon in Atlanta and wages a one-woman national crusade with “Beauty Beyond The Hair” clinics.

She travels the country up to 20 times a year to run four-hour “look and learn” sessions, three-hour business seminars for salon operators and a seven-hour “Short Hair Boot Camp.”

Students get a crash course on business etiquette, marketing, community service and client retention and growth.

“The model for African American salons has been broken for a long time,” she said. “It’s been broken in the way the businesses operated, the way business was conducted, the way stylists presented themselves, the atmosphere in salons.

“I was a client long before I became a hair care professional and so I noticed all the issues. I sat in a salon for six hours to get my hair done. I watched stylists talk on the phone as they worked. I saw people coming in off the street selling products to clients, while listening to rap music blast away.

“And none of it felt right. In fact, it was all disappointing.”

Aziz hosts some sessions at her award-winning salon where she coaches stylists one-on-one and in groups. And she offers hour-long telephone mentoring to share business advice.

“I believe in her mission of being more professional in our culture because it allows us to move in arenas that were not available to us,” Loriane Robinson, stylist and owner of In God’s Hands Beauty Salon in Chicago,” told Zenger. “We were completely blinded to the fact that the beauty industry is bigger than making money doing hair.”

Robinson first spotted Aziz on Instagram and embraced her teachings in a 2016 session in Chicago.

“I’ve learned that our industry also has to first be about being professional, on time for work, building your image, social media presence, continuing to be a student,” she said. “When we apply her knowledge, create new habits, we can experience this multibillion-dollar industry in a fresh and new way.”

Jasmine Ashley, owner of a Los Angeles salon that bears her name, said, “Every time I see Najah she drops a jewel or several. I’ve learned from her that staying relevant, current and professional at all times holds more weight than stylists know.”

Aziz said she started slowly with one or two clients a day. But she studied hair videos in her off-hours and observed other stylists’ work, gradually building her clientele.

“My intent was always to educate myself,” she said. “Even now, all this time later, I’m excited about learning and improving.”

Her salon is a soothing environment where clients have limited wait time

because there is no double booking.

Aziz flexes her community-service muscle three times each year, offering complimentary hair care services to homeless women in Atlanta. “I believe in giving back,” she said.

Her formula seems to work. More than 285,000 fans follow her on Instagram, hair magazines feature her work and annual industry mega-events like the Premier Hair Shows and International Beauty Show give her platforms to teach and tell her story.

“Najah is so amazing,” Brooklyn stylist Gillian Garcia told Zenger. “I support her mission. It’s time the ‘black salons’ treat our gifts, talent and purpose with a little more respect.

“I totally love that Najah continually references her corporate experience

because we are professionals also. She has shown you can be creative, professional and business savvy. She’s released an inner power within me and I have not been the same since I met her.”

Maryland Live! Casino Celebrates Black History Heroes During Black History Month

An enthusiastic throng of about 300 well-dressed folks gathered at the Center Stage area of Maryland Live! Casino in celebration of Black History Month on Thursday, February 20, 2020. Ten Maryland and District of Columbia business and community leaders were recognized for their contributions to their communities in a positive way at the 7th Annual Black History Heroes Awards.

Hosted by Live! Casino & Hotel along with the Maryland-Washington Minority Companies Association (MWMCA), the special affair saluted Luther “Luke” Atkinson, Former Negro league Baseball Star, Satchel Paige All Stars; Adrienne A. Jones, Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, District 10; David L. Gadis, CEO and General Manager, DC Water; Joseph T. Jones, Jr., president and CEO, Center for Urban Families; Roz Hamlett, director of Multimedia Communications, Anne Arundel County; Le Gretta Ross-Rawlins, Baltimore Postmaster, United States Post Office; Bert J. Hash, Jr.’ former president and CEO, Municipal Employees Credit Union (MECU); Warner H. Session, Esq., principal and board member, Session Law Firm, P.C./Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority (MWAA); Janice Hayes-Williams, coordinator, Cultural Resources, Department of Planning and Zoning, Anne Arundel County; and Dr. David Wilson, president, Morgan State University.

Each honoree received a special plaque denoting their individual awards.

In a special commendation letter Maryland Governor Larry Hogan stated: “This celebration seeks to honor and recognize Black History Heroes. Maryland is steeped in African-American history.

Numerous African American leaders have called Maryland home, includ- ing Frederick Douglass, Benjamin Banneker and Harriet Tubman. We are proud to celebrate these and other historical heroes here in Annapolis, and across our state.”

The Rev. Jerome Stephens, community outreach director for Senator Benjamin Cardin, delivered the prayer and described the ceremony as “a worthy tribute to our leaders, past and present.”

Several of the honorees gave remarks during the ceremony, including the Speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, Adrienne Jones, who discussed the importance of educating future generations about influential African-American leaders in our nation’s history. She urged the crowd to take time to visit the two newly unveiled statues of Harriet Tubman and Frederick Douglass in the Old House of Delegates Chamber at the Maryland State House.

Former Negro League infielder Luther “Luke” Atkinson, 82, served as keynote speaker and offered insight into his playing days under the tutelage of legendary Hall of Fame pitcher, Leroy “Satchell” Paige. Atkinson also discussed the racism that he and his teammates faced on a daily basis, the poor playing conditions and the meager salaries that players of his generation had to endure.

“Although my teammates knew what we were up against, we persevered. We all played for tomorrow and for the love of the game,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson now volunteers for the Hubert V. Simmons Museum of Negro League Baseball Inc., located in Owings Mills, Maryland where Rayner “Ray” Banks is exhibits manager and hall of fame co-founder. He pointed out that 2020 as the 100th anniversary of Negro Leagues Baseball.

Live! Casino & Hotel, part of The Cordish Companies is committed to

diversity and inclusion is recognized as one of the top corporate philanthropists in the region. The Cordish Companies is committed to being a leader in the areas of diversity and inclusiveness. We embrace the diversity within the communities we serve nationwide, and we work with non-profit groups, civic leaders and civil rights organizations that, like us, are committed to ensuring the growth and

vibrancy of their communities, according to the company’s website.

“We are incredibly honored to host the seventh installment of the Black History Heroes Awards at Live! Casino & Hotel, honoring African-American community leaders across Baltimore and DC,” said Zed Smith, COO, The Cordish Companies. “Commitment to diversity and inclusion is core to our company culture, so this event is very special for our team. The honorees being recognized are influencers that are impacting change for

future generations and creating lasting legacy as we enter into a new decade. This celebration is just a small token of our appreciation for all of their efforts to positively impact the lives of others.”

Only Time Will Tell Whether Opportunity Zones Live Up To Their Promise

The potential for Opportunity Zones to reinvigorate thousands of communities throughout the United States is regularly, praised by civic leaders and politicians, including President Trump during his State of the Union Address.

While Opportunity Zones clearly hold significant promise for attracting investment in otherwise neglected neighborhoods, it is still too soon to say they will be an unqualified success, according to Venroy July, a Baltimore-based attorney and partner with Miles & Stockbridge.

“I think Opportunity Zones are good, but you are not going to see if they live up to their real potential until later in the cycle,” July said. The first investors to take advantage of this tax-saving opportunity, according to July, will be wealthy individuals who want to make major investments in “super attractive” projects.

“It will take time to see if capital goes into the next layer of projects and into areas that are not as attractive,” July added. “Once we get into the second and third layer investments, we’ll begin to see the true potential of what Opportunity Zones can accomplish.”

Opportunity Zones were created as a component of the federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December of 2017. Their purpose is to encourage investment in economically distressed communities by making it possible for investors to receive preferential tax treatment for investments made in businesses operating within nearly 9,000 Zones that have designated in every state in the United States, as well as in the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories. An example of a Baltimore-area Opportunity Zone that July is familiar with is Yard 56, which is converting a former industrial site into a 20-acre, mixed-use project. In its first phase— expected to open this year— Yard 56 will have a retail center, grocery store and fitness facility, among other shops and restaurants.

Plans for Phase II include a variety of office spaces, residential units, more retail stores, and a hotel. Located near the Johns Hopkins Bayview medical campus, Yard 56 is being developed by P. David Bramble, principal with MCB Real Estate LLC, and his partner Peter Pinkard.

One frequently voiced concern, even among the staunchest supporters of Opportunity Zones, is the potential they have for causing gentrification in communities that see a sudden infusion of investment capital.

“Gentrification is going to happen as a result of investment in Opportunity Zones,” July predicts. “Early investors are not going to be looking to do small investment projects; they will be looking to participate in huge projects that will be very capital intensive. If you put a big project in these neighborhoods that have been historically underinvested, in some cases the communities are going to be overwhelmed.”

July believes the real power of Opportunity Zones will be seen when smaller investments of several hundred thousand dollars, as opposed to tens of millions of dollars, create a significant benefit by “building on what is already in neighborhoods.” He would like to see minority participation in such projects pursued by churches, fraternities, sororities and other organizations that can pool their resources and invest in their own communities.

“There is already a trust relationship within these organizations,” July notes. “If they plan strartegically, members can put together a well-thought-out plan for urban renewal in the communities where they live, without bringing about displacement. Such investments can actually enhance these communities, while also helping to create generational wealth for African Americans and others.”

Christopher G. Cox is the publisher and managing editor of www.realesavvy.com

Unified Voices Presents Ursula V. Battle’s ‘Serenity House’ March 20-22, 2020

Chart-topping singer/songwriter/actress Shirley Murdock will headline the high-acclaimed stage play, Ursula V. Battle’s “Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance.” The show is being presented by Unified Voices (UV) of Johns Hopkins and Battle Stage Plays.

Director Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch and Playwright Ursula V. Battle.

Courtesy Photo

Director Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch and Playwright Ursula V. Battle.

LaKeisha McClendon is the show’s Executive Producer. The production will be performed March 20, 21, and 22, 2020 in Johns Hopkins’ Turner Auditorium located at

720 Rutland Avenue in Baltimore.

The stage play takes a riveting and thought-provoking look at the opioid epidemic. The production will also feature National Recording Artist Randy “Fruity” Roberts of The Choir Boyz, Mavilyn Statham of the legendary Clara Ward Singers, internationally renown-ed gospel female trio “Serenity” and Baltimore’s own dynamic songstress Charisse Caldwell- Bowen.

Gospel/R&B recording artist Shirley Murdock will headline “Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance.”

Courtesy Photo

Gospel/R&B recording artist Shirley Murdock will headline “Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance.”

Murdock will portray “Sister Claire C. Voyant,” and will also sing in the production.” Murdock’s R&B hits include As We Lay, Go On Without You, Husband, and In Your Eyes. Meeting Bishop T.D. Jakes in the late 1990s, led not only to features on his #1 CD, but the realization of her lifelong dream to sing Gospel. He signed Murdock to his Dexterity Sounds/EMI recording label and her debut Gospel CD entitled, Home was nominated for a Stellar Award.

The following project Soulfood (Tyscot Records), received both Stellar & Dove Award nominations. Her latest project, The Journey is a live CD/DVD recording featuring Regina Belle, Kelly Price, and Beverly Crawford. The songstress’ theatrical credits include Priest Tyaire’s hit stage play, Mrs. Independent.

Roberts portrays “James Franklin” in the production, and will perform Watch Me Work from his hit CD This Is My Story This is My Song featuring “Kingdom.” Serenity will perform several gospel favorites throughout the production. Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch is the Stage Director, while Howard “Buddy” Lakins, Jr. is the Musical Director for the powerful production, which will also include original music composed by the Peabody Institute of the Johns Hopkins University student, Allen Branch.

“We are excited to present Ursula V. Battle’s Serenity House,” said Dr. Branch, who serves as Executive

Director of UV. “Serenity House supports UV’s mission which is to spread hope, health, and healing through harmony. We are so honored to bring in the legendary Shirley Murdock. She is headlining a show of extraordinary performers. People can expect to laugh, cry, and most of all, be uplifted.”

The production is written by Baltimore Times writer Ursula V. Battle, who is being honored as a Women In the Arts 2020: “Valiant Women of Freedom” Honoree at Morgan State University on Saturday, March 14, 2020.

“Serenity House: From Addiction to Deliverance” centers around the journey six men and women— three months in recovery— after arriving at the imaginary United in Victory Tabernacle on the Hill Freewill Catholic Baptist and Episcopal Church of God in Christ’s newly opened “Serenity House.”

Through ministry, music, an unforgettable story and dance, the production takes a heart-wrenching, yet heart-warming look at the devastating impact that addiction has on society— particularly on families that in some cases, spans generations.

The production also highlights the supernatural power of God to help us overcome, and the transformative power of forgiveness.

The performances are being dedicated to the late poet Maya Angelou, who penned, And Still I Rise. The show is also dedicated to “Cynthia,” a woman who overdosed in front of the building where auditions for the production were held, but was revived by the NARCAN nasal spray.

Ursula V. Battle’s “Serenity House” is rated PG-13 due to some strong content and profanity. Show times are as follows: Friday, March 20, 2020 (7 p.m.); Saturday, March 21, 2020 (Noon and 7 p.m.) and Sunday, March 22, 2020 (5 p.m.) Seating is General with doors opening 30 minutes before the performance. For additional information or to purchase tickets call 410-955-8888 or 443-531-4787. You may also visit: www.unifiedvoices.com or www.battlestageplays.com.

Maryland Historical Society To Take Original Star-Spangled Banner Manuscript To State House

On March 3, 2020, the Maryland Historical Society’s original Star-Spangled Banner Manuscript will take to the road, and head to the State House in Annapolis, where it will be displayed alongside the State House’s 1783 George Washington Resignation Speech for the first time. For one day only, visitors to the State House will have the opportunity to see the special union of two of Maryland’s most important manuscripts.

The 1814 manuscript handwritten by Francis Scott Key rarely leaves the premises of the Maryland Historical Society due to its fragility. In the summer of 2014, it joined the original 1814 flag at the Smithsonian as part of the 200th anniversary of the anthem’s writing. This time, the manuscript’s trip will mark its 89th anniversary as our national anthem, which became official via executive order on March 3, 1931 by President Herbert Hoover.

“We are thrilled to be both the keepers, and in this instance, the makers, of history,” said Mark Letzer, president and CEO, Maryland Historical Society. “Our chief responsibility is to preserve the manuscript, and as such, we cannot have it exposed to the elements for long periods and are limited in the appearances we can arrange. This anniversary, and this union, felt like a once in a lifetime opportunity that we are excited to be able to make a reality.”

The rest of the year, the Star-Spangled Banner manuscript is stored in the Maryland Historical Society’s library, but a replica is on display in the War of 1812 exhibition. The Maryland Historical Society is located at 201 West Monument Street in Baltimore, Maryland.

The museum’s operating hours are 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, and 12 – 5 p.m. Sunday.

About the Maryland Historical Society

Founded in 1844, the Maryland Historical Society is the state’s oldest continuously operating cultural institution. In keeping with the founders’ commitment to preserve the remnants of Maryland’s past, MdHS remains the premier institution for state history. With over 350,000 art objects and artifacts and 7 million documents and books, MdHS now serves more than 100,000 people through its museum, library, press and educational programs. Learn more at mdhs.org.