Tia Hamilton: Encouraging Black men, the incarcerated, others to read and write books

Tia Hamilton sees her Urban Reads Bookstore as a hub for Black authors, including talented writers behind bars.

She opened Urban Reads late last year, and the Greenmount Avenue location quickly created an atmosphere where residents and others “can feel safe, read,

explore, vibe, and their children— our children— can connect with these books.”

“This goal has been made every day since we opened,” said Hamilton, who noted being inspired by her ownership of “State Vs. Us Magazine, which she launched a few years ago to help elevate the voices of those who have served prison time and those still in lockup.

“I tried to get other local companies to place my magazine in their stores, and it never happened. They never reached back out to me,” Hamilton said. “So I decided to open up my own store and sell my magazine, and put prison authors in the store so their work can be seen.”

Hamilton added that she felt discriminated against by Mondawmin Mall after an agreement to have her move into space there was nixed because “someone believed I was too political.”

“I then decided that this was going to be one of those situations where I pull up my own seat and create my own table with other people like me. Now we have Urban Reads,” Hamilton declared.

She offered that African Americans— particularly Black men— enjoy the space on Greenmount Avenue. Baltimore Times Publisher, Joy Bramble noted how impressed she was when happening upon Urban Reads and finding it filled with Black men quietly reading books.

Hamilton says it’s a myth that people read more books online than they do the physical copy. “I travel a lot, and I see more people with books in hand than a device,” she said.

“At Urban Reads, we can place authors, local, indie and prison authors in a space they [have] never been in before. They can finally and proudly say they are on a shelf of a bookstore in their community. It’s a blessing for themandus,” noted Hamilton, herself a formerly incarcerated individual. “To see their faces, smiles and joy is dope to us. We do book signings. We have community events such as first aid and CPR, financial literacy for youth entrepreneurs, free reading classes, creative wring courses, spoken word for our youth, and so much more in the works. We have a cafe with food, Seamoss, soaps, CBD, notary, faxing, copies and Internet cafe. We have our community on our back, and we are ok with that. Serving and saving ours is important.”

An entrepreneur since 2003, Hamilton says she is determined to give back to her community.

“I need [the community] to know that there’s nothing about us without us. We are the buying power and until we realize that we will continue to suffer. Be patient with most Black-owned companies because most of us never had or will get the opportunity to seek financial help to build a better business or deliver quality products,” Hamilton said. “Our community wasn’t taught that. We are taught to go to school and work for the white man. I’m here to change that narrative. Consumers of Black-owned businesses need to learn how to give constructive and positive feedback. Love the companies you support, help them thrive, and stop blasting them on social media. If you have a resource that you think may help someone in business, give that up to take advantage of the growth. Teach your children finances and stocks. If you don’t know how— then, find someone who does. As a Black community, we need to learn that ‘Pookie’ from the projects cannot show you how to build a business if they never built one. That’s like me telling you how to build a house, and I never have. A lot of this is common sense. Stay humble, stay open, and stay consistent in all you do. And let’s win.”

Doctor and author discusses ‘The Principles of Total Life Transformation’

Across the world, COVID-19 has disproportionately affected the Black community.   Mentally, physically and spiritually

Dr. Joseph Williams says that our health should not be an afterthought during this pandemic.   

“Life will throw many punches; however, when they come, we must  understand our ability to choose how we react.  We have more power than we often understand.”

Courtesy Photo

“Life will throw many punches; however, when they come, we must understand our ability to choose how we react. We have more power than we often understand.”

As author and health expert, Dr. Williams fiercely advocates for better health and, with summer approaching, wants to help others reach their goals.   

His recently released book entitled, “The Journey: Principles of Total Life Transformation” helps people who are trying to achieve transformative action.   

“What got me into this lane is I was obese, and I had a story similar to many Americans, and I got tired of it,” said Williams, affectionately known by his friends, colleagues and family as Dr. Joe.  

“We are conclusively seeing that people who don’t have underlying conditions can survive this, and [what] we learn from that is that our health is our wealth. We have to be serious about what we’re eating, exercising and our overall lifestyle.”  

Dr. Williams said he once had an

“unhealthy relationship with food.”  

“In America, there’s a connection with food. When we close a deal, we eat. When we mourn, we eat. Everything is followed by eating. We have to break that cycle,” Dr. Williams demanded.  

Born and raised in Atlanta, the Morehouse alum has made it his mission to help people reach their health goals.  

He notes that he has been intentional about setting the proper parameters on what it requires to make an actual lifestyle change— “a change in the mind, body and spirit.”

Dr. Williams says he learned how to “emotionally detoxify” as well as “spiritually recalibrate,” which resulted in his weight loss.   

Reversing all medications and health ailments, Dr. Williams has taken what he learned and conducted a 40-day holistic process to help 127 people between the ages of 26 to 77 years old lose 2,325 pounds during his 40-day comprehensive process titled, “40 Days with Dr. Joe.”  

In his book, Dr. Williams notes that “Like a trained fighter who takes punches while remaining focused on his strategy, we should be aware of our emotions without breaking focus on what we need to accomplish.  

“Life will throw many punches; however, when they come, we must understand our ability to choose how we react. We have more power than we often


He also proclaims that the most

significant obstacle to physical health,

especially in Western cultures, “is our relationship with food. In the West, food is used to meet. It’s used to celebrate, [as well as] when someone passes away. Customs and food go hand in hand. This mindset gives food purposes besides its original divine purpose.”  

When a negative emotion comes and [we are] aware of it, Dr. Williams says everyone must refocus their mind.  

“The place of our focus should be in the direction that’s desirable— not where we are but where we desire to be,” he said.   

To receive a free copy of Dr. Williams’ book, “The Journey: Principles of Total Life Transformation,” visit  https://www.22s.com/app/m/121319  

Pride of Baltimore Chair Pens ‘Agent of Change’ Open Letter

When Jayson Williams took over as chair of the Pride of Baltimore two years ago, he left a profound mark in economic development by spearheading major government, public, private, partnerships and he played a key role in enabling the development of the $1.2 billion MGM National Harbor.

Williams’ new job didn’t preclude him from making a change in other areas, including diversity.

He underscored that by penning an open letter recently, titled “Agent of Change,” to all in and around Baltimore.

“When I was a kid, my father, a cabdriver, drove me all over Baltimore City to teach me lessons during the time we spent together. He would educate me about communities and warn me about communities I should not go to alone,” Williams wrote. “One such area was the Inner Harbor, where he warned me that, as a young black man, I could find myself in trouble even if it was not my fault. My father said he hoped that someday I could help change that for other young black and brown people. That it was our Inner Harbor, too.”

The letter continues:

“One of the first places my father took me that I can remember in the harbor was aboard Pride of Baltimore II. I loved the water and I loved ‘pirate ships.’

“As the first black chair of the board of Pride, Inc., which manages the ship built as Maryland’s goodwill ambassador and a symbol of hope, investment, history, and tourism, I knew I must be more than just a symbol of change. I was called upon to be an agent of change. 

“When I became chair in 2018, Pride was in turmoil, having missed the sailing season for the first time ever due to a lack of funding. 

“People told me that everyone would understand if we could not lead Pride back to success because it had been mired in difficulty before my arrival and some had lost hope in it. 

“But they didn’t understand that as a black man, since I was a child, I have

always known that my failures are amplified in our society. I couldn’t fail. Nor did our board believe the best days of Pride were behind it.”

Williams said his first action was to grow the board because, while they were dealing with financial troubles, they had lost focus on diversity.

“We added women, minorities, young people, and new accomplished leaders of different backgrounds and experience. We prioritized connecting the organization back to the myriad communities it serves in Baltimore and across the state,” Williams said.

Pride received various grants and launched an education program to tell the history of the privateer industry, both the good and the bad, and to get more kids within the Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County Public Schools systems aboard.

“I am proud that we pulled off such a historic turnaround and ended the 2019 sailing season with money to invest in expanding our outreach in 2020,” Williams said. “While COVID-19 ended many of our initiatives for this year, it has not and will not deter the energy and progress of Pride of Baltimore, Inc., the organization.”

He added that he plans to ask the board to prioritize finding additional ways to make Pride of Baltimore II an agent of change.

“It will be addressed thoughtfully by the full board of directors with all of our committees working in concert toward that common goal,” Williams said. “We will look to ensure more opportunities for diversity in hiring of crew, staff, vendors, and consultants. We will find more funding for programs that facilitate access for minority communities so that they, too, feel welcomed in the harbors we visit and aboard Pride of Baltimore II.   

“If we are truly committed, we need each and every one of you as friends of Pride to support the board, staff, and crew.

“We want your time, stories, input, and donations to help put these plans into

action. I will be joining Captain Miles for a “Coffee with the Captain” in the near future. I welcome your thoughtful attendance and questions.”

Many African Americans say they’re independent of America’s Independence

For African Americans, the July 4th Independence Day holiday has always posed a significant conflict: While white America declared its independence in 1776, the bells of freedom didn’t ring for African Americans until June 19, 1865.

As America prepares its annual rituals of flag-waving, barbecues, and fireworks to mark Independence

Day, this year poses even more conflict, as seen in the global uprisings and demonstrations demanding that the United States finally recognize that Black Lives Matter.

“This year, 2020, has been an awakening on multiple fronts for many people,” said Deveeda Cohen, a hairstylist who lives in Baltimore City. “How is it possible to shoot off a firecracker and say ‘God bless America’ when America has forever been ignorant, racist, and bigoted?”

Cohen offered that she and her family observed June 19, or Juneteenth, as the official Independence Day for African Americans. “If 2020 has taught us anything, we cannot go back to the status quo. We cannot go back to allowing America to dictate its hateful policies, misguided holidays, and their Civil War heroes as standards for Black people,” Cohen stated.

“I had observed my people’s independence last month. There will be no celebration for my family on July 4th,” she concluded.

Juneteenth came two years after President Abraham Licoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, a document that freed slaves in all states that rebelled against the Union.

With the uprising in the wake of the George Floyd killing by police in Minneapolis, more states and municipalities have declared they will observe Juneteenth as a holiday.

Truck driver Jonathan Dolphin said this Fourth of July, he’s decided to reflect on the words of Frederick Douglass, who, on July 5, 1852, gave a stirring speech about independence.

The address took place in Rochester, N.Y., just one day after an Independence Day celebration in that city.

“It’s their holiday, it’s white America’s holiday,” Dolphin stated. He then paraphrased Douglass. “This Fourth of July is theirs, not mine. We, as truck drivers, work all the time anyway. We are essential all of the time.”

In his speech, Douglass said, “You may rejoice, I must mourn. What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence?”

Arianne Campbell of Annapolis agreed.

“While we protest, Black people are still being killed in the streets of America. We have not achieved full independence, and we won’t until that stops,” Campbell stated.

“It’s almost an insult right now to celebrate America’s independence because, in my view, it’s putting a stamp of approval on racism and police brutality. Maybe one day we’ll get there where we can all celebrate together at the same time. Today, in 2020, we’re not there.”

Elinor Pierce, who describes herself as multi-racial, believes even the most pragmatic of individuals should understand the reluctance of African Americans to join in any Fourth of July celebration.

“It took Black people a long time to get to this point where it seems white America, and the world, are finally listening. They’re finally starting to pay attention to the cries of not just us, but our ancestors,” Pierce noted.

“Whether or not they truly get it is another story, but they are listening and, if you’re not tone deaf, then you understand why July 4 is always going to be looked upon as a white holiday,” she challenged.

“We have Juneteenth, but America needs to permanently fix the problems of racism once and for all and then, and only then, can we all celebrate independence together.”

PayPal dedicates $500 million for black business owners and startups

PayPal Holdings has announced a $530 million commitment to support black and minority-owned businesses and communities in the United States, especially those hardest hit by the pandemic.

The fund is part of PayPal’s larger pledge to fight economic inequality. It includes minority-owned businesses in Baltimore, according to a news release.

As part of its investment, the company is bolstering its internal programs to further increase diversity, equity and inclusion within the PayPal community.

“For far too long, Black people in America have faced deep-seated injustice and systemic economic inequality. Black lives matter and we need to drive transformative change. We must take decisive action to close the racial wealth gap that sustains this profound inequity,” Dan Schulman, president and CEO of PayPal,” said in a news release. “PayPal is uniquely positioned to help in this area, and we are committed to doing our part to address the unacceptable racial divide by advancing a more just economy and society. We’ve listened to leaders in the Black community about the challenges facing Black business owners and the support and investments needed to sustain Black-owned businesses and create long-term economic opportunity. The holistic set of initiatives we are implementing are

designed to help address the immediate crisis and set the foundation for sustained engagement and progress towards economic equality and social justice.”

The commitment includes short-term, medium-term, and long-term investments in the community:

*$10 million fund for empowerment grants to black-owned businesses impacted by COVID-19 or civil unrest. These grants will provide direct support to business owners to cover expenses

related to stabilizing and reopening their businesses. The fund will be managed in partnership with Association for Enterprise Opportunity, a leading national nonprofit expanding economic opportunity for Black entrepreneurs through its Tapestry Project. Interested businesses can apply for a grant at aeoworks.org/paypalgrant/.

*$5 million fund for program grants and employee matching gifts for PayPal’s nonprofit community partners that are working to strengthen Black business owners by providing them with

microloans, technical assistance, information, mentoring and access to digital solutions to speed their recovery from the impact of the pandemic. Local partners are best positioned to know the needs of their communities and these grants are intended to catalyze and further empower the necessary work they are doing to sustain Black-owned businesses. Initial organizations receiving grants through the fund include Association for Enterprise Opportunity, Baltimore Business Lending, Chicago Neighborhood Initiatives Micro Finance Group, Expanding Black Business Credit Initiative, Kiva, MORTAR,

Nebraska Enterprise Fund, Opportunity Fund, Rising Tide Capital, Start Small Think Big, Walker’s Legacy Foundation and Women’s Opportunity Resource Center. As part of this the company will expand the PayPal Gives Employee Matching Gifts program. PayPal will match $2 for every $1 employees donate and $10 for every volunteer hour dedicated to racial and economic justice efforts in local communities, up to $500,000.

*$500 million commitment to create an economic opportunity fund to support and strengthen Black and underrepresented minority businesses and communities over the long term, and designed to help drive financial health, access and generational wealth creation. This initiative will include bolstering the company’s relationships with community banks and credit unions serving underrepresented minority communities, as well as investing directly into Black and minority-led startups and minority-

focused investment funds.

“AEO advocates for economic inclusion and works to create transformational change in the marketplace for small businesses,” said Connie Evans, president and CEO, Association for

Enterprise Opportunity (AEO). “Now, more than ever, it’s critical to invest in Black-owned businesses, create a more equitable system and break through the barriers that have historically challenged Black business ownership and wealth creation.”

PayPal is committing $15 million to strengthen its internal diversity and

inclusion programs to foster greater awareness, build equity, and support

recruiting, hiring and career advancement of Black and minority employees.

“These initiatives build on the extensive financial health and small business empowerment programs PayPal already supports. They will add a particular

emphasis on Black-owned businesses, sharpen the focus of that work, accelerate the deployment of PayPal’s resources and fuel employee engagement,” the company stated in the release.

For business and startups to take

advantage of this opportunity, visit https://bit.ly/37iUTTW

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 http://baltimore.bonsecours.com/community-works-career-development.html.

‘Focus on Feet’ diabetes campaign in full swing

— Medical professionals are delivering the old catch phrase, “feet don’t fail me now” to help educate the public about the specific risks and foot complications faced by those with diabetes.

The American Podiatric Medical Association has started a “Reflect on Your Feet” campaign alerting individuals that diabetes can cause nerve damage called neuropathy, a loss of feeling in the feet.

“With diabetes a couple of different things occur and the most common we see is peripheral neuropathy where someone may have a numbness or tingling sensation that won’t go away,” said Dr. Rondrick Williamson, an African-American podiatrist who has been featured on television and in major U.S. magazines for his work. “Out of the 21 million Americans with diabetes, 60 percent will present with that type of symptom, which includes cold feet or numbness. It’s dangerous too because you could walk over a bucket of hot coals or a bed of nails and not know how bad it is.”

These injuries can become infected and can lead to amputation.

“Every 20 seconds, somewhere in the world a limb is lost as a result of diabetes,” said APMA President Phillip E. Ward.

“A daily foot self-exam, along with regular visits to a podiatrist, is the best way to prevent foot complications and amputation. If you have trouble reaching your feet to inspect them, prop up a mirror on the floor or ask a friend or family member to help.”

Podiatrists are physicians who are specially trained to treat foot conditions that can be caused by diabetes, such as neuropathy, infection, and ulcers. Studies have proven that podiatric medical care can reduce amputation rates by 45 to 85 percent, officials noted in a news release.

The “Reflect on Your Feet” campaign, occurring during November’s Diabetes Awareness Month, offers information about the specific risks associated with the disease, how to conduct a foot self-exam, when to see a podiatrist, and more.

For African-Americans, it’s especially important to get screened for diabetes, Williamson said.

“In the population the first thing is that it could be hereditary because of a lot of African-Americans have parents or grandparents who are diabetic,” he said. “In light of that, we need to think about our diet because we also tend to have hyper cholesterol and if there’s a lot of obesity in our family lineage it adds to all of those things being contributing factors.”

It’s vital to receive a diabetes screening if there is a family history, he said.

“Get screened periodically. Regardless of your age, as young as you are when you find out that your parents or family members have been diagnosed you should immediately be tested,” Williamson said.

It’s also important to conduct a foot self-exam, according to American Podiatric Medical Association officials.

A self-exam consists of checking for swelling, discoloration, excessive dry skin and looking between the toes for scrapes and cuts. This can be done using a mirror or having a family member or loved one perform the check.

“Make sure you follow up with a doctor at least twice a year and properly protect your feet,” Williamson said, noting that a diabetic patient shouldn’t expose their feet to the elements.

“If they are wearing flip-flops or something like that, they can easily get a rock in their shoe and walk on it for hours and not appreciate that it’s there,” Williamson said.

“Diabetics should avoid pedicures and manicures because they don’t want to risk bacteria, fungus or infection and they shouldn’t soak their feet in warm water because sometimes they can’t appreciate how hot the water is and they can get burned.”

Finally, Williamson said, everyone should be screened and those with diabetes should remain in contact with their podiatrist.

“Diabetes is a manageable condition,” he said. “I try to treat my patients like family and you have to be educated and know what looks normal and what doesn’t. You also have to be comfortable calling your doctor and telling the doctor if you think something is wrong.”

For more on the “Reflect on Your Feet” campaign and information about diabetes, visit www.apma.org/diabetes.

Healthy meals focus of diabetes month

More and more Baltimore area residents are increasingly feeling the effects of diabetes as thousands suffer from the disease, and a significant number of others have the life-threatening illness but don’t know it.

Health officials estimate that one out of every three children born after the year 2000 in the United States will be affected by diabetes, a long-term condition that causes high blood sugar levels.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month and The American Diabetes Association is launching their “America Gets Cooking to Stop Diabetes” campaign that aims to challenge Americans to live a healthier lifestyle through through diet and exercise.

The campaign, which will use social media and other forums to share healthy cooking tips and recipes has been designed to educate the public in cooking and preparing nutritious and tasty food while encouraging everyone to become more active.

“The [campaign] will provide people with healthy ideas they can put into action so we can move closer to stopping diabetes,” said Marjorie Cypress, the president of Health Care & Education at the American Diabetes Association.

The “America Gets Cooking to Stop Diabetes” program has already served to invigorate some individuals like Thelma Hicks, 51, an African-American with the illness.

“When you talk about the need for eating properly, exercising and finding out what you can do to stay well and not jeopardize your life, you listen.” Hicks said.

Nearly 30 million adults and children in the United States have diabetes, based on information from by the American Diabetes Association and another 86 million Americans have pre-diabetes and are at risk for developing type 2 diabetes, according to association officials.

Health care providers define pre-diabetes as having a blood sugar— or glucose— level higher than it should be, but less than diabetics have.

With type 2 diabetes, the most common form of the illness, the body does not use insulin properly. Children and young adults are usually diagnosed with type 1diabetes, a condition where the body fails to produce insulin.

“It’s not fun at all,” said Arleta Wilkins, who is among a growing number of African-Americans living with the disease.

American Diabetes Association officials noted that 13.2 percent of all African-Americans 20 years of age and older have been diagnosed with the disease. Further, blacks are 1.7 times more likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites and African-Americans are significantly more likely to suffer from blindness, kidney disease and amputations.

Afrezza, a new drug to treat the disease, is an insulin powder designed to be inhaled at the start of a meal. Executives from the drug’s maker, MannKind, have said that patients using the drug can achieve peak insulin levels within 12 to 15 minutes. That compares to a wait time of an hour and a half or more after patients inject insulin.

However, FDA officials caution that Afrezza is not a substitute for long-acting insulin, but it’s a new option for controlling insulin levels during meals.

The agency approved Afrezza with a boxed warning— the strongest type— indicating that the drug should not be used in patients with chronic lung diseases, such as asthma and smoker’s cough, due to reports of breathing spasms.