BCRP holds groundbreaking ceremony for regional recreational facility

A transformative South Baltimore- based project more than a decade in the making is finally beginning to come to fruition.

The Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks (BCRP) has officially marked the start of construction for the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center at Cherry Hill at the groundbreaking ceremony on the afternoon of September 21, 2020 at Reedbird Park.

The fitness and wellness center will be complemented by an adjacent multi- purpose playing field, providing additional outdoor recreational opportunities for community members. The state-of-the-art complex will be Baltimore City’s first-ever regional recreational facility, according to BCRP.

Local officials and community members came together with Baltimore City Recre- ation and Parks to celebrate to groundbreaking for the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center in Cherry Hill's Reedbird Park on Sept. 21.

Demetrius Dillard

Local officials and community members came together with Baltimore City Recre- ation and Parks to celebrate to groundbreaking for the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center in Cherry Hill’s Reedbird Park on Sept. 21.

Local and state officials, BCRP executives, community leaders and city residents were at the ceremony to celebrate the groundbreaking of what will be known as the ‘super rec center’ and may become the new standard of recreation for the city.

“Today is a great day for us here in Baltimore. This has been a journey that has been over a decade in the making to get us to this groundbreaking today,” said Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young when sharing remarks, thanking partners that made the project possible. “The city of Baltimore remains committed to the enhancement and reestablishment of recreational facilities and opportunities, of course for our young people, but for all residents of our great city. Partnerships between city and state agencies, local organizations and the community make projects like the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center possible.”

The South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation and Cherry Hill Development Corporation partnered with BCRP over the course of the planning and development phases of the project.

“The reality is for much of my lifetime, we’ve been investing in the failure of young people and not their promise. This is an investment into the

future and promise of young people of Baltimore City,” said Council President and Democratic mayoral candidate Brandon Scott. “It will be a shining example of how we can actually do great things in neighborhoods to create great people and help them grow up and be the best people they can be, to make Baltimore the best Baltimore it could be and Cherry Hill the best Cherry Hill it could be. That’s what this means to me.”

According to a BCRP press release, the 35,000-square-foot, $23.1 million fitness and wellness center will contain an indoor aquatic center; a community room; fitness studios; a gymnasium with a basketball court; a maker space; and an indoor track.

Funding for the project was made possible by corporate and individual sponsors in addition to the City of Baltimore and the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership.

The outdoor amenities will consist of three additional grass fields, a playground, walking trails, a fishing pier, a dog park, basketball courts, new lighting, and a field house.

Estimated to serve as one of the city’s premier regional indoor and outdoor recreational hubs, the complex will also have ties to existing trail networks, including the Gwynns Falls Trail and the Middle Branch Trail.

The facility which is scheduled to open in 2022, is a culmination of what has been in the works since 2008. The estimated time of completion for the adjacent field is spring 2021.

The Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation and its partners are responsible for constructing an 83,000-square-foot synthetic surface field next to the fitness center. The $2.25 million multi-purpose field will provide a space for baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football, and flag football competition and will be called “BGE Field presented by KELLY.”

BCRP will also operate a variety of after-school sports programs and the Ripken Foundation will run its Badges for Baseball program.

Following remarks by the designated individuals, local officials and community members assembled for the ceremonial dig for the groundbreaking.“It is an opportunity where you can focus on health and wellness, you can focus on community development, but also it’s an economic driver for your community,” said Reginald Moore, executive director of BCRP.

“What this means is that we’ll have a state-of-the-art facility that connects here in Cherry Hill, but also offers opportunities for Westport who has limited to no recreation, and also will offer connections to Brooklyn and the Curtis Bay area.

“We want everyone to come, we want everyone to be engaged, we want the community to be a part of this… To me it’s a win-win for the entire community.”

Raheem Brown, the founder and president of Cherry Hill Eagles Youth Development, is a lifelong Cherry Hill resident and was at the groundbreaking ceremony.

“For this to actually happen— this groundbreaking— it’s monumental,” Brown said. “We really, really needed this football field, we really needed lights. It’s been a long time coming, so I’m very excited.”

Pandemic has not hindered Baltimore’s emerging fitness scene

In the midst of a global health crisis that has highlighted numerous racial health disparities, a number of local fitness organizations have emerged which emphasize health and wellness in the Black community.

Four groups in particular — Runners Run, MET Fitness, Building Bodies and Bonds, and Baltimore Bikers— have burst on the local fitness scene as organizations endeavoring to make a substantial impact in the Baltimore community.

MET Fitness, founded in August 2019 by Terrell Talbert, hosts dance fitness classes throughout the week for community members to participate in. The letters ‘M-E-T’ make up an acronym that stands for motivation, elevation and transformation— the core focus of the group.

Talbert, a group fitness instructor, said his sole purpose besides physical fitness is to promote mental health and body positivity.

“I feel as though if you change within, you change on the outside,” he said. Talbert said he will be partnering with Newman’s Fitness gym to provide fitness sessions as the fall season approaches with hopes of one day having his own fitness studio to operate out of. One of the participants commented, “I started with MET Fitness in June and I hate to miss a Tuesday ever since I started! The instructor is very encouraging and you can feel his passion throughout the class! Oh and don’t be afraid to come alone. I often do but everyone is so friendly and you will fit right in!”

In addition to weekly HIIT fitness classes and “Jump2Sweat” trampoline workouts, Talbert periodically posts “Morning MET Motivation” messages to encourage the MET Fitness community as they strive to meet their fitness goals. The MET Fitness has a Facebook page, YouTube channel and can be followed on Instagram at @metmygoals.

More Watters Co., led by exercise physiologist Anthony Watters, is “a health and wellness lifestyle company that uses water, exercise, and culture to build and sustain healthier lifestyles, families, and communities.”

Since the organization was established in 2016 and has garnered multiple awards and has made a profound impact in the areas of exercise programming, nutrition consulting, community organizing, health-based program development, sport-specific performance training, and health and wellness education in the Baltimore community.

Building Bodies and Bodies (B3X) began with a group of gentlemen who ran into each other at Lake Montebello Park in the summer of 2019. They worked out with each other on a weekly basis and the group went from a handful, to dozens, to hundreds.

Marcus Hatten, a retired basketball player, and Tavon Smith, a certified personal trainer, went on to establish Building Bodies and Bonds, a fitness group aimed at tackling health disparities in Baltimore City, early this summer.

In only about three months, B3X has seen exponential growth, especially on its weekly Tuesday evening runs that begin at 400 E. Biddle Street. Essentially every morning, Smith and Hatten, along with co-founders Anthony Williams and Quron Smith, lead various workouts at Lake Montebello involving individuals of all age groups and fitness levels.

Brian Henderson, founder of Baltimore Bikers has unified dozens of Black cyclists throughout the city.

Brian Henderson

Brian Henderson, founder of Baltimore Bikers has unified dozens of Black cyclists throughout the city.

“The name [Building Bodies and Bonds] is self-explanatory because when you are working out, you’re building your body, but while you’re building your body you’re also involved with people that you’re working out with,” said Hatten, a graduate of Mervo High School who went on to star at St. John’s University and a point guard for the NBA’s Denver Nuggets and Los Angeles Clippers.

Outside of the physical fitness component, B3X also promotes healthy eating and nutritional wellness. Hatten owns and runs the Legendary Wellness Cafe, a juice bar that will soon operate out of a physical location.

B3X has not only created an environment for Baltimoreans to better themselves physically and mentally, but has unified community members from all throughout the city.

“People love it. They love what we got going on, they love our aura, they love our energy, they love how people are being attracted to us… they can tell we’re passionate, they can tell we’re organic,” Hatten continued.

B3X is present on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, and is in the process of developing a website and finding a physical location (gym or studio) to conduct daily workouts. The organization can be contacted at buildingbodiesandbonds@gmail.com.

Tavon Smith, another co-founder, has a role of planning B3X’s daily workouts. The personal trainer has a unique story of resilience as he overcame numerous obstacles on his way to becoming a fitness enthusiast.

A native of East Baltimore, Smith spent 15 years in and out of the criminal justice system and turned his life around to become a valuable asset in his community. He, along with his three colleagues, have given a great deal of energy and time to ensure their participants are empowered through fitness and wellness.

“Outside of the park and outside of working out, I just want that whole family feel when it comes to our community,” Hatten said. “I’m just trying to do my part in my community to make sure that everybody’s good and everybody’s growing in a positive way.”

Baltimore Bikers, an organization that promotes health and wellness in the Black community through cycling, was founded in May by pharmaceutical consultant Brian Henderson.

In only a few months of existence, the organization has seen exponential growth, attracting cyclists from throughout Baltimore City and surrounding areas. Baltimore Bikers has also fostered support and recognition from other notable biking groups in the area.

“Shortly after starting the group, you know with the popularity of it, me as the founder— I realized it was bigger than just people sharing rides,” Henderson said. “I realized at that moment, we needed to be more focused and hone in on health and wellness as African Americans.”

This upcoming Sunday, Sept. 13, Baltimore Bikers will host a family fun ride from 8:30 a.m. to 11 a.m. at Lake Montebello. More information can be found by visiting this link: https://www.instagram.com/p/CE2de_tp U9i/

Joel Gamble Foundation Concludes Summer With Giveaway Event As School Year Begins

As a culmination of summer-long giveaways, the Joel Gamble Foundation partnered with Comcast to award more than a dozen technological devices and free internet to Baltimore City students as the new school year approaches. The event took place on the morning of August 26, 2020, at Federal Hill Park, where about 15 students from elementary, middle and high schools in Baltimore were gathered with their families and received free Chromebooks and tablets, courtesy of the Joel Gamble Foundation— an local nonprofit that has made bridging the technology gap one of its primary focuses throughout the summer.

“What I always look to do is make an impact and hopefully it will be long- lasting to the effects of students remembering this opportunity that we gave them, and then when they’re successful they could also return the favor and give back to students who may need as well,” said Gamble, a West Baltimore native who excelled as a football tight end at Carver Vocational- Technical High School, Shippensburg University and the Cleveland Browns, Philadelphia Eagles and Tennessee Titans in the NFL. “Everything I do in the community, I always want kids to remember it so that they get in the position that I’m in then they’re able to give back as well.”

The 15 electronic devices that were presented to students on August 26 brings the total number of donated technological resources to approximately 111 for youth in the Baltimore community.

The criteria for receiving an electronic device was simple: students who were interested were required to write an essay explaining how technology can help them succeed academically. Numerous applicants submitted essays, but few were chosen.

Zion Williams, a ninth grader at Mount Saint Joseph High School, was one of the recipients of a Chromebook. He said that having the device will mean a lot, taking into consideration that academic instruction is being conducted virtually.

“It feels nice. I was one out of like 300 people to win so it was pretty good,” said Williams, who has plans on either playing in the NFL or being a dentist once he is out of school.

As children’s names were called, they walked up to get either their Chromebooks or Amazon FireTablets, then took a photo with Gamble.

Additionally, Matthew A. Henson Elementary and Gwynns Fall Elementary schools were the two schools selected to receive free Internet service for a year thanks to a $2,500 grant the Gamble Foundation was given from Comcast.

A total of 10 students from Gwynns Falls and Matthew Henson (20 total) will be recipients of the internet services and were selected by their school administrators based on need.

Monique Kennedy, a Comcast NBCUniversal representative, presented the Joel Gamble Foundation with a check to conclude the morning.

Margaret Powell, a retired school teacher, was in attendance to receive the internet gift on behalf of Matthew Henson Elementary and Moriah Smalls, a community schools coordinator, was there on behalf of Gwynns Falls. “We are so appreciative of the technology that we’re going to receive because there are so many students in our community that don’t have it,” said Powell, who taught at Henson for 16 years and is still heavily involved in the school community. “Sometimes parents have to make choices, whether they’re going to [invest] in technology or take care of another responsibility so this is definitely going to help families out with this gift, and we really, really appreciate it.”

Since Gamble stepped away from professional football, he has prioritized community service and engagement going on a decade. Also, Gamble is a special education teacher at Patapsco High School. He is entering his eighth with the Baltimore County Schools system.

The Joel Gamble Foundation, founded in 2014, hosts a variety of art supply and sports supply giveaways in addition to providing career opportunities and exposure, college tours, health and wellness programs, and sports camps/leagues.

Furthermore, the organization has garnered recognition for the immense contributions to the youth in Baltimore City, striving to fulfill its mission to create productive citizens in society through college readiness, academic mentorship and athletic success initiatives.

Brandon Scott poised to become Baltimore’s next mayor after winning Democratic primary

After a week-long wait, Brandon Scott has sealed the Democratic nomination for mayor, confirming his on the evening of June 9, 2020.

Former mayor Sheila Dixon initially held a sizable lead over Scott after the first set of ballots were counted. The Baltimore City primary election, held June 2, 2020, was riddled with a number of issues, including a “small proofing error” on ballots in District 1, difficulties with incorrect mail-in ballots and wrong dates being printed on some ballots which led to counting delays.

However, as updated results were released over the weekend into the early part of this week, the numbers showed that Scott narrowed the deficit and retained a lead on his way to victory.

As of the night of June 9, Scott edged Dixon by a margin of nearly 2,400 votes, sealing the win for the 36-year-old from Park Heights. According to the state board of elections, Scott has 42,798 votes (29.4 percent) to Dixon’s 40,418 (27.7 percent).

He delivered an acceptance speech outside of his grandmother’s home in Park Heights amongst family, supporters and community members at a press conference on June 10, 2020.

Scott began his remarks by expressing his lifelong desire to serve Baltimore and his intentions to build a new way forward for the city, highlighting gun violence, rebuilding trust in local government, public safety and investing in the youth as some of the prominent issues he plans to address as mayor.

“Our campaign was about showing that we could bring people together around a shared vision for Baltimore,” he said. “Our campaign was about proving to the world that a young Black man who grew up in the forgotten Baltimore here in Park Heights could survive everything that you have to live through in Baltimore… to be the leader of this city.”

He went on to commend Dixon, who served as the city’s first female mayor from 2007 to 2010 before resigning.

“To Mayor Dixon, I want to say thank you. I want to say thank you for running a clean race about the future of Baltimore City; thank you for showing people that Baltimore does believe in second chances; and thank you for remaining committed to the city of Baltimore for your entire service and your entire life,” Scott said.

Scott, who fueled his campaign on the slogan “a new way forward,” was endorsed by The Baltimore Sun and emerged as the favorite in a field of more than 20 Democratic mayoral candidates, also including Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young, Mary Miller, Thiru Vignarajah, T.J. Smith and Carlmichael Stokey Cannady.

Young, who took over in the stead of former mayor Catherine Pugh after she resigned in 2019, also received acknowledgements from Scott.

“To my good friend Mayor Young— I want everyone to join me in thanking the mayor,” Scott said. “The mayor who took over city government amidst another corruption scandal, who immediately faced the issues around the cybertech in Baltimore, who had to deal with the continuing gun violence epidemic and now a global health pandemic. His service to the city of Baltimore during these trying times has been very admirable and we owe him a debt of gratitude.”

As the sitting city council president, Scott, along with fellow council members, is immediately tasked with addressing the city’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2021.

Scott will face off against Republican nominee Shannon Wright, former city council president candidate and former vice president of the Yonkers (N.Y.) NAACP, for the mayoral seat in the Nov. 3 general election. Bob Wallace, an entrepreneur with multiple businesses in Mount Vernon, will run as an independent against Scott and Wright.

Delegate Nick Mosby (District 40), formerly a District 7 representative on the city council, comfortably won the Democratic nomination for council president over Councilwoman Shannon Sneed and former 12th district councilman Carl Stokes.

“Baltimore, I am incredibly excited and grateful for the outcome of last week’s election. We secured more than 40 percent of the vote in a crowded race and over 50,000 Baltimoreans supported our #NickForPrez campaign,” wrote Mosby in a June 11 Instagram post. “To the Mayor, City Council President, City Council, Comptroller, Police Commissioner and all the men and women who serve our city on the frontlines of governmental services- I support you and I want to partner with you to make our city better.”

Cyber security engineer Jovani M. Patterson ran unopposed for the Republican nomination and will face Mosby in November. For the comptroller spot, District 4 Councilman Bill Henry topped incumbent Joan Pratt, who has been comptroller for the last 25 years.

Democrats reportedly outnumber Republicans 10 to one in Baltimore, making Scott the presumptive mayor and Mosby the presumptive city council president. Because the Republican party

Baltimore-based community land trust among leaders in affordable housing movement

Long-standing housing discrimination and inequalities have put countless Baltimore City residents at major disadvantages. Hence, the need for the North East Housing Initiative (NEHI), an organization that advocates for the rights of homeowners while ensuring that permanent affordable housing is also available.

With unfair housing practices, including gentrification permeating so many of America’s major inner cities, the affordable housing movement has played a crucial role in making homeownership possible for underserved communities.

Garrick Good, executive director of NEHI, works tirelessly with his colleagues and partners to serve communities throughout the quadrant of Northeast Baltimore.

Since its inception in 2014, NEHI, a community land trust, is dedicated to providing permanent affordable housing for low-income individuals or families at 80 percent AMI (Area Median Income) and below.

The current focus of NEHI is on housing in the four-by-four community off Belair Road. A ‘four-by-four community’ is a section of homes spanning four blocks horizontally and four blocks vertically, which in NEHI’s case makes up about 600 homes— more than 50 of which are abandoned.

“We chose the four-by-four community because in Northeast Baltimore it seems to be the forgotten community,” Good said.

NEHI works through a partnership with the City of Baltimore to acquire as many of those properties through receivership as possible.

In January, NEHI announced a five-year plan to obtain 200 homes to be used for permanent affordable housing. As it currently stands, two homes are on the market, and five are under construction for lease or sale sometime this summer, according to Good.

Even in the midst of a public health crisis in Baltimore City, NEHI’s services did not stop.

“It has affected our organization like most others in the community. We are still focused on our housing strategies, but we are also focused more now on our stewardship component,” said Good.

NEHI has expanded its stewardship program to help targeted families be better prepared for housing both pre and post sale.

“We’ve identified a lot of prospective homeowners, and so we’ve worked with them in getting food as well as snacks for students that are a part of the families, [and] we’ve worked with giving referrals to families on an as-needed basis to ensure that they get the assistance they need,” Good said. “We had a number of families that had children that didn’t have sufficient Internet for their homes, so we worked with them to get Internet in their homes so the students can continue to learn.”

In addition, the Affordable Housing Trust Fund made it possible for the NEHI to secure funding that allows the organization to provide affordable housing to families and individuals who qualify.

“The average family is able to get a three or four bedroom home for less than $600 a month. Some of the clients that we’ve been working with in looking for housing are paying twice that and have substandard housing,” Good remarked. “And so what we’re doing is a game changer, that will allow families to have a new home with new appliances and new systems, and be able to focus on other things that will continue to make them productive citizens in the community and give them disposable income to do other things.”

NEHI’s partners include PNC Bank; Fulton Bank; and Belair-Edison Neighborhoods, Inc., which helps NEHI with recruiting families, housing counseling and selling the homes.

Furthermore, the NEHI offers available subsidies that lead to price reductions that ensures housing costs are no more than 30 percent of a family’s budget, Good highlighted.

“That number and the subsidies change from family to family, depending on what the household looks like,” Good said. “But what we’re doing is we’re working to really understand families’ needs, and then work with them post-purchase of their homes to look at other things that they can do to start being really active in the community and change the dynamic in communities like the four-by-four.”

The Baltimore City Department of Housing & Community Development and commissioner Michael Braverman work closely with NEHI to assess strategies that best meet the needs of Baltimoreans.

“The HCD (Department of Housing & Community Development) has a commitment to providing housing stock. They see where community land trusts can be one of the tenants in achieving that goal,” Good noted. “They work with us in a number of ways in ensuring that we’re prepared and that we break down barriers that arise in preventing families to become homeowners.”

If you or someone you know is interested in affordable housing and would like to discuss the possibility of obtaining a community land trust home, contact the NEHI directly at 410-488-4857 or visit the NEHI website at https://www.nehihomes.org/.

Community leaders, health officials lead local fight against COVID-19

In the face of an ongoing public health crisis, and the subsequent concerns it has raised among various black communities, local leaders and health officials are actively addressing the disparities that adversely affect Baltimore City’s most vulnerable residents.

As of the evening of May 6, 2020, there are 2,752 confirmed coronavirus cases in Baltimore, and the 21215 zip code (Northwest Baltimore) leads the city with 457 positive cases. Given that 21215 is the most populous zip code in Baltimore, the visibly high number is somewhat expected.

Recent data and studies have shown that black Americans comprise the largest number of coronavirus cases in the state, highlighting deep-rooted racial inequalities regarding healthcare, access to vital resources and environmental injustice.

Along with Mayor Bernard Young and other city leaders, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, commissioner of the Baltimore City Health Department (BCHD), has contributed largely in the fight against COVID-19 on a local scale.

“We have already seen nationally how it (the coronavirus) is disproportionately affecting African Americans, so we thought it was important to highlight what we know in terms of the disparities around COVID-19,” Dzirasa said, referencing the health department’s regularly updated dashboard.

According to the Baltimore City Health Department’s (BCHD) COVID-19 Dashboard statistics, 1,529 black residents have contracted the coronavirus as opposed to 260 White residents, 23 Asian residents, 516 ‘unknown’ and 260 ‘other.’ With black Baltimoreans tallying roughly 55.5 percent of coronavirus cases, and nearly 73 percent of deaths connected to the virus, leading health officials, political figures and community leaders have been faced with a unique set of challenges.

Dzirasa and her colleagues have also created a resource on BCHD’s website that lists testing capacity throughout the city, which is critically important for underserved communities.

“I think it’s important as we note the disparities among race – there are disparities among who has access to testing,” Dzirasa said. “I think as a city, we’re working to change that with the city-supported testing sites that we’ve established.”

Besides healthcare access inequalities, Dzirasa mentioned social determinants as an attributable factor to the disproportionate effect the coronavirus has had on predominantly black neighborhoods.

The social determinants of health, she said, speak to the conditions in which people grow, live, work and play. Correspondingly, these factors have a substantial effect on health outcomes. Because of residential segregation, black Americans tend to live in more densely populated areas, Dzirasa noted, which also plays a major role in the spread of the virus, among many other components.“COVID-19 just highlights what we already know about the disparities that exist for African Americans,” she said.

Likewise, Yolanda Jiggetts, the executive director of Park Heights Renaissance (PHR), has worked tirelessly with her staff to serve the needs of the community throughout this crisis.

PHR is a nonprofit specializing in housing services, providing educational needs and other related human services. Due to the pandemic, PHR has had to adjust its work model, but has managed to gather resources and support for its many clients.

“We’re constantly in conversations with the city. We have conversations with the health commissioner (Dzirasa) and her team to help us understand how we can be better advocates for putting out factual information around COVID-19,” Jiggetts said, also noting her team’s outreach efforts to local businesses. “At least three times a week, we coordinate with LifeBridge (Health) which is one of our anchor institutions… so of course we’re having these conversations on how best to address some of the safety needs in the community.”

PHR has partnered with other community-based organizations to express the need for personal protective gear, facemasks and food distribution and access, Jiggetts said.

Access to testing is a key priority for Dzirasa and the BCHD. As it currently stands there are three testing sites: in Pimlico, Druid Hill Park and Clifton Park. She and her colleagues are also brainstorming ways to implement mobile testing.

Additionally, Dzirasa and her team have rolled out messaging specifically targeted to the black community with guidance around social distancing and available resources.

“We actually have paper flyers that we work with volunteers and with our staff to distribute,” Dzirasa said. “Additionally, we’ve hosted focus groups to try and understand, ‘OK, how do we target our message toward the African Americans?’ At one point we were concerned the message wasn’t getting to young people, so adjusting our messaging as we see fit so that it really reaches who we’re trying to reach.”

Dzirasa has been on panels, radio interviews, webinars and attended an NAACP town hall forum to decisively address the Black community.

“I do think there’s value in having a health commissioner that’s African American. I think being much more relatable and saying ‘I recognize what some of these challenges are, but we are hoping we can help you overcome them together.’”

A public-private partnership between BCHD, University of Maryland Medical System, Johns Hopkins Health System and CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield is constantly organizing strategies around tackling the coronavirus.

“We appreciate the partnership and what they bring to the table,” added Dzirasa, “and look forward to growing and expanding the work that we’re already doing.”

Santelises Provides updates in latest CEO Conversation, city schools release grading plan

Since Governor Larry Hogan and Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon announced the closure of public schools on March 12, 2020, in response to public health concerns, Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPS), like many other school systems throughout the United States have had to find alternative methods of facilitating academic instruction.

BCPS CEO Sonja Santelises hosted a community conversation on the evening of Thursday, April 16, 2020, to provide updates on distance learning platforms, meal disbursement and health plan, among several other topics of great concern to parents, students and members of the community. Because of restrictions on public gatherings, the conversation was held virtually and live-streamed through City Schools’ Facebook page.

Santelises began the conversation by acknowledging the diligent work of BCPS faculty members and central office staff, discussing her commitment to making online resources equally available for all BCPS families, and announced the recent launch of the school system’s outreach efforts.

“The courage and the flexibility, and the durability that you all have shown is actually what is inspiring not only me, but all of the adults who are working really hard to get you what you need because you really are demonstrating the kind of resilience that is necessary to navigate this,” Santelises said as she addressed students in her opening remarks.

The school system is in the process of preparing and distributing 15,000 chromebooks, which was scheduled to begin April 20, with the priority given to high school upperclassmen, according to Santelises.

She also solicited ideas on how to virtually celebrate the class of 2020 and was joined by three panelists to help answer questions that were asked throughout the hour-long broadcast.

Janise Lane, executive director of teaching and learning, was the first panelist to deliver a presentation. She said she and her team have worked diligently to create weekly family guides, which are tools that give guidance on available programming, expectations and scheduling.

Grade-specific learning packets based on content areas are also available to each family without digital access and can be retrieved at any one of the 18 meal distribution sites, Lane said, adding that she and her colleagues have recently released family tutorials on how to

access some of City Schools’ distance learning platforms, such as Google Classroom and Blackboard Collaborate, in addition to resources for Spanish-speaking students and parents.

Michael Rading, customer care director of the BCPS information technology office, highlighted the newly established technology support hotline and his commitment to ensuring maximum safety as resources, such as chromebooks or tablets, are distributed.

“We just want to recognize what a challenging and strange time this can be for everyone. We know that this situation is turning up a lot of anxiety and stress, and many other challenges for children and adults alike,” said Sarah Warren, executive director of the Whole Child Services department. “Our work has focused mainly on supporting the social and emotional well-being of our students, our families and our staff.”

Warren went on to list a few resources that families can use each day of the typical school week for any social or emotional needs.

The Q&A session lasted the final 40 minutes of the CEO Conversation, and was moderated by Tina Hike-Hubbard, the school district’s chief of communications and community engagement.

Hike-Hubbard began the Q&A with the recurring question, “Are schools going to remain closed?” Santelises responded by saying that the decision is in the hands of Governor Hogan and Superintendent Salmon, but that she and her team “are planning as if that is highly, highly probable” so that leadership will be prepared, should the directive be given.

Another question Hike-Hubbard accentuated was how work will be graded. At the time of the conversation, Santelises said the district was in the process of finalizing what the grading policy will be.

On Tuesday, April 21, 2020, BCPS announced its fourth-quarter grading plan, which offers a pass/incomplete grading format:

●City Schools will offer a Pass/Incomplete grading option for quarter 4 for students in Pre-K to 12.

●Graded work will include online learning opportunities, learning packets, and lessons via television.

●Students may submit work assigned to them via our distance learning platforms. Students engaging with learning packets will not return paper copies.

Instead, teachers will monitor and offer support to students via weekly check-in calls.

●“Pass” is issued to students who have been able to engage in distance learning, to include learning packets.

●“Incomplete” is issued to students whom the schools have not been successful in engaging through multiple avenues.

Other questions included how to apply for homeschool, teacher flexibility on how to facilitate Google Classrooms and Blackboard Collaborate, whether children had to make up missed time, summer vacation, computers available to elementary students, IEPs and refunds for class trips.

Depending on the subject matter each question was addressed by either Lane, Warren, Rading or Santelises. Rachel Pfeifer, executive director of the College and Career Readiness department; and Debra Brooks, Special Education department executive director; chimed in as well.

The next CEO Conversation is schedules for Thursday, April 30, 2020 at 5 p.m.

‘Community Conversations’ Series Culminates With Dialogue On Health

Panelists: (Back row, l-r): Tsanonda Edwards, Above It All Inc.; Sha’Von Terrell, The Black Church Food Security Network; Brianna Billups, Fully Grown, LLC. (Front row, l-r): Quentin Vennie, wellness expert and author; Jenell Steele, registered nurse and fitness coach; Anthony Sutton and Will Walker,  Brunch N’ Burn.

Dr. David Marshall, Morgan State Strategic Communication Chair

Panelists: (Back row, l-r): Tsanonda Edwards, Above It All Inc.; Sha’Von Terrell, The Black Church Food Security Network; Brianna Billups, Fully Grown, LLC. (Front row, l-r): Quentin Vennie, wellness expert and author; Jenell Steele, registered nurse and fitness coach; Anthony Sutton and Will Walker, Brunch N’ Burn.

Publisher Joy Bramble and her colleagues could not have asked for a better finale to the Community conversation for this series, in particular, which was themed “Vision for a Healthier Baltimore.”

The three-hour forum featured seven panelists and Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, commissioner of health for the Baltimore City Health Department.

Following opening remarks from Bramble and moderator Cassandra Vincent, Anthony Sutton was given the floor. Sutton, a personal trainer with Brunch N’ Burn, led the guests through five light warm-up exercises they can do to begin their day.

Dzirasa, a native of Prince George’s County and resident of Baltimore for the past eight and a half years, sat in the front of the room with Vincent for a discussion on notable topics surrounding health in the local community.

Also, a Hopkins-trained pediatrician, Dzirasa shared her vision for a healthier Baltimore, which meant equitable access to quality medical care and services and taking a public health approach to community concerns.

She also provided tips for COVID-19 (coronavirus) prevention and preparedness, and updated the inquisitive audience on some of the initiatives and programs of the health department.

In addition, Vinny DeMarco and Stephanie Klapper of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative spoke briefly on health insurance programs that attendees could take advantage of.

Kids at The Baltimore Times 'Community Conversation'

Dr. David Marshall, Morgan State Strategic Communication Chair

Kids at The Baltimore Times ‘Community Conversation’

Concurrent with the day’s theme, Baltimore City Councilman Zeke Cohen (District 1) spoke extensively on the trauma-related experiences that adversely affects youth. He noticed that there was no legislation in place to provide responsive care to individuals who had traumatic experiences, which prompted the proposal of the Trauma Responsive Care Act in February 2019.

The bill, later renamed the Elijah Cummings Healing City Act, was signed by Mayor Bernard Young on Feb. 9, 2020 and calls for: (1) a city-wide task force, (2) training for all city agencies in the science, symptomology and responses for trauma victims and (3) each city agency to assess policies to reduce traumatization in Baltimore’s most vulnerable communities.

“I just wanted to make sure that we as a city are really responding effectively and that we’re not just ignoring this problem or putting a bandaid on a bullet wound,” Cohen said.

(Right to Left - Top to Bottom) Teara Booker founder of Well With My Soul, Quentiin Vennie wellness expert and author, Stephanie Klapper of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, Tsanonda Edwards Above It All Inc.,Sha’Von Terrell founder of The Black Church Food Security Network, Brianna Billups founder of Fully Grown, LLC, Cassandra Vincent project lead of The Baltimore Times ' Communtiy Conversation' series, Vinny DeMarco of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, Joy Bramble Founder of The Baltimore Times, Jenell Steele registered nurse and fitness coach,Anthony Sutton of Brunch N' Burn and Will Walker of Brunch N' Burn

Dr. David Marshall, Morgan State Strategic Communication Chair

(Right to Left – Top to Bottom) Teara Booker founder of Well With My Soul, Quentiin Vennie wellness expert and author, Stephanie Klapper of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, Tsanonda Edwards Above It All Inc.,Sha’Von Terrell founder of The Black Church Food Security Network, Brianna Billups founder of Fully Grown, LLC, Cassandra Vincent project lead of The Baltimore Times ‘ Communtiy Conversation’ series, Vinny DeMarco of the Maryland Citizens’ Health Initiative, Joy Bramble Founder of The Baltimore Times, Jenell Steele registered nurse and fitness coach,Anthony Sutton of Brunch N’ Burn and Will Walker of Brunch N’ Burn

“I’m proud to say this bill was passed three weeks ago, which makes Baltimore a national leader in the movement for trauma-informed care.”

The panelists in attendance were: Sha’Von Terrell of the Black Church Food Security Network; Jenell Steele, a registered nurse and fitness coach; Will Walker and Anthony Sutton of Brunch N’ Burn; Quentin Vennie, a wellness expert and author; Tsanonda Edwards of Above It All Inc.; and Brianna Billups of Fully Grown, LLC.

After each panelist introduced themselves and the mission of their organizations, they too shared their vision for a healthier Baltimore along with their individual efforts to fulfill that vision.


Dr. David Marshall, Morgan State Strategic Communication Chair


Holistic health, wellness, Black health, and food disparities were among the main subject matters addressed during the panel discussion.

Eliseba Osore said she was drawn to the event because of her natural interest in engaging in health-related conversations in the city.

“I think any time you give folks a chance to come together and ask questions and talk, there’s an impact on the community,” said Osore, director of ShareBaby, a local nonprofit that provides diapers and clothing items for families in need.

“I feel like a lot of folks in our community want their voices to be heard, and so events and forums like this really give people that opportunity. So I think people, hopefully, will leave feeling more empowered or at least like they learned something.”

Similarly, Sade Brown attended the community conversation with an open mind ready to hear the various perspectives and insights for a healthier Baltimore. She said she was captivated by Cohen’s advocacy toward treating trauma-related issues in the city.

“Councilman Cohen, hearing him speak about the bill and the things that he’s pushing, especially around youth trauma, definitely piqued some interest from me because I’m from Baltimore and I’ve experienced quite a bit of trauma myself,” said Brown, a yoga instructor.

“So for him to push that, it really piqued my interest to want to know more.”

If there’s anything that the Baltimore Times Community Conversations has proved, is that there is indeed remarkable work being done in the community but it goes unnoticed because it often happens in siloes.

“The fact that there’s so many young people who attended… this conversation, it tells me that we have a lot of young people interested in the Baltimore Times,” Bramble said.

“I think talking to each other in community in a non-threatening way, in a fun way, where everybody’s ideas are accepted… makes a big, big difference and it helps community.”




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-Google ” Elijah Cummings healing city Baltimore

Black in Space: Smithsonian Channel Explores Untold Journey Toward Racial Equality

In recognition of Black History Month, the Reginald F. Lewis Museum partnered with Comcast and the Smithsonian Channel to air a special screening on February 19, 2020 that highlighted the accomplishments of the world’s first black astronauts.

“Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier,” a documentary presented by the Smithsonian Channel, chronicles some of America’s noteworthy experiences during the Civil Rights Movement in connection with the well-documented “Space Race” between the Soviet Union and the United States.

Concurrent with the Cold War rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the documentary delves into the decades-long battle between the two superpowers for the first to bring diversity to outer space. The Black in Space screening shed light on the astronauts who were a part of that particular chapter of world history and the race to put the first black astronaut into orbit.

For the past five years, typically around February, the Reginald Lewis museum has used the partnership with the Smithsonian Channel to air films that deal with an aspect of Black History. This year’s screening, was unique in that black astronauts is a rare topic in public discourse, according to Jackie Copeland, the executive director of Reginald Lewis Museum.

“[The screening is] significant because no one thinks about African American astronauts, but we are a place that tells those stories,” Copeland said. “I’m very excited about it because, again, we’re a place where there’s knowledge and learning taking place, and we like to expose our visitors to the history of African Americans in all disciplines— and right now in space. Who would’ve thunk it, right?”

The courageous black men and women represented in the film like Robert Lawrence Jr.; Ronald McNair; Edward Dwight; and Guion Bluford; became astronauts at a time that many would consider risky, given the transformative era when the Space Race occurred. The film also studies the lasting legacy of the world’s first black astronauts— men who led the way for more diversity and inclusion in future NASA classes and space programs around the world.

“Black in Space” underlined some of NASA’s discriminatory practices against aspiring black astronauts while detailing how Russia exposed America’s glaring racism and hypocrisy by making history in sending the first person of African heritage to space: Arnaldo Tamayo Mendez, an Afro Cuban who flew in space on September 18, 1980.

Thus, the Soviet Union proved to the world that it was capable of changing the geo-political landscape of space by flying the world’s first black man.

But shortly thereafter, Bluford made history on August 30, 1983, becoming the first black American to travel in space. The Philadelphia native was a crewmember aboard the space shuttle Challenger, which took off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

In addition, the screening had a segment that emphasized the racial tensions during the civil rights era and the subsequent protests and uprisings by black activists at the time. Civil rights figures such as Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph Abernathy and Gil Scott Heron expressed disdain with the idea of the U.S. government prioritized putting a man on the moon while many black citizens were being mistreated and were suffering from impoverished conditions.

Following the 51-minute film, there was a brief panel discussion. Moderator Vic Carter, a WJZ anchor; and panelists Cathleen Lewis, a curator from the National Air and Space Museum; and Smithsonian Channel executive producer Dan Wolf offered reflections before answering questions from the audience.“I’m not sure why I waited this long but I also know that there’s a lot of films [that] could potentially be made to help celebrate Black History Month, and this one came up,” Wolf said during the panel discussion. “This is really an amazing story and so I think it was not even much of a debate. It was like— ‘let’s do this film.’”

Lewis expounded on Dwight’s perseverance and experience along with some of the restrictions designed to make it hard for black people to navigate through NASA’s space program. “Why this is really important for us, is to be able to bring these great stories to diverse audiences, especially here at Reginald F. Lewis and our Baltimore community,” said Jessica Gappa, the director of community impact for Comcast – Beltway Region. “This is such an intriguing story for people to take pride in such talented astronauts and such talented scientists, to uncover this information.” “Black in Space: Breaking the Color Barrier,” premiered on February 24, 2020 on the Smithsonian Channel. Check your local listings for air dates and times in your area.

‘Doing Business in Baltimore’: Community Conversations Part II Unites Community Members,Business Experts, Entrepreneurs

The second segment of The Baltimore Times’ three-part community conversation series, titled “Baltimore’s Gems:

Insights for Doing Business in Baltimore,” provided business experts, entrepreneurs and community members an opportunity to network, gain insights and exchange ideas at Impact Hub Baltimore on February 29, 2020.

The public forum consisted of a panel discussion that explored varying subject matters followed by ‘table talks,’ which was a time for participants to break off into small groups to discuss partnerships and business-related opportunities, among other topics.

“We are completely thrilled with the series so far,” said Baltimore Times publisher Joy Bramble during her opening remarks. Likewise, event moderator Cassandra Vincent welcomed guests and facilitated the discussions throughout the community conversation.

Members from the community participate in The Baltimore Times “Baltimore's Gems: Insights for Doing Business in Baltimore” event February 29, 2020

Dr. David Marshall

Members from the community participate in The Baltimore Times “Baltimore’s Gems: Insights for Doing Business in Baltimore” event February 29, 2020

Through the panel, resource panelists – Kylie Patterson, Director of Economic Inclusion at Johns Hopkins University; Sherry Curry, PNC Bank executive; Paul Taylor, director of the Mayor’s Office of Small, Minority and Women-Owned Businesses; and Andy Cook, campaign director of Made in Baltimore – covered an array of business-related topics and answered various questions from community members.

Some of what was discussed included access to capital, proper cash flow, economic opportunity in Baltimore and resource scaling. Resource panelists also spoke about how they support local businesses in addition to offering helpful resources for business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs that were in attendance.

“No one’s coming to save us, so that means we as a community must save ourselves,” expressed Taylor, also a founding member of the Greater Baltimore Black Chamber of Commerce. He and fellow panelists answered questions about affordable means of finding an attorney, gap financing and community engagement.

DIFFERENTREGARD, a luxury clothing store based in Mount Vernon, and Fleurs d’Ave, a floral boutique in West Baltimore, were the two businesses that were represented.

DIFFERENTREGARD co-founders Dominick Davis and Steven White along with Fleurs d’Ave co-founders Brandon Wylie and Ashley Rock shared their entrepreneurial passions and the resources that supported the growth of their respective businesses.

“What drives my passion is having a sustainable business in Baltimore that’s Black-owned,” White said during the panel discussion.

James Malone, an aspiring business owner, said he attended the community to seek information. He said he is enrolled in an entrepreneurial training program and is in the process of trying to start a business in West Baltimore.

“Basically I’m just listening and absorbing information because [the panel] said a few good things I liked,” said Malone, who hopes to open an establishment similar to a community center in the Upton area.

“West Baltimore, that’s the area I’m trying to help out. It’s not about me per se wanting to take from the community, I want to help the community.”

Fleurs d’Ave, founded in 2018, is more than a floral boutique, but has a philosophy of consistently providing the highest degree of quality, creativity, and attention to each and every client.

“We just want to continue to repurpose our neighborhoods and add value back to our communities by not letting our businesses leave our community but to continue to develop businesses within the community,” said Wylie, also the CEO of Wylie Funeral Home.

“The importance of today’s function is… networking; being able to meet different people that understand your same struggles and your same successes in business.”

Davis, who also serves as the art director of DIFFERENTREGARD, took time after the panel to connect with community members. He and White were in their early 20s when they conceptualized and founded the apparel company.

“It’s important to get the information out there,” Davis said in reference to the community conversation’s theme.

“Bringing economic development is always an important part in any community. And for us to be able to provide jobs within the community is essential not just for us, and we can inspire another business to do the same thing.”

Jenell Steele, an entrepreneur with services specializing in health and wellness, attended the “Doing Business in Baltimore” forum intending to network with like-minded individuals and become more involved in the local business community.

Results With Nelly was established in October 2019 by Steele, a registered nurse and fitness coach.

Though Steele is slated as a featured speaker for Baltimore Times’ next community conversation on health, she figured showing up to “Doing Business in Baltimore” as well would be a valuable networking opportunity and learning experience.

“As I am going into new territory, unfamiliar territory, it’s important to seek guidance or at least seek someone who’s been there and traveling the path that I’m looking to cross,” she said.

Jerome Stevens, community outreach director from Sen. Ben Cardin’s office was on site to give remarks along with licensed tax consultant Michael Irving, who offered advice and his services to attendees.The Baltimore Times will conclude its three-part series on March 7 with a conversation themed “Vision For A Healthier Baltimore.”