‘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.”

Ravens’ Bradley Bozeman And Wife Kick Off Anti-Bullying Campaign At Pikesville Middle School

Nationwide, bullying prevention efforts are well established but with the growing prevalence of social media, bullying remains a glaring concern. Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Bradley Bozeman and his wife, Nikki, have joined the national campaign against bullying as they kicked off their Anti-Bullying National Tour on February 7, 2020, at Pikesville Middle School.

For nearly two years, the couple has made a concerted effort to educate youth on the harmful effects of bullying. The Bozemans founded an organization to further their anti-bullying efforts— the Bradley and Nikki Bozeman Foundation, which seeks to impact the lives of at-risk children and families with a focus on the dangers of childhood bullying and the importance of treating everyone respectfully, standing up for others and being true to oneself.

Their cross-country tour will consist of stops to schools in 17 states spanning from the Mid-Atlantic, to the Deep South, to the West Coast in their R.V. to fulfill the goal of raising awareness about the dangers of bullying and cyberbullying. The excursion is set to run through March 25, 2020.

“It was great. I was so excited when we walked out here,” Bradley said after the kickoff event. “The kids, I think, responded pretty well.”

Bradley and Nikki’s personal experiences have given them a platform to help adults and children learn how to recognize bullying, respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior, and send a strong message that such behavior is unacceptable.

They were prompted to reinforce the anti-bullying message to students in April 2018 when they were asked to send an inspirational video to a girl of Chinese descent who was being bullied, according to Bradley, a Roanoke, Alabama, native and former standout for the University of Alabama football team.

Instead of sending the video, they went to the girl’s school and spoke to the student body about the harmful effects of bullying. Interacting with students and hearing their stories has been a humbling and eye-opening experience, Bradley added.

Throughout the rally, Pikesville Middle School students had the privilege of getting to learn true stories of bullying from the Bozemans and had the chance to share some of their stories with classmates, faculty and the Bozemans.

“They (children) shared their stories, and they were very brave, and told all about what was going on,” Nikki said.

The children asked a variety of questions, ranging from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson to whether the Bozemans had ever counseled people who attempted suicide, according to Nikki.

“It means a lot to our kids, to our staff and our community because middle school is a very difficult time for students naturally,” said Kalisha Miller, principal of Pikesville Middle School, who readily welcomed the Bozemans to kickoff their campaign at the school. “To have someone like Mr. Bozeman and his wife come and really share with the kids and be vulnerable, and talk about what they went through as middle school kids, and how they got through it and some of the things that [students] could do to get through whatever they’re going through.

“What I also hope is that they (students) took away is knowing their resources and knowing who they can reach out to, and they’re not alone,” Miller said. “If something is happening, they have plenty of staff members to open up to so that we can support them.”

(From left) Nikki Bozeman, Bradley Bozeman and Maryland State Senator Bobby Zirkin.

Bobby Zirkin

(From left) Nikki Bozeman, Bradley Bozeman and Maryland State Senator Bobby Zirkin.

Recently, former Maryland Senator Bobby Zirkin collaborated with the Bozemans in their advocacy against bullying of any kind. In 2019, Zirkin crafted “Grace’s Law 2.0,” a piece of legislation targeting cyberbullying. The law was named for Maryland teen Grace McComas, who committed suicide after suffering from constant online bullying.

The next stop for the Bozemans will be at a school in Kennesaw, Georgia, which is Nikki’s hometown.

Bradley and Nikki Bozeman pride themselves in using their platform to combat a growing epidemic among America’s youth. To conclude the kickoff, the couple took pictures with Pikesville Middle students, faculty and staff.

Baltimore Students Take Part In Amazon’s First-Ever Future Engineer Robotics Camp

A special group of Baltimore students had the privilege of missing a portion of their school day for another intriguing learning experience.

On January 24, 2020, Amazon hosted KIPP Ujima Village Academy’s first-ever middle school robotics team for a ‘Future Engineer Robotics Camp,’ including a tour of the Baltimore robotics fulfillment center facility, which was followed by a thought-provoking robotics activity and the opportunity to meet with Amazon leadership.

KIPP Ujima Village Academy, a public charter middle school in the Walbrook Junction section of the Baltimore, just formed its robotics program as a result of a $10,000 computer science grant from Amazon in April 2019. High Point High School (Beltsville) was the other public school in Maryland that was a recipient of the grant last year.

The behind-the-scenes tour consisted of Ujima students and staff seeing the life cycle of Amazon products and seeing live robots in action in the Amazon Baltimore fulfillment center. Hailey Davis, the assistant general manager of the robotics fulfillment center, led the tour.

“We want to continue to engage our community, we want to continue to

engage our future STEM associates in these programs so these can be our innovators for the future,” Davis said. “In the long run we want to make sure that children in our community have the opportunity to experience something like [this]. This is a new program that Amazon is very dedicated to, to create our future leaders.”

Amazon volunteers from the nearby Baltimore fulfillment center engage with students during an Amazon Future Engineer day camp earlier today.

Tasha Dooley

Amazon volunteers from the nearby Baltimore fulfillment center engage with students during an Amazon Future Engineer day camp earlier today.

Following the tour, students broke off in groups to assemble robots with Legos by following outlined instructions. After the robot was built, students collaborated to program the robots to make certain movements through a computer coding system. Once students completed the robotics activity, they placed their finished products on the ground and beheld how the robots operated.

Teamwork, communication and overcoming failure were some of the takeaways from the robot building activity, according to Ben Davis, a sixth grade science teacher at Ujima Village Academy who came along to mentor the students as they built robots.

“You think about the future of the economy and the world— majority of the things are going to be computer-based, involving software design, or computer design or coding,” Davis said. “Getting kids experience with this in middle school years allows them to get the opportunity to be experienced with this stuff, and feel confident they can pursue something like this in the future.”

Amazon robots have come a long way – students from KIPP Ujima Village Academy learn about the evolution of robots over time on a tour of the Baltimore fulfillment center.

Tasha Dooley

Amazon robots have come a long way – students from KIPP Ujima Village Academy learn about the evolution of robots over time on a tour of the Baltimore fulfillment center.

Davis also serves as the lead robotics instructor in Ujima Academy’s robotics program, which is comprised of 10 students so far. The program, still in its early stages, meets every Tuesday after school for various computer science-related activities.

Ujima and High Point are the first grant recipients in Maryland as part of Amazon’s “Future Engineer” nationwide grant program that recently launched. According to the company, the Future Engineers Program provides more than 150 underserved schools with access to robotics and computer science programs.

Cameron Collins, an eighth grader at Ujima Village Academy, is enrolled in the robotics program and was one of the estimated 20 participants in the robotics camp event at the fulfillment center.

She says she feels that robots will soon be a main part of the modern world so learning more about it is what drew her to the robotics program at school. Assembling the robots was somewhat of a difficult team-building exercise, Collins said, but was nonetheless a worthwhile learning experience.

“While it can be confusing and frustrating, it’s a good learning experience,” said Collins, who plans to go on to Baltimore Polytechnic Institute after graduating from Ujima. “I feel like you can learn a lot working with other people, and it’s nice knowing how to cooperate and get things done as a group.”

Jasmine Bacot, manager of external relations with KIPP Baltimore, was partially responsible for applying for the $10,000 grant. She says that she and her colleagues pursued the grant funds as a way to create various opportunities for students in accordance with KIPP’s STEM programming and initiatives.

“I see future scientists, future engineers, future computer scientists, software developers— they’re all a very bright group of students, and it’s just a joy being able to watch them learn, and grow, and work together on these different initiatives and to be excited about STEM,” Bacot said.

Ujima staff members, along with leaders at Amazon, foresee the partnership and robotics camp with the Amazon Baltimore fulfillment center being an ongoing function for years to come.

To conclude the robotics camp, Ujima students and staff engaged in a question and answer session with Amazon leadership and received Amazon toy vans and planes as souvenirs before boarding the bus back to campus.

Fun-filled STEM Day Extravaganza Encourages Kids To Pursue Careers In Science, Math, Engineering And Technology

More than half of American adults say the primary reason young people don’t pursue degrees in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) is because they think these subjects are too hard, according to recent research conducted by the Pew Research Center.

However, Morgan State University’s Science Engineering Mathematics and Aerospace Academy (SEEMA) has found a way to proactively address the need for minority youth involvement in STEM subjects by developing an annual event which provides students with a fun, interactive, hands-on, ‘minds-on’ alternative to learning disciplines traditionally known as either difficult or boring.

MSU’s eighth annual STEM Day Extravaganza was held on September 14, 2019 at the university’s Hill Field House, and once again showcased a variety of fun STEM-related activities for school-aged children including astronomy, model airplane building and flying, life science activities, engineering design and construction, math and science games, rocketry, robotics and various NASA and NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) educational activities.

“STEM is our life. It’s what we live and breathe,” said Jonathan Wilson, the STEM Day Extravaganza coordinator.

This year's STEM Day Extravaganza at Morgan State University garnered hundreds of students from Baltimore and surrounding areas for a day of fun-filled, interactive, STEM-related educational activities.

This year’s STEM Day Extravaganza at Morgan State University garnered hundreds of students from Baltimore and surrounding areas for a day of fun-filled, interactive, STEM-related educational activities.

Wilson, project director for Morgan State’s MUREP Aerospace Academy, was elated to host the STEM Day Extravaganza for the eighth year. Due to enrollment limitations on the Saturday Science Academy, the STEM Day allows students in the community and throughout the state of Maryland to engage in some similar hands-on activities, he said.

“Science, technology, engineering and math is important for every aspect of our lives, and we do not have enough professionals in the STEM fields in the U.S.,” Wilson added.

“Many old people like myself are retiring in all aspects— local, national, and federal agencies and we don’t have enough young people to take our places. So we continue to get this type of program going so that we can get [students] excited and motivate them to think of STEM and remove the fear of doing STEM.”

Most of the exhibits present additionally provided parents with educational techniques and materials to keep their children interested in academics, specifically in the STEM field.

“It’s an eye-opener for the kids and the parents as well,” said Vercera Brisbon, who came along with her grandson Daequan Railey, a student in BMAA Saturday Academy and third grader at Baltimore International Academy. Brisbon said she found out about the annual extravaganza through the Saturday Academy and was delighted to have been involved in the 2019 event.

“I hope that he’s learned a little science, a little more math, and he’s learning about engineering so I hope he takes interest in one of those three subjects. But there’s still a lot to go around and find out about, so when he leaves I’m hoping he picks up a little more than what he left with.”

Though a few vendors from last year’s event weren’t able to participate this year, Wilson was glad to have had one new vendor join the exhibits: the Space Telescope Science Institute.

The other vendors in attendance, all of whom participated in previous years, were American Nuclear Society; American Society for Biology; Army Research Lab; Baltimore MAA Instructors; Benjamin Banneker Museum; Carnegie Institute for Science: Bio Eyes; Exelon; Maryland Science Center; Maryland Space Grant Consortium; NASA Goddard Space Flight Center; and several others.

“As you can see, they don’t want to leave. They love it. They said this is fun, this is exciting,” Wilson said. The extravaganza also holds the potential of added recruitment for the Saturday Academy program. Wilson expounded upon his and his colleague’s efforts to deliver a fun alternative for STEM involvement.

“In the STEM area subjects, some people think ‘oh, it’s not for me.’ They’re too scared. No, science, technology, engineering and math is all fun.

“That’s why we teach by [children] playing and then learning. And we need more of them to go into these fields when they come to college.”

Billie Partlow, a former BMAA instructor for high school students, has been a vendor since the extravaganza’s inception in 2012. Her exhibit, named “heart and mind,” focused on the effects of space travel on the body systems. The objective of the Partlow’s exhibit is for participants to understand how the nervous and cardiovascular system functions. She went on to explain why STEM is so critically important for black youth.

“Minorities or African-American children have been denied these privileges. It’s like our children don’t have the ability to learn technology and they’re not math wizards— yes they are. They’re just like any other child,” said Partlow who was also a former physics teacher with Baltimore City Public Schools. “I’m glad that whoever thought of this STEM thing note that our children need this for tomorrow as well as today… the STEM program is the best thing that could’ve happened.”

Baltimore Office Of Civil Rights Kicks Off ‘Can We Talk’ Series

The Baltimore City Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement (BOCRWE) launched a new series of community dialogues entitled, “Can We Talk?” The inaugural event was held in the Curran Room at Baltimore City Hall on March 12, 2019. The first of the series was a presentation by Lawrence Brown, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Morgan State University’s School of Community Health and Policy, entitled, “Mapping Baltimore Apartheid in the Ongoing Quest for Civil Rights.”

Public information officer for BOCRWE, John Milton Wesley, the originator and coordinator of the community talk series, felt impelled to have Dr. Brown as the first presenter of the series because unfair housing practices have been such a prominent issue in Baltimore City.

“I felt like there was a need to have a one-on-one conversation with the communities across Baltimore,” Wesley said. “The idea was to create a series in which the people who support [Baltimore community] organizations could speak directly to the Office of Civil Rights.”

Free and open to the public, there was a decent-sized group of inquisitive community members present to take part in the introductory discussion.

Suzanne Haley, a racial equity trainer and community organizer, who attended the gathering says she was sought insight on the topic of housing discrimination after reading some of Brown’s articles.

“I’m just interested in peeling back the layers and changing the lens of the way we see what we see,” said Haley, an Ellicott City resident. “I’m curious about the devastation that I see in Baltimore, and so the presentation today helped me to get a clearer lens of what I’m really looking at.”

The destruction of black neighborhoods was created by policies— social algorithms that were enacted to determine what parts of the city received capital funding from the federal government.

As a result of which, black families were uprooted and pushed out. Plus the construction of major highways in the region displaced numerous black families and businesses, according to Dr. Brown whose research examines the impact of historical trauma on community health.

Another focus of Dr. Brown’s presentation was James Preston, the Mayor of Baltimore from 1911 to 1919, considered by many as one of the city’s most blatantly racist politicians for proposing and passing legislation that displaced black communities.

Dr. Brown also underlined a program called “Hope VI,” a plan originally drafted by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1992 under the Bill Clinton Administration. This piece of legislation was designed to revitalize the worst public housing projects into “mixed-income developments” in the nation’s major cities, but instead resulted in the displacement of countless black families and establishments, furthering a process known as gentrification.

The word “apartheid” was used repeatedly throughout his presentation to denote the deleterious effects that housing discrimination has had on Baltimore’s black population. He also spoke to the audience about racial bias in the mainstream media, pointing out documented headlines from past Baltimore Sun articles with phrases like “Negro Invasion,” “Infiltration of the Negro,” and “Emergency War Fund” whenever black people moved into traditionally white neighborhoods.

Moreover, Brown cited research finding that more of Baltimore City’s budget is spent on the police force than other important areas like community redevelopment, arts, education, housing, roads and public transportation.

To conclude his in-depth lecture, Dr. Brown presented what he feels is a feasible solution for the number of problems he highlighted, which was a $3 billion Racial Impact Bond— somewhat of a reparatory budget, which calls for more funds to be allotted to vital areas that will help to rebuild black communities adversely affected by gentrification and other inequitable housing policies.

During the panel discussion after Dr. Brown’s presentation, the topics of fair housing; infrastructural systems used to rebuild underprivileged communities; solutions to gentrification; challenging local government and policy makers were discussed.

The “Can We Talk?” series will be held at various locations across the city in the months ahead. The discussions will explore a variety of subjects important to the citizens of Baltimore and issues impacted by the work of the Office of Civil Rights.

Upon leaving the podium, Dr. Brown encapsulated his presentation by urging community members and leaders to take a firm stand against the deplorable inequities that have had such a grave impact on the city.

Portion Of 33rd Street Named After Late Baltimore Sports Legend Frank Robinson

City leaders and community members gathered to pay homage to one of Baltimore’s most prominent sports icons, Orioles Hall of Famer Frank Robinson, at a street dedication ceremony in the Waverly neighborhood on Tuesday, April 2, 2019.

The portion of East 33rd Street between Ednor Road and Ellerslie Avenue now has orange, Oriole-branded street signs that read “Frank Robinson Way,” directly behind the location of the old Orioles Memorial Stadium.

Baltimore City Council President Bernard “Jack” Young was the lead spokesman for the event since Mayor Catherine Pugh could not attend due to a leave of absence. Young, who will serve in Pugh’s stead until she returns, expressed kind remarks for Robinson in his time behind the podium.

“Today, we officially proclaim this portion of East 33rd Street as Frank Robinson Way,” said Young, who got to know Robinson in person. “We are honored that this baseball great was once a player and manager for the Baltimore Orioles, that he made history right here in this city.”

Robinson, who led the Orioles to their first World Series title in 1966, built a reputation as one of the greatest outfielders and power hitters in MLB history. He died on February 7, 2019 at his California home at age 83.

He spent more than six decades as an influential figure in the sport, retiring as a two-time World Series champion (1966, 1970), 14-time all-star, two-time league MVP, and the league’s last triple-crown winner.

Baltimore City Councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke had a few words after Young spoke. She is a representative of District 14, which is partially composed of the section in which the ceremony took place.

“It’s my district and we’re so proud to have 33rd Street in front of the old stadium area named after our biggest hero of all of Orioles baseball, and that’s Frank Robinson,” Clarke said. “That’s why I came, I wouldn’t have missed it for anything… He was a man of integrity, and character and talent.”

Also at the event were Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison and Maj. Natalie Preston, commander of the northeastern district of the Baltimore Police Department.

In 1974 Robinson became the first black manager in MLB history, assuming the leadership role over the Cleveland Indians. The Texas native also managed the San Francisco Giants, which made him the first black manager in the National League, the Baltimore Orioles and the Montreal Expos, which later became the Washington Nationals— with a managerial career spanning longer than 30 years.

Robinson is still the only player in the history of Major League Baseball to win the Most Valuable Player award in both the National League and American League.

“There is no one who is honored more in Baltimore City than Frank Robinson Sr. for so many, many reasons of excellence, integrity, just representing us the way we’re so proud to be represented,” Clarke continued.

At the conclusion of the ceremony, Young unveiled one of the “Frank Robinson Way” signs at the intersection of 33rd Street and Ellerslie Avenue as attendants responded with an exuberant “yay” and applause.

The Orioles will recognize Robinson, also a civil rights pioneer, in a celebration before their divisional matchup against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards Stadium on Saturday, April 6 at 6:15 p.m.

Baltimore State’s Attorney Explains New Policy At Community Forum

Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn Mosby, along with community partners and local public officials, hosted a community forum to educate the public about the new Marijuana Prosecution Policy and to discuss the impact of marijuana convictions on the black community in particular, as well as to provide an update regarding the policy implementation and the State’s Attorney’s Office’s work in Annapolis.

“Court In The Community: Rethinking Marijuana Prosecutions” forum held at Baltimore City Community College on February 27, 2019 in the campus’s Fine Arts Auditorium was fashioned to yield spirited, informative exchange about the much-needed policy change drafted by Mosby.

“We learned through extensive research that prosecuting marijuana cases has no public safety value, erodes public trust and is a costly and counterproductive use of limited resources,” Mosby said in a statement. “For these reasons, I have announced that my office would no longer prosecute marijuana possession cases regardless of weight or an individual’s criminal history.”

However, the State’s Attorney’s Office will still prosecute possession of marijuana with intent to distribute if there is overwhelming evidence.

Mosby opened the evening by reiterating her policy (introduced on January 29, 2019), adding that first-time drug offenders will have the chance to be admitted to the Aim to B’More program, an alternative to incarceration for low-level felony drug offenders.

After providing a descriptive overview of her policy and presenting the State’s Attorney’s 2019 Legislative Agenda, Mosby introduced the panel: Michael Collins, director of the Office of National Affairs of The Drug Policy Alliance; Susan Francis, deputy director of the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service; Sonia Kumar, staff attorney, ACLU of Maryland; Olivia Naugle, legislative coordinator for the Marijuana Policy Project; Chief Deputy State’s

Attorney Michael Schatzow; and Caryn York, executive director, Job Opportunities Task Force.

The panelists, all of whom have backgrounds in social justice and community activism explained why Mosby’s new Marijuana Prosecution Policy is so important to the Baltimore community because in the past it appeared that there was “one set of laws for black residents and another set for white residents.”

The panel pointed out that the racially biased enforcement of laws and petty drug charges have led to barriers for employment, housing and education, among other opportunities.

The audience had the opportunity to participate in the discussion during the question and answer portion of the forum, which followed the panel discussion.

Other concerns raised during the community forum included public health, public safety, mental health, overdose treatment, policy reform, the job industry, cannabis business industry, racist policing and imminent marijuana legalization in Maryland.

Past forums— held on a quarterly basis over the past four years— covered topics such as domestic violence, rebounding from a criminal conviction and sexual assault. They were geared to helping the community to break down barriers of distrust and explaining the intricacies of the criminal justice system, according to Mosby.

“We wanted to really be able to ensure that people really understood what the policy was. There was some confusion in light of the fact that the police department indicated that they were still going to arrest people, but I’m not going to be prosecuting people,” Mosby said following the event. “I think it was really important for us to make that distinction and clarification for folks, as well as to understand the collateral consequences and the role that the community plays.”

More than half of the Maryland state prison population is comprised of individuals charged with nonviolent drug offenses, according to panelist Caryn York, executive director, Job Opportunities Task Force.

“I am here because we are so reliant on the criminal justice system to address drug use and possession, it’s now become a workforce challenge,” said York, explaining how communities have suffered hindrances to employment due to being over policed and underserved. “The significance [of today’s forum] is that we’re talking about these issues in a global manner, it’s not so nuanced. We’re actually talking about how we can change it and not keep things the same.”

Mosby, who assumed office in January 2015 says the primary purpose of the Court in the Community forum was to gain the trust of the community.

“One of the things that we attempt to do is that we have to rebuild the trust of the community. We rely on the community. And so when you have discriminatory enforcement of certain laws, and you have laws that are applicable to white folks that are different from black folks, all that does is exacerbate distrust,” Mosby said. “What we’re attempting to do is to say ‘we have one standard of justice in the city of Baltimore’ and if the police department are going to enforce laws discriminatorily, that’s something that we, as the State’s Attorney’s Office, will not be complicit with.”

Toyota Aspires To Strengthen Local Community Through ‘Walk In My Boots’ Program

Toyota Motor North America, in efforts to be more than just a car company, demonstrated its commitment to ‘enriching lives one step at a time’ and serving local communities by donating winter boots and socks to families in need through its “Walk In My Boots” community outreach program.

After showcasing an assortment of vehicles at the Baltimore Auto Show, Toyota partnered with The Salvation Army of Central Maryland to give several families—some of whom were from The Salvation Army Boys & Girls Clubs of Franklin Square and Middle River—175 pairs of Bogs waterproof insulated boots and Smartwool socks fashioned to protect the wearer’s feet from harsh weather conditions at the Salvation Army Warehouse on East 29th Street on Feb. 16, 2019.

“Winter can be the hardest season for low-income families. While many programs offer winter coat giveaways, a person’s feet are often left vulnerable as many are often forced to use local modes of transportation such as taking the bus or walking in harsh elements,” says a statement released by The Salvation Army and Toyota.

“When temperatures drop below freezing, or the snow and rain take center stage, people are at severe risk for hypothermia to set in and consequences can be fatal. Having the proper footwear can help keep feet dry, comfortable and warm for longer periods of time.”

Before the giveaways, officials from Toyota and The Salvation Army gave heartfelt remarks and expressed how elated they were to be a part of a philanthropic partnership designed to give back to less fortunate families in Baltimore City and surrounding areas.

Quinetta Cooper and her four children were one of the special, spotlighted families presented with boots during the program.

“It’s truly a blessing to have received these boots and to be surrounded by great people,” said Cooper, a resident of Middle River. “It’s just a pleasure to be here.”

Also in attendance was special guest speaker, comedian and Baltimore native MESHELLE, who gave words of encouragement to the audience.

Alva Adams, the founder of Walk In My Boots, said the program started in 2011 after she saw a need to give back to the underprivileged communities who might have undergone hardships in extremely frigid weather conditions. The event began in Detroit and has been in Baltimore since 2017, she said.

“Anything that Toyota can do to help families, to help communities to get to their dreams, to accomplish their dreams—it just makes us feel really, really great as a company,” said Adams, the director of multicultural business and strategy and dealer relations with Toyota Motor North America.

Officials from Toyota (top to bottom) Tim Hale, Nicole Fortune, Alva Adams, Paige Barton along with MESHELLE pose with Quinetta Cooper and her four children, recipients of new Bogs waterproof insulated boots as part of the 'Walk In My Boots' community outreach project.

Officials from Toyota (top to bottom) Tim Hale, Nicole Fortune, Alva Adams, Paige Barton along with MESHELLE pose with Quinetta Cooper and her four children, recipients of new Bogs waterproof insulated boots as part of the ‘Walk In My Boots’ community outreach project.

“It makes us want to continue to do more in the community; to help build their confidence, to help build their self-esteem, to let them know that we’re behind you. You know, let’s start our impossible together, let’s go places together.”

In addition to Detroit and Baltimore, Toyota holds annual Walk In My Boots giveaways in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Washington, D.C., and Chicago.

JoAnne Clatterbuck, a resident of the Woodberry neighborhood in Baltimore, showed up with her two grandchildren and a great grandchild to receive boots and socks.

“It means a lot. Like I said, my daughter belongs to the Salvation Army and they’ve helped me out a lot with the children, with the grandchildren. I’ve always appreciated that.”

Furthermore, Toyota presented a $15,000 check, along with an additional $10,000, to The Salvation Army of Central Maryland, enabling the organization to continue its support for less fortunate children and families.

“By Toyota offering these high-quality boots for [our clients], not only does it stretch the life of their own shoes but they’re able to walk in the winter with comfort and not have to worry about walking in wet shoes. So, I think it means a lot” said Gene Hogg, the area commander of The Salvation Army of Central Maryland.

At the conclusion of the program, participants were served a buffet luncheon prepared by Black Tie Caterers, courtesy of Toyota. Children received various coloring books that were signed and distributed by Munson Steed, CEO of Steed Media and founder of Rolling Out Magazine.

According to Hogg, the funds donated to The Salvation Army will go to the programming involved in the organization’s Boys & Girls Clubs located in Franklin Square, Middle River and Glen Burnie.

Local Activist Receives New Vehicle, Recognition From Mayor At Special Ceremony

Erricka Bridgeford, a noted social activist in Baltimore City and co-founder of Baltimore Ceasefire 365, received a new vehicle by MileOne Autogroup after openly expressing the burden of being without reliable transportation. The 2013 Volkswagen Tiguan was presented to Bridgeford not only as a token of appreciation for her contributions to the community but was given in response to Bridgeford’s need for a new vehicle.

The SUV was presented to Bridgeford during a special ceremony with Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh and MileOne Autogroup CEO Steven Fader at the Motor House in Baltimore City on Wednesday, February 6, 2019.

“A few weeks ago, I told God I didn’t have anymore fight in me,” Bridgeford said with emotion after Fader handed her her new car keys. “I just want to thank everybody who shared, who donated, who sent me inbox messages and who called me,” Bridgeford expressed, also thanking Fader and MileOne, Mayor Pugh, local media, her partners in CeaseFire and the organizers of the event.

A GoFundMe page was organized on January 22, 2019 on behalf of Bridgeford after she spoke out publicly about the stress associated with a lack of dependable transportation to carry out work necessary for her organization. More than $12,000 was raised from 240 people in only a week, and organizers of the page stopped taking donations after receiving a call from Heritage.

Cody Elizabeth Handy, a Baltimore schoolteacher and advocate of Baltimore Ceasefire; and Michelle Belfie, a social entrepreneur, organized the brief celebratory event.

“I am ECSTATIC to announce that your generosity in this GoFundMe campaign caught the attention of Heritage, part of the MileOne Autogroup, in a very big way!,” Bridgeford wrote on her GoFundMe page. “They have decided to GIFT me a car, because so many people cared that I have reliable transportation. Heritage recognizes that transportation is transformational.”

According to Bridgeford, all of the extra funds collected through the GoFundMe campaign will be used for the maintenance fees of her new vehicle and Baltimore Ceasefire 365.

“I read recently about the effort to raise funds for Erricka so that she can purchase a vehicle that will allow her to continue to expand the mission of Baltimore Ceasefire,” Fader said in a news release. “In visiting the GoFundMe page, I quickly realized that this was something we could provide to Erricka and that would allow all of the generous support she received from others to help fuel the programs and activities of Baltimore Ceasefire.”

Mayor Pugh took a few minutes out of her busy schedule to support Bridgeford.

“It’s so good to see great stories being told about the people and the hearts of the folks who are in our city,” Pugh said as she acknowledged Bridgeford’s diligent efforts to reduce gun violence in the city.

Moreover, Bridgeford received a certificate of recognition from Pugh.

“This car means a lot to me because it means that I’ll be able to get around without being worried about breaking down anywhere,” said Bridgeford who was named the 2017 Marylander of the Year by the Baltimore Sun.

“To just be able to get around to do outreach and peace trainings, and in the schools with the students and staff— it’s just amazing,” she continued, explaining that she frequently travels throughout Maryland to conduct mediation and conflict management training.

The West Baltimore native who has dealt with a number of issues with her most recent vehicle, including a hazardous gas leak said, “This means freedom for me.”

Local Tech Industry Leaders Assemble To Discuss The Future Of Baltimore City

“The Future Of Charm City” was a night of networking, collaboration and discussion with telecommunications giant AT&T and local tech hub Betamore that involved a panel of tech pioneers, creative entrepreneurs, community leaders and business executives who came together to discuss the future of technological innovation in Baltimore, and how the growing technology sector is affecting the region across different industries.

The event, presented by AT&T in conjunction with Betamore, was held on January 24, 2019 at the City Garage. Event attendees had the chance to get an up-close look at small cell equipment, which is paving the way for the next generation of mobile technology.

Panelists were Marc Blakeman, president of AT&T Mid-Atlantic (Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington, D.C.); Bill Cole, president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corporation; Ellen Hemmerly, Executive Director at bwtech at the University of Maryland Baltimore County Research and Technology Park; Greg Cangialosi, Chairman and Co-Founder of Betamore; Alysha January, influencer and blogger; and Heidi Klotzman, CEO of HeidnSeek Entertainment.

The panel discussion was moderated by Thiru Vignarajah, former Maryland deputy attorney general. He opened the discussion by highlighting the promise that Baltimore has despite its deplorable reputation.

“What we want to do tonight is to talk a little bit about how technology, in particular, is going to advance the future of Baltimore,” Vignarajah said.

“We talk a lot about what’s wrong with the city. What we’re going to do tonight is talk about what’s right, and what could set us on the path to becoming the 22nd-century city that Baltimore is destined to become.”

Moreover, the panelists shared their thoughts on the future of Baltimore’s purported burgeoning tech industry. Some of the topics discussed were how various sectors of the community will benefit from the expected technological advancements coming to the city, such as law enforcement, the transit system, education and job creation. Small-cell infrastructure was also a major point of emphasis.

Following the panel discussion was a brief Q&A session in which the audience asked questions concerning advancements in technology and the arts, in healthcare technology and small-cell technology’s impact on the city.

Small cells are small, unobtrusive equipment that can be placed onto existing infrastructure (light pole, building, etc.) and are vital components of the future of technology. According to the American Consumer Institute Center for Citizen Research, small-cell reforms and developments can lead to an estimated 6,427 jobs in Maryland along with a $9 billion Maryland Gross State Product.

A recent report by Technically Baltimore notes that over the next 10 years, AT&T plans to install thousands of small cells across Maryland. Antenna systems installed on light poles and buildings could help usher in 5G technology – a term used to describe the next generation of blazingly fast mobile networks beyond the 4G LTE mobile networks of today – which is already starting to appear in various locations around Maryland, Blakeman said.

Blakeman said Baltimore is at the precipice of a cybersecurity breakthrough, and expressed what importance that technological infrastructure will have for the city as 2020 approaches. He encouraged the audience to be ‘digitally responsible’ and that they have a role in building the infrastructural network that may revive Baltimore City.

“From AT&T’s perspective, there’s amazing things being done with technology today,” Blakeman said.

“This technology is only as good as the infrastructure that it rides on… So we’re really working on building up infrastructure here in Maryland and letting people know that we appreciate their help and making sure their voices get heard.”

Alysha January, also an activist passionate about creating equality, uses her social media platform to highlight small businesses in the city.

“I think it will definitely making people start thinking about how is this technology going to help change Baltimore and help us go into a more positive direction,” January said, explaining what she thought to be the significance of the panel discussion. She said she hopes the discussion impels the community to think of ways to use forthcoming technological advancements to ensure that less fortunate youth have equal opportunities.

Jermaine Gibbs was one of the several dozen audience members who appeared to be intrigued by the informative panel discussion and Q&A thereafter.

“I definitely learned about different technologies and I had no clue that the cybersecurity industry was so big in this area,” said Gibbs, a freelance photographer.

“Learning of all the different things that are coming to Baltimore and different opportunities — I’m hoping that these will create jobs, which will help take away some of the poverty, which will in turn take away some of the crime.”