I Am Baltimore

Scott Murdock, ’08, Psychology, also known as his drag alter-ego Shaunda Leer, is a lifelong Baltimore resident.

[A version of this post originally appeared on Facebook on April 28, 2015].

Scott MurdockI am the child and grandchild of policemen, both of whom worked in Baltimore City and more. There were nights as a child that I feared for my father’s safety. I knew he had a job to do. I just wanted him to come home. I also grew up not being “black enough” for some and not “white enough” for others. I never fit in. I never wanted to. I never wanted to be “enough” of anything but myself. To this day I hear those words but I’ve grown to let them roll off my back. The truth of the matter is I wanted to spread love to everyone I met. I’ve always been that way. I always will be.

I grew up in Baltimore. I knew it wasn’t perfect. We are a rare breed of a city. We are a rare breed of people. I have seen the beauty in it. I believe I have now seen the ugliest of it. This city, Baltimore, is my home. I grew up believing I may be able to make some difference in it somehow. I did not know how. I did not care. I just wanted a chance to do so.

Over the past few days, these thoughts (and more) have surrounded me in a complicated mass of confusion and uncertainty. But I chose to wait. I chose to wait because I knew the beauty that exists in my city. And today, more than ever, I saw it.

I saw libraries open because the staff knew these children needed the opportunity to still learn and educate themselves. I saw communities band together to form human shields protecting those attempting to keep peace. I saw neighborhoods form committees to clean up the massive damage. I saw organizations create opportunities for children kept home from school to get out their rage constructively – through art, dance, song, words. I saw my city spit in the face of every single person out there who has claimed shame for Baltimore, who has disgraced Baltimore, who has said it is beyond redemption, who have already etched its tombstone. DESPITE THE CIRCUMSTANCES, I SAW MY CITY RISE.

Police brutality exists. Frustration exists. Racism exists. Anger exists. Everything is boiling over. But despite all of that, GOOD exists. Call me foolish, stupid, naive but I believe in a Baltimore that is bigger than the destruction that has played out these past few days. No fear I have for what currently exists exceeds the hope I have for my city. It never will.

I am from Baltimore. I am Baltimore. I am that kid who threw a brick at the police. I am that clergyman who pushed people back from the police. I am the mother who pulled her child up out of the street. I am the man on a megaphone screaming that we won’t take this anymore. I am the policeman looking to keep a city safe. I am that “thug” portrayed in the media. I am that educated hope. I am every part of this city because I AM THIS CITY.

Unfriend me because I won’t unfriend any of you. I am not afraid of this discussion. I am not afraid of your viewpoints. I am not afraid because there is so much more to fear than the opinions of those who have already condemned me or my city. Maybe, JUST maybe, if I don’t act so quickly to close that line of communication – if we all don’t act so quickly to close that line of communication – then perhaps somewhere along the line at least one person’s mind might begin to think differently. And one person is one more than yesterday. It’s a change, however small.

As it stands, I am here. I am strong. I am Baltimore.

And I am not dead yet.

Contact the author, Scott Murdock, at smurdock84@gmail.com.

UMBC’s Nohe, McNeely and Allen Named Baltimore Social Innovators

David Hoffman is UMBC’s Assistant Director of Student Life for Civic Agency.

David HoffmanTwice each year, the Warnock Foundation recognizes Baltimore social innovators with small grants to support their projects and profiles in the Baltimore Social Innovation Journal. Among the 12 honorees for winter 2015 are a UMBC professor and two recent graduates of UMBC’s doctoral program in human services psychology, each of whom is being recognized for a project supported by a BreakingGround grant.

Professor Tim Nohe (Visual Arts), director of UMBC’s Center for Innovation, Research and Creativity in the Arts (CIRCA), was recognized for a project through which he is making the rich natural and cultural information available within a Baltimore urban forest accessible to area residents and visitors. He is collaborating with UMBC Geography and Environmental Systems professor Matthew Baker to use GPS technology to create an inventory of the forest’s features.

The Baltimore Social Innovation Journal | Timothy Nohe.

Jessica McNeely and Allyssa Allen, who completed their doctoral studies at UMBC in 2014, launched Project Insight as graduate students to gain insight health challenges affect central west Baltimore neighborhoods, and to help and empower residents to take action to address them. Jessica and Allyssa shared the story of the project and its outcomes in a recent post on this site.

The Baltimore Social Innovation Journal | Jessica McNeely and Allyssa Allen.

Congratulations to Tim, Jessica and Allyssa for this well-deserved recognition!

Contact the author, David Hoffman, at dhoffman@umbc.edu.

Action Research Against Health Disparities

Jessica McNeely, Ph.D. ’14, and Allyssa Allen, Ph.D. ’14, graduates of UMBC’s doctoral program in Human Services Psychology, are founders of Project Insight. Along with Project Insight colleagues, they were honored earlier this year by the Baltimore City Council for their work toward “the betterment of the Druid Heights community.”

jessica-mcneelyIn the years leading up to our decision to start Project Insight, we worked on a number of research projects investigating the influence of neighborhood factors on health and well-being. We were exposed to countless statistics on the relationship between where you live and your health.

As budding researchers, we were both intrigued and shocked by the numbers. One particularly striking statistic was that residents Allyssa Allen 2of the richest neighborhood in Baltimore City (Roland Park) had an average life expectancy 30 years longer than residents of the poorest neighborhood (Druid Heights). In modern science, we have faith that rigorous, objective scientific methods can tell the whole story. Yet after years of number crunching we still could not explain why people in some neighborhoods are dying decades before their time.

We were troubled by the blatant social injustice of health disparities, and the slow progress toward correcting this injustice. If the data were disheartening, driving through the neighborhoods was downright heartbreaking. The geographic lines of social injustice in Baltimore City are profound and impossible to ignore. When funeral homes appear to be the most prosperous businesses in black neighborhoods across Baltimore, it is easy to infer that a history of institutional racism has shaped our opportunities for health.

The more we learned, the more we began to proselytize from our academic soapboxes: “Something needs to be done!” But who is really responsible for doing what’s necessary? Who is going to stand up and make a commitment to work toward health justice? We concluded that the who could be anyone, including us, but the something was much more elusive. We needed deeper insight into both the problem and possible solutions. We needed to step out of the ivory tower and into the streets.

That was how Project Insight was born. We began by using our community research skills to design a participatory action research project that would allow us to gain insight into neighborhood health challenges and injustices affecting central west Baltimore, while providing a direct benefit to the communities that are the hardest hit by those challenges and injustices.

As we developed the project, we were delighted to learn that other graduate and undergraduate students shared our passion for using research as a vehicle for social justice. We invited these talented students to join Project Insight, and began to form a team of health justice researchers who were dedicated to making a difference in people’s lives.

We recognized that we needed guidance from community leaders who could empower us to use our talents and skills to support community efforts. We reached out to Michael Scott and Dr. Adrienne Starks of Equity Matters because one of the organization’s reports on health disparities had helped spur us to action. They agreed to provide us guidance on our project, but informed us that we would be held to the highest standard.

Michael Scott introduced us to Kelly Little, the Executive Director of the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation (DHCDC). We knew going into the meeting that the DHCDC was the epitome of community development and empowerment. Their comprehensive model of human services exemplified the values and concepts we had learned in all of our coursework.

Mr. Little spoke candidly about the community’s efforts to keep their residents fed. The majority of their residents struggle to get food on the table. Residents had very few food options beyond fast food outlets and convenience stores.

Throughout the fall and winter of 2013, we completed interviews and focus groups to better understand the history, culture and personal experience with food in the community. We also compiled data and maps from Baltimore City and other organizations to better understand the larger context of the problem. In the spring, we met with our community partners and the study participants again to co-create the vision for how to share what we learned with the community.

On June 30th, we held a dissemination event that showcased local community activists working towards food justice and shared the preliminary findings from Project Insight. What we had learned was that the “food deserts” we observe today are the result of a history of restricted economic investment (e.g., redlining) in communities of color. Many participants had spoken frankly about how grocery stores and restaurants have been repeatedly taken away from the community and never replaced. Nevertheless, we also had heard a lot hope and belief that things can change for the better if the community is unified.

Since July, we have been working with our community partners to create a report of our findings. We plan to publish the report this month and distribute it to the community and beyond.  As one participant put it “bottom line…information is power,” and we want to help by using the power of the community’s voices to advocate for the positive changes the community wants to see.

Before we started Project Insight we questioned whether we had the capacity to bring about a sustainable community benefit through student-led participatory action research. Now one year later, we realize that the only way to grow our capacity is to continue doing the work.

We have joined forces with Fusion Partnerships and developed a non-profit program called Grow Baltimore. The mission of Grow Baltimore is to demonstrate innovative strategies that integrate people and places to address the city’s most pressing public health problems. Although the challenges we face seems insurmountable, we believe together we can work towards an enlightened city where everyone acts to co-create a healthier self and community.

Contact the authors: Jessica McNeely at jdmcneely@gmail.com, and Allyssa Allen allyssaallen@gmail.com

A Place for UMBC Entrepreneurs

Achsah Joseph, ’12, Interdisciplinary Studies and Media & Communication Studies, is a Communications Specialist with UMBC’s Office of Institutional Advancement

Achsah JosephIn my sophomore year at UMBC, I took POLI 205: Civic Engagement and Social Entrepreneurship. Through the class, I worked with a group of students to find out a way to promote civic engagement and human rights issues at UMBC. As we put together a proposal, we struggled to find a place to meet in order to discuss and improve our ideas. The Commons was too noisy, the library was too crowded and classrooms were always in use. We needed a place that would allow us to work on our project but also let us interact with like-minded people with whom we could share ideas, receive feedback and refine our plans.

That space didn’t exist then, but it does now. In February, the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship opened the Entre-space, a place for students across all disciplines to gather and work in an entrepreneurial environment. At the grand opening, students shared their stories, projects and vision for the space. There was even an announcement on a white board—a student already utilizing the room to ask for help with his project. Located in the Academic Services Building (old Theater), Room 139, Entre-space plans to host workshops on topics such as starting a business and pitching stories to the media. Members of the entrepreneurship faculty and business community will also use the space to hold office hours, offering mentoring and guidance to students.

George Karbatis, Associate Professor of Information Systems and Director of UMBC's Entrepreneurship & Innovation Minor, speaks at the Entre-space opening.

George Karbatis, Associate Professor of Information Systems and Director of UMBC’s Entrepreneurship & Innovation Minor, speaks at the Entre-space opening.

At the opening, I spoke to Vivian Armor, director of the Alex. Brown Center, who said, “Entre-space will help create a sense of community among students interested in entrepreneurship on campus.  It will be a place where they can network, learn and develop their business ideas.  It’s exciting to think about what might result from having this space available to students on campus!”

For as long as I have been here, UMBC has encouraged students to take ownership in their campus, sponsoring classes like POLI 205 and contests like Prove It! and the Idea Competition. That’s one of the many reasons I was excited to come back to UMBC as a staff member after spending a year abroad following graduation. The Entre-space supports this spirit of ownership by offering a meeting place and resources for students to work on their ideas and in doing so, better our campus and community.

Contact the author, Achsah Joseph, at achsah1@umbc.edu.

New Statues Show Retriever Colors

Kelsey Krach, ’14, Cultural Anthropology and Spanish; Travis Bell, ’14, Psychology and Political Science; and Cami Sotela, ’13, Psychology, founded and organized The Retriever Project, which placed fiberglass versions of UMBC’s mascot, painted by student artists, at several locations on campus.

GroupThe Retriever Project statues are finally installed outside of the Albin O. Kuhn Library, The Commons, and the Performing Arts and Humanities Building. Although we’re including photos in this post, be sure to get out there and see them (we promise they are way cooler in person!)

It’s amazing to think that just two and half years ago, The Retriever Project was simply an idea: a way to make the campus more vibrant, and to symbolize students’ creativity and campus spirit. The time we spent planning, changing our ideas, discussing among ourselves, and enlisting partners seems to have flown past in the past few semesters. We are really excited to see the statues on the ground and we hope that people are enjoying them as well!

This project was “ours” at the start, but it hasn’t been our own for a long time. It lives now in the relationships we built along the way, and in the recognition by members of our community that the statues represent them.  We hope that The Retriever Project continues to live in the hearts of each and every person who calls himself or herself a UMBC Retriever. That being said, we are still very interested in hearing your opinion and feedback.

The project remains a work in progress. In the next few months, we will be installing plaques on the bases of the statues crediting the designer and artists. Additionally, we will be working on our online blog and Facebook page to keep you updated with anything going on in the world of TRP. In addition, our plan is that it becomes a UMBC tradition to install new statues every two years reflecting new creative expressions of our campus values and culture. That being said, this project will only succeed with the involvement of new students, faculty, and staff. So, if you are interested in helping to leave a legacy at UMBC, let us know

Retriever Project 2

Retriever Project 1

Contact the authors: Kelsey Krach at kelseykrach@umbc.edu; Travis Bell at tbell4@umbc.edu; and Cami Sotela at sotelac1@umbc.edu.

Why Americorps?

Adebamike Adeniji, ’13, serves as the Maryland-DC Campus Compact Americorps VISTA member at UMBC’s Shriver Center.

Banke“What should I do after graduation?” That question loomed during my final year at UMBC, and like many seniors, I was nervous about taking the next step in my life. I knew I wanted to go to graduate school, but I wasn’t too sure what to pursue. English? International Affairs? There were so many possibilities.

I decided to begin looking for one-year programs that would help me narrow my focus and gain valuable workplace skills. I also hoped to make meaningful contributions to my community, and to continue developing the habits and mindset to make such contributions in all of my future professional roles. With help from UMBC’s Shriver Center, I found exactly the right opportunity for me, through the Americorps VISTA program.

MD-DC Vistas

VISTA volunteers from Maryland and DC

Participants in VISTA spend a year serving in a wide variety of nonprofits, schools, public agencies, community and faith-based groups across the country. I found opportunities to fit every interest. But my perfect match was close to home. Maryland-DC Campus Compact supports a network of Americorps VISTAs building university-community partnerships to fight poverty. One of those positions is based at UMBC’s Shriver Center. What an amazing opportunity: To recruit and support UMBC students serving as after-school mentors and tutors to at-risk students in the Arbutus Achievers program at Arbutus Middle School. Our tutoring and creative activities help motivate the middle school students to view their education as a rich source of opportunity and practical insight.

This experience has helped me build solid organizational skills, stronger communication skills and the ability to work diligently under pressure. I have discovered that I am fully capable of taking initiative and leading others. The best part of my service is witnessing the impact of our collective work on both the UMBC student volunteers and the Arbutus Middle School students. I love seeing barriers to learning crumble as the middle school students become eager to learn and excited to speak to us. I especially enjoy when my student volunteers reflect on their experiences, make connections with other aspects of their own lives, and feel empowered to continue making a difference.

I’m only starting to make my civic contributions, but this year of growth and change is raising my hopes and building my confidence. If you want a similar experience, consider joining Americorps VISTA.

Contact the author, Adebamike Adeniji, at aa14@umbc.edu.

Why I’m Joining the Peace Corps

Nathan Rehr ’13, Political Science, will begin serving as a volunteer with the U.S. Peace Corps in March, 2014, in Senegal.  

nathanI have known for about four months that in March, I will be leaving to serve as a community health volunteer in the U.S. Peace Corps but it probably won’t feel real until I board the plane to Senegal (although I imagine I will feel something when I am getting all my vaccinations).

I pretty much settled on joining the Peace Corps in my senior year of high school.  That was when I undertook a project for National History Day, kind of like a science fair competition but for historical research.  Having recently worked with a returned volunteer, I was curious to know who had started the Peace Corps.  Almost immediately after beginning my National History Day research, Sargent Shriver became one of my heroes.

Shriver was a textbook idealist.  He was given the task of getting Congress to approve the Peace Corps when everyone thought it was impossible.  But more than 50 years later, Shriver’s idealism lives on in the Peace Corps, the Special Olympics, and War on Poverty programs like VISTA and Head Start. To learn more about Shriver and his legacy check out his biography and this reflection written by his son.

When I learned that UMBC had a Shriver Center to connect students to service-learning opportunities, a Shriver Living Learning Community where students participating in service lived together, and the Sondheim scholarship program for students interested in public service, I was sold.  I participated in service throughout my time at UMBC.  I studied International Affairs and studied abroad, giving me even more of an international focus.

On one level, Peace Corps just makes sense.  It combines my passion for volunteering and my international education.  I’d also like to think that I’m joining for the same reasons that Sargent Shriver was dedicated to launching the program: helping others secure the basic necessities for human life and promoting cultural exchange.  I hope that my time as a volunteer will give me the first-hand knowledge necessary to improve the way we approach international development.

I guess I’ll know more in another four months when I step off the plane and into… well I don’t really know what but I know it’ll be an adventure.

Contact the author, Nathan Rehr at nathanr2@umbc.edu.

Speaking for Success in Education

Yvette Pappoe ’13, Sociology, is an intern with the Maryland Business Roundtable for Education.

Yvette PappoeMaryland Business Roundtable for Education is a nonprofit coalition of more than 100 leading employers, 3,000 volunteers, and a staff of eight dedicated to ensuring that Maryland students receive a quality education and are well prepared for productive, successful lives. I first discovered this organization when I was a UMBC student looking to make a difference. Through the Shriver Center, I learned about the Baltimore Collegetown Network’s LeaderShape program, which is designed for students who have a passion for service and want to be civic minded leaders. I applied immediately, and was rewarded with a life-changing, week-long experience with aspiring agents of positive social change from colleges and universities around Baltimore. LeaderShape helped me to identify my specific passion for helping young people in Baltimore overcome barriers to getting the education they need and deserve. One of the community partners I met that week was LaTara Harris, who was then Director of Partnerships and Outreach at Maryland Business Roundtable–an organization I had never known about, but which is located at BWTech North, right on the UMBC campus.

I was elated to find out that this organization shared my vision, and immediately sought ways to get involved. LaTara, who later became my mentor, referred me to one of their programs called the Maryland Scholars Speakers Bureau, which ensures that more students are well prepared to succeed in life and in college by encouraging students to take and master rigorous high school coursework, particularly in math and science. Maryland Business Roundtable provides speakers to help motivate and guide students as they are preparing to select courses for their high school program, and provides incentives that encourage students to stay the course throughout high school. I have been a Speakers Bureau speaker since last year and plan to continue to speak for as long as my schedule allows.

My involvement with this program has been extremely rewarding. It is such an amazing feeling to watch students change their outlook on college, and life, right before my eyes. To hear their minds churning and see their enthusiasm building because of the message I’m delivering is one of my top 5 best feelings ever. Along with being a speaker in the program, I intern with Maryland Business Roundtable and assist the Program Director for the Speakers Bureau. I have the pleasure of seeing how this program works both out in the field and behind the scenes. I am tasked with several projects ranging from program development to outreach and technical assistance.

My biggest project so far has been to develop a strategy to recruit and engage college students, specifically UMBC students, for our Speakers Bureau. Although I have made some progress, I have not quite reached my goal. This is where you come in. I believe it is our responsibility as members of the community to be directly involved in shaping the lives of our next generation. This opportunity is one way to do that. Tell a friend, a mentor, a family member. Share this article, do some research, get involved

Working at MBRT has energized me to push forward toward my goal of creating spaces where students can receive quality education despite challenging circumstances. I plan to open a school, and eventually several schools, in inner cities as well as back home in Ghana, where I can help kids cultivate a passion for learning and a drive to succeed no matter what obstacles they face.

 Contact the author, Yvette Pappoe, at yvette@mbrt.org.

Connecting Students and Startups: A Profile

Jenny O'GradyJenny O’Grady is UMBC’s new director of marketing. She previously served at director of alumni and development communications at UMBC.

UMBC alumnus Greg Cangialosi ’96, English, is a tech entrepreneur who seems so ahead of the curve that following him on Twitter feels like time travel. But that’s not what I find most striking about him. I’m inspired by the way Cangialosi defines “success” for himself and how he’s worked to build new connections throughout the UMBC community—connections with impact.

After graduating from UMBC in 1996, Cangialosi launched Baltimore-based email service provider Blue Sky Factory. In 2010, Baltimore SmartCEO magazine recognized the company as one of the 50 fastest-growing in Greater Baltimore. The company also made the INC 5000 list of the fastest growing companies in the United States for four consecutive years. Cangialosi sold Blue Sky Factory in 2011, moving on to co-found Betamore, an 8,000 sq. ft. urban campus for tech entrepreneurship focused on “education, community and incubation.”

Cangialosi found success in business, but he wasn’t just off and running, leaving the other runners in the dust. He calls himself “a big believer in giving back and helping to make the places and the institutions that support you better and better.”

While Cangialosi was growing his companies, he was also growing his relationship with UMBC, sharing his experiences with students and learning from their fresh perspectives as a lecturer at the Alex. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship. Over the years, Cangialosi has spoken with students and alumni at relationship-building events and has served as a judge for our Idea Competition.

Greg C. w-students [Read more…]

Work in Progress: American Democracy Project Takeaways

David Hoffman is UMBC’s assistant director of student life for civic agency.

David HoffmanEarlier this month, I joined 21 other members of the UMBC community—students, faculty, staff and a recent alum—at the 2013 American Democracy Project and The Democracy Commitment National Meeting in Denver, Colorado. It was an action-packed few days, featuring two well-received UMBC presentations. We had great conversations with Center for Democracy and Citizenship director Harry Boyte and other higher education leaders, and discussed important ideas now gaining momentum in the field, including scholar Peter Levine‘s observation that “civic engagement is work and work is civic engagement.”

The conference was, most importantly, a tremendous opportunity to deepen connections within and beyond the UMBC delegation. Here are reflections from some of our UMBC participants (click on a photo to see the text).

Contact the author, David Hoffman, at dhoffman@umbc.edu.