Art of Transformation: Reworking Baltimore’s Stories (6/23)

Art of Transformation

Baltimoreans are telling their own stories to counteract misleading narratives about life in our city. Scholars are working to set the record straight on history and policy. Activists are organizing. Artists are engaging like never before. Still, questions remain about inclusiveness, public space and public media for deliberating and consensus building, and the potential of the arts and media to transform culture and impact policy.

Join us for dinner, short movies, and a glimpse of a new public media project to address these questions. WombWork Productions founders and co-directors, Kay Lawal-Muhammad and Mama Rashida Forman-Bey; writer/director and UMBC Professor, Alan Kreizenbeck; and UMBC media artist and researcher, Lee Boot will host an interactive media screening and discussion while you eat a yummy meal.

This project is being developed by the Imaging Research Center at UMBC in collaboration with Baltimore Imagining Group (big) a coalition of individuals from Baltimore arts, community, and social justice organizations. Collaborators include Culture Works, The US Department of Arts and Culture, Equity Matters, New Lens, and Wombwork ProductionsBaltimore Stories, a series of humanities events, sponsored by the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a collaboration between the University of Maryland, Maryland Humanities Council, the University of Maryland Baltimore County, Enoch Pratt Free Library and the Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance

Reflections on Imagining America: Empathy for Baltimore (and Beyond)

Jasir Qiydaar, ’18, Media & Communication Studies, participated in Imagining America‘s 2015 national conference as an Imagining UMBC Fellow.

Jasir QiydaarAttending the Imagining America National Conference was an excellent experience. Doing so allowed me to connect with like-minded individuals who came from a variety of backgrounds about social issues. Through my interactions with other conference attendees I was able to learn about others’ life experiences and tell them about my own. Ultimately, the common thread in all these conversations was empathy. Even though we couldn’t completely relate to every aspect of each other’s lives, we made efforts to truly understand each other.

Here at UMBC the pursuit of academic achievement often distracts members of our community from practicing empathy. This was especially clear to me in April and May when the civil unrest surrounding the death of Freddie Gray was happening in Baltimore. I witnessed numerous people make light of the situation or dismiss those involved as “thugs”. This was disappointing to me because as a resident of Baltimore City, I am aware of the underlying issues that led to this unrest. Because I have this personal experience, I knew the assumptions made by certain members of the community were completely false.

I also came to the conclusion that just as there were underlying causes for the unrest in Baltimore, there is a hidden cause for the lack of empathy present at UMBC. A lack of personal exposure to other cultures and backgrounds before attending UMBC creates an environment in which those groups are often looked at as the “other”. As a result, stereotypes dictate the ideas held about these underrepresented groups and they are often reduced to being seen as a set of characteristics rather than being seen as people.

I believe that as members of this institution, we all should realistically evaluate how stereotypes and biases shape how we treat others. After this self-reflection, we should take steps to change any negative behaviors that may result from our preconceived ideas. By doing this we can become more empathetic to those who aren’t like us and become better global citizens.

Contact the author, Jasir Qiydaar, at

Baltimore Revisited: Social History for the Twenty-First Century City

Nicole King is associate professor and chair of UMBC’s Department of American Studies.

Nicole King - SquareIn fall 2014, Kate Drabinski (Gender & Women’s Studies) and I co-taught UMBC’s first-year Humanities Scholars seminar, which focused on Baltimore’s social history. It was a great semester of introducing students to the rich history of our city and bringing them downtown to do research and interviews. At the end of the semester, students’ work aired on The Marc Steiner Show (WEAA 88.9) in the form of the public humanities radio show “Downtown Stories.”

Kate Drabinski and I have used The Baltimore Book: New Views on Local History in our classes for years and realized that nearing twenty-five years in print this invaluable text needed an update. That realization led to a panel at the 2015 Chesapeake American Studies Association (CHASA) conference at UMBC with past editors and contributors to The Baltimore Book along with local professors who use the text asking: What would a “new” Baltimore Book look like? Now we are working to make such a book for researchers and teachers interested in making the social history of Baltimore a reality.

Baltimore Revisited: Social History for the Twenty-First Century City will draw from a wide range of researchers inside and outside of the academy to tell the stories of how and why Baltimore looks and functions as it does today. We are specifically looking for heavily researched pieces written in an accessible voice that can offer new perspectives on the city’s social history grounded in the specific places, neighborhoods, and communities in Baltimore. Each chapter could stand alone, but together, they will offer a newer vision of local history from the ground up to complicate our view of the past, as well as the present.

It has been over twenty years since Linda Shopes, Elizabeth Fee, and Linda Zeidman published The Baltimore Book: New Views of Local History with Temple University Press. The book broke new ground, telling histories of Baltimore City not from the perspective of the Great Men of the city—the robber barons, war heroes, and politicians—but from the perspective of groups traditionally marginalized from mainstream history: workers, activists, organizers, and agitators. Growing out of a radical history bus tour, The Baltimore Book was also unique in embracing voices from inside and outside the academy, resulting in an accessible and beautifully illustrated book that still claims a broad readership today.

While The Baltimore Book is still a relevant text, it is time for a twenty-first century version of this project, one that continues the path started in 1991 while harvesting new histories from “The Greatest City in America.” The historical time frame for this book will cover a wide range of eras, from the 18th century when Baltimore’s industrial prominence was on the rise to the city’s current period of deindustrialization. The 2015 Baltimore Uprising further illustrated that the city of Baltimore is an important subject for analyses of the deeply embedded structural inequalities and the great tenacity and potential of the city in the twenty-first century. Baltimore Revisited will address the past in the guise of informing a better future for Baltimore and other urban centers in the US and beyond.

Submissions are invited from a diversity of disciplines—not just history—such as: American Studies, Gender and Women Studies, Public History, Historic Preservation, Local History, Human Geography or Architecture, Comparative Ethnic Studies, Urban Studies or other similar fields. Chapters should be between 2,000 – 6,000 words (small and longer articles are fine), excluding references. Please email 500-word abstracts and/or completed papers and a CV to and by September 1. Authors will be notified of acceptance of proposed chapters by October 1 with full draft of the chapters to editors by spring 2016.

We are excited to work on making a text that will do justice to the many complex and compelling stories of our city. We are revisiting the social history of Baltimore because we believe the city is the engine of the future, and our future is always connected to understanding our past.

Contact the author, Nicole King, at

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, and Allyssa Allen

Countering Stories that Destroy Black Boys

Shawntay Stocks is a doctoral student in UMBC’s Language, Literacy & Culture program.

Shawntay StocksI have cousins and friends who I’ve seen harassed simply by walking or driving as a Black male in Baltimore. The conversation that some of my family and friends have to have about raising a Black male child is not fair.  They have to prepare Black males for how society portrays them, and teach them how to “act” so that people don’t hurt them out of ignorance and fear. We have to COUNTER the story of the Black male as a dangerous criminal!

B’PAR (Baltimore Participatory Action Research), a UMBC graduate student organization, is hosting a “Countering the Story to Destroy Black Boys” Open Mic Night this Friday, May 2, 2014, from 7:00 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. (Lower Flat Tuesdays, The Commons, UMBC campus). Join as we listen to counter stories told by poets and other performers regarding Black males locally and nationally. Through poetry, music and rap, we will investigate the school to prison pipeline with a specific focus on the Baltimore narrative.  Let’s disrupt the criminalized image of Black males!

Additionally, we will be collecting gently used professional clothes for two community partners, Youth Build and Out for Justice, supporting individuals in their job search. If you are interested in sharing your narrative on the mic or donating professional clothes, please send me an email.

Admission to this event is FREE, but you must be at least 21 years old and have your government ID. I’m looking forward to seeing you there!

Contact the author, Shawntay Stocks, at

NASA Needs Engineers! Transforming Education through STEM

Susan Hoban is a Senior Research Scientist and Associate Director for Academics at the Joint Center for Earth Systems Technology, Associate Affiliate Professor of Physics, and Honors College Fellow (2011-14) at UMBC.


My background is in the study of comets in our Solar System.  Years ago, when I was teaching undergraduate astronomy, I began to wonder why the students had so much difficulty solving problems.  As I unraveled the thread of that thought, I found myself working with high school educators, trying to help them better understand the processes of science so they could pass their understanding along to their students.  Now I am funded to conduct STEM professional development (focused on the relationship between Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) for K-12 teachers and informal educators.

NASA’s BEST Team (from left to right), Jack O’Malley, Allie O’Malley, Dr. Susan Hoban, Kabish Shah, and Catherine Kruchten.  Not pictured: Dr. Laurie Cook

NASA’s BEST Team (from left to right), Jack O’Malley, Allie O’Malley, Dr. Susan Hoban, Kabish Shah, and Catherine Kruchten. Not pictured: Dr. Laurie Cook
(Photo credit Kabish Shah)

Sometimes, my team and I find ourselves in unusual situations as we train the educators to use our home-grown STEM curriculum.  In one such adventure  we ended up working with over 100 middle school students…and I thought teaching college courses was challenging…

NASA needs engineers.  (In fact, so does America.)  So NASA is taking an interest in developing an educational pipeline that will encourage more young people to consider engineering as a career. On four Sunday afternoons in January, UMBC’s “NASA’s BEST” team, where BEST stands for “Beginning Engineering, Science, and Technology,” brought robotics education to budding engineers in the Howard County Library’s HiTech Program.   The UMBC team is comprised of me as the team lead, senior Kabish Shah (Mechanical Engineering), junior Psychology major Allie O’Malley, instructional designers Dr. Laurie Cook and Catherine Kruchten.  Allie brought her brother, Jack, a senior at Mount Hebron High School in Howard County, because we needed all the helping hands we could find!

HiTech engineer's rover

A HiTech engineer’s rover.
(Photo Credit Kabish Shah)

Seventeen middle school students at HiTech designed and constructed small robots to serve as “seeing-eye robots” for NASA’s Curiosity rover on Mars.  The robots are based on the Arduino microcontroller and include an ultra-sonic sensor to provide the capability for the rover to “see” obstacles and avoid them.

The curriculum, called “NASA’s Engineering Exploration Training,” or NExT, uses the Engineering Design Process as its framework.  The young engineers get to design the robot themselves, so each robot is unique.

The Howard County Library received so much positive feedback that they have asked us to come back and run the program again as soon as possible.  We will do that, after we finish our February project – running this program at the Old Mill STEM Middle school in Anne Arundel County.

Engineers at Old Mill STEM Middle School connect the sensors on their robots.

Engineers at Old Mill STEM Middle School connect the sensors on their robots.
(Photo credit Kabish Shah)

As part of the STEM program, we intorduced 100 young engineers to robotics each Friday morning in February, along with two all-day Saturday sessions.

Sometimes, the young engineers get frustrated because the process is complicated.  But as John F. Kennedy said during his famous speech at Rice University in 1962, when he was trying to excite the country about space exploration, “we choose to go to the Moon…not because it is easy, but because it is hard!”

It’s truly a team effort. Kabish is the main instructor for the course. This is Kabish’s first time in this role, and he is a natural!  His passion for engineering shines through, and he has a wonderful way with the kids. Allie developed the wiring guide and helped Catherine prepare the instructional materials.  After joining the NASA’s BEST team, Allie has decided to become a teacher, and she is getting real-world experience working with these youngsters.  Laurie, Allie and Kabish spent hours and hours soldering.  Jack was invaluable during the sessions, running from table to table helping with wiring, connecting sensors and assembling chassis.  As team leader, I try to keep track of everybody.

NASA’s BEST is funded by a grant from NASA’s Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate.

Contact the author, Susan Hoban, at

Students Mentoring Students

Stephen Bradley is an Associate Professor in Visual Arts at UMBC.


Masonville Cove is 70 acres of water and 54 acres of cleaned-up wetlands, nature trails, and a protected bird sanctuary, on the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in Brooklyn-Curtis Bay, Baltimore City owned by the Maryland Port Authority.  At this former industrial and then abandoned area in south Baltimore, local residents and schoolchildren (from Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, and Cherry Hill) can now connect with their natural environment and participate in environmental stewardship projects through the Masonville Cove Education Environmental Center, a joint project with the Brooklyn and Curtis Bay Coalition (Baybrook), the Living Classrooms Foundation, and the National Aquarium in Baltimore.

My UMBC students and I have been working with students at nearby Benjamin Franklin High School, creating art projects rooted in the community, including animated films documenting debris  found in the neighborhood near Masonville Cove.  In late February 2013, I met with the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center (MCEEC) staff  to discuss a mural project for the base of a storm drain near the Masonville Cove Environmental Education Center main building.  We enlisted a group of UMBC, Towson and Benjamin Franklin High School (BFHS) art students to design the project and execute the mural during the MCEEC annual Environmental Festival held in mid-May.

The most important aspect and at times the most challenging was maintaining the high school students’ focus on the design process of the mural that required critical discussions about the content and the style of the mural.  At the same time it was important not to squash the creative process or to be discouraged by the various obstacles we faced during each visit to the high school.


The other challenge for the university art students was how best to mentor the high school students. These students often have an unusual level of stress in their lives, which is partly normal for most high school students, but in this community the levels of stress are abnormally higher due to the numerous challenges the community faces.

Every Friday morning for two months, a handful of UMBC students worked on the design and painting techniques for the mural.  This also involved a site visit to MCEEC to photograph the location and to learn about the mission of the environmental center. Students worked on various designs for the mural that would remind the visitors to MCEEC of the fragile ecology of the place and to improve the visual landscape.   We began with general guidelines and ideas from the MCEEC staff, then presented the ideas to the BFHS, UMBC and Towson students._DSC9100-mural

They enthusiastically began to work and soon had a series of drawings and small paintings that we presented to MCEEC. They gave us feedback for modifications.  Through this process the university students discovered that it was helpful to create smaller creative brainstorming sessions that mentored the students through their stress who were able to return to the design process with a fresh start. On May 20, we began painting the mural in stages. Our team worked for two solid days but had to postpone the final stage due to stormy weather. The university students found themselves talking and making art with the BFHS students working through their anxiety and contending with other obstacles they face in their lives.  Once the students worked through these issues, they were able to move to the task of designing the mural.


By June 15, with the assistance of two dedicated UMBC students and myself, we completed the mural.   The project gave the BFHS students confidence to show that they can improve their neighborhoods.  The UMBC and Towson students learned that the creative process can be a catalyst for civic agency.


Contact the author, Stephen Bradely at

Wanted: Students with Bright Ideas for Baltimore

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

David HoffmanI work every day with UMBC students developing innovative solutions to problems on campus and beyond. They are applying their skills and passion to work that builds community and significantly advances the common good.

For those wanting to devote their creative energy to policy problems facing the City of Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies and The Abell Foundation hope to hear from you. Together they are offering the Abell Award in Urban Policy (up to $5,000) for a compelling paper that addresses a Baltimore problem and provides a feasible solution. Full-time graduate and undergraduate students at 13 area universities including UMBC are eligible to apply.

The deadline to submit an entry form is October 18, 2013, with the final paper due February 24, 2014. The Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies website provides additional information about the award, including links to all the winning papers from previous years and profiles of the people who submitted them.

Contact the author, David Hoffman, at

What Remains? Baltimore Neighborhoods in Transition (9/19)

Michelle Stefano, folklorist in residence for UMBC’s department of American studies, coordinates the Maryland Traditions program for the Maryland State Arts Council.

Michelle StefanoWhat are the impacts of post-industrial change at the community level? Whether industrial landscapes – the temples to the long-standing and once thriving US manufacturing enterprise – are re-purposed or destroyed, what lives on in the hearts and minds of those who knew them best?

The decline, dismantling, and disappearance of the many industries across the US deeply affects the towns, cities, and regions in which they were situated and the local communities with which they were intimately related. I believe understanding the effects of these post-industrial transitions, especially with respect to the relationships between community and place in both historical and contemporary contexts, is key to ensuring economically, environmentally, and culturally sustainable futures for American communities.

Sparrows Point 3

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

Nonetheless, when we hear about these stories of plants, mills and factories closing, it is often through the language of economics; statistics reflecting jobs lost, the rise in unemployment and the crumbling of local businesses tend to mask the more personal, or human, elements of such change. In this light, the panel, What Remains? Baltimore Neighborhoods in Transition (Thursday 9/19, 4:30 p.m., Albin O. Kuhn Library Gallery) seeks to spotlight the stories and memories – the intangible remnants of post-industrialization – of the communities of two historically interrelated and, yet, geographically separate areas: Baybrook, a group of six ethnically and racially diverse industrial neighborhoods in the southern peninsula of Baltimore City and the Sparrows Point Steel Mill area of Dundalk, situated just across the southwestern city border in Baltimore County. The lives of hundreds of thousands of Baltimore area residents (and beyond) have been shaped by these industrial centers, and the significance of them – from the personal and shared perspectives of those who knew them best – does not disappear as quickly.

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

(Photo: UMBC New Media Studio)

Panel participants are both UMBC researchers and members of the Baybrook and Sparrows Point Steel Mill communities. Deborah Rudacille (English), who grew up in Dundalk, will reflect on the changes she has seen in the Sparrows Point area, drawing also from her oral history research for the book, Roots of Steel: Boom and Bust in an American Mill Town. Steve Bradley (Visual Arts) and Nicole King (American Studies) will discuss their work in Baybrook, funded in part through the BreakingGround initiative, focusing on the mapping of places of both historical and contemporary importance, as well as the stories and memories associated with them. Bill Shewbridge (Media and Communication Studies/the New Media Studio) and I will highlight our work in the Sparrows Point area, Mill Storiesa collection of digital stories that aim to amplify the voices, experiences, and importance of the Mill to a wider public. Community members include Jason Reed, who is involved with environmental justice projects in Baybrook, and Troy Pritt and Eddie Bartee, who worked at Sparrows Point for numerous years. Eddie is a third generation Sparrows Point steelworker who grew up in the company town, which was situated in the middle of the Mill complex and was razed in the 1970s. Denise Meringolo (History), whose research has focused on community-based public history practice, particularly in Baltimore, will moderate the discussion.

Contact the author, Michele Stefano, at