Actor Josh Charles, artist Joyce J. Scott and Under Armour founder Kevin Plank are among several dozen prominent Baltimore leaders behind a “homecoming” project designed to give the city a boost by reconnecting accomplished natives to their hometown.
The nonprofit Baltimore Homecoming Inc., being launched Monday by Baltimore natives Nate Loewentheil and JM Schapiro, aims to tap the talents and resources of Baltimore expatriates who have made a mark in their field but may have lost touch with the city.
The host group, including leaders in the city’s business, religious, educational and community circles, plans to reach out to athletes, entertainers, writers, scientists, artists, businesspeople, educators, philanthropists and others from around the United States with Baltimore roots to attend a three-day event in October.
Organizers envision offering guests tours, site visits, speaker panels, music and art presentations, and networking with local entrepreneurs, activists, artists and community leaders. Longer-term, such connections could lead to investments in the city as well as partnerships and philanthropy, organizers said.
Loewentheil, director of the White House Task Force for Baltimore City under President Barack Obama, said he was inspired by the annual Detroit Homecoming, which over four years has prompted former Detroit residents to start nonprofits, invest in businesses and buy buildings, according to news reports.
He said he realized there’s “a reservoir of goodwill for Baltimore around the country that was not always fully utilized. …
“The goal here is to very much showcase the really amazing things happening in Baltimore to a group of people who, if they decide to get re-engaged with the city, could do cool and interesting things.”
Schapiro, CEO of Continental Realty Corp., had been looking for a way to do more for the city since the 2015 riots sparked by 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s death from injuries sustained in police custody.
“This felt like really a way to make a big difference in something that could have a long-term positive impact in the city, to help change the narrative here and around the country, and to reconnect people who’ve left Baltimore but who hold Baltimore close to their hearts,” Schapiro said.
Long-term, he sees endless possibilities, such as help for an entrepreneur or a technology startup, investment in real estate, opening of training or community centers, donations to nonprofits or reconnecting with schools.
“This is a way to create some opportunities for people who don’t have them,” Schapiro said.
Debbie Phelps, a host committee member who is executive director of the Education Foundation of Baltimore County Public Schools and a Federal Hill resident, has suggested guests visit a needy school in hopes of inspiring help in expanding opportunities for students.
“How are we going to give all students experiences to be able to be successful?” said Phelps, the mother of swimmer Michael Phelps, history’s most decorated Olympian. “How are we going to keep them on the right path as they transition from elementary to middle to high school? … I’m hoping the homecoming helps build teams around people and gets people together.”
“I feel that people will make an effort to participate,” she added. “You hear people talk about their love for the city.”
U.S. Rep. Elijah E. Cummings, one of nine co-chairs on the host committee, said he hopes to persuade guests, who may have many choices of ways to use their talents, that Baltimore would be a good place to invest.
“If they’re going to invest their time an resources, we just want them to do it in Baltimore,” Cummings said.
“We can sit around and not do anything and hope things happen, or we can try to make them happen,” he said. “This is one of those efforts to make them happen.”
Organizers hope to engage city residents in suggesting guests, and they expect to send out the first round of invitations next month. The event, planned for Oct. 3 through Oct. 5, will be funded privately by individuals, foundations and corporations.
Loewentheil, who will serve as Baltimore Homecoming’s president and CEO, said he and Schapiro began working on the idea about a year ago.
“From the beginning I felt that it would only work if it had very broad buy-in from across the city and got enough people representing enough sectors from the city in the room,” Loewentheil said. “Almost everyone we talked to thought it was a cool idea.”
More than 40 people make up the host committee, headed by nine co-chairs. Besides Charles, Scott, Plank and Cummings, co-chairs include Baltimore-born “Modern Family” actress Julie Bowen, BGE CEO Calvin G. Butler Jr., Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, documentary filmmaker Amanda Lipitz and Wes Moore, an author, educator and CEO of the antipoverty Robin Hood Foundation.
Loewentheil described the homecoming not as a conference but as a three-day interactive event with an opening reception, visits to places that show off the city’s history, artwork and neighborhoods and possible a pitch session for local entrepreneurs.
“We want people to experience the riches of Baltimore they don’t know about if they come back and visit their mom,” he said. “There are many untold stories of great things happening in Baltimore.”