Jessica Solomon was born and raised in Baltimore, but she didn’t plan to stay.
“Growing up here, the narrative I was told was ‘Go to school and get out,’ ” said Solomon, 34.
She did just that, earning two bachelor’s degrees in communications and African-American studies at the University of Maryland before heading south to Washington for a master’s in organization development at American University.
After a decade in the nation’s capital, Solomon moved back home two years ago and now is working to improve the city as a newly appointed senior program officer at the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation.
The Towson-based philanthropic organization focuses its giving and grant-making on projects aimed at improving the public welfare in Baltimore and elsewhere in the Mid-Atlantic.
The foundation’s grantees include Baltimore Arts Realty Corp., a nonprofit real estate development organization for the arts; Open Works, a makerspace in Greenmount West; Code in Schools, a nonprofit that teaches coding to Baltimore youths; and the Digital Harbor Foundation.
With a focus on arts and social justice, Solomon’s job is to find Baltimore’s brightest ideas for the foundation to invest in.
“I think that philanthropy should be like the research and development of social justice,” Solomon said, “the lab where we’re investing in people who are trying out things that could change the world.”
Without financial support, great ideas can go unrealized or take much longer to come to fruition, which is where philanthropy and the foundation can make a difference, she said.
Solomon moved back to Baltimore in part because she saw a lot of opportunities for the city to tackle social and cultural inequalities and to set a national example.
She had already been considering the move when Sandtown resident Freddie Gray died in 2015 of injuries suffered while in police custody; the violence that followed convinced her Baltimore was where she needed to be.
“That was a catalyst for me,” she said. “I felt like I was doing good work in the field and wanted to bring it to Baltimore.”
For Solomon, her work and personal life are intertwined.
The Transformer Gallery in Washington recently showed her first exhibition, a collection of newspaper clippings, posters and other relics of the District’s culture and arts scene from the past 20 years. Visitors were encouraged to add to the display.
She has also tried her hand at storytelling and comedy, and is enjoying getting to know Baltimore as an adult.
“It’s been exciting to get to know the city again,” she said.
Name: Jessica Solomon
Title: Senior program officer, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation
Education: Bachelor’s degrees from University of Maryland, master’s degree from American University
Hobbies: Art, comedy