25 ways to make Baltimore better: Suggestions from Aaron Maybin, Leana Wen and more

Here's a sample of the 10 change-makers we've featured who have made the Baltimore area better with their courage, innovative thinking and leadership, discussing what they'd like to see change.

We asked 25 notable people from the Baltimore area about ways to improve the community. Here's what they said:

These interviews have been edited and condensed.


Lock up your guns and reward peacemakers

Lock up your guns, because guns are stolen and then they are immediately in the hands of the criminals, which is a public safety issue. Build relationships with young people and support them in making decisions that keep them away from conflict. Become educated about and support initiatives in communities like Safe Streets and Baltimore Ceasefire. We need everyone willing to build relationships with young people and support them to make good decisions

— Daniel Webster, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Policy and Research

Speak up about abuse

Intimate partner violence happens behind closed doors so people don't have the opportunity to see the abuse itself, but the attitudes and the behaviors of the abuser can be seen in our community. What each of us can do is confront it when we see it. If we hear somebody who is belittling or denigrating women, we can simply speak up and say that's not OK. Be sure that young people who are just beginning to form their relationships, understand what a healthy relationship looks like. We can talk to them about it and we can also show them and demonstrate by our examples.

— Sandi Timmins, executive director of House of Ruth Maryland

Get involved in state and local elections


Local political engagement is actually lower than the engagement with national politics and foreign policy. But President Donald Trump's tweets are not as important as questions of who decides on school funding or how much school funding we get, or how much the state will spend on transportation and how they're going to allocate that money. Engage with the politicians who represent you, and then start to follow the goings-on in Annapolis and the Baltimore City Council the same way that you would follow what's going on in the national government. Be well-versed in policy issues and vote out or vote in individuals that don't reflect your policy preferences. You have to pay attention to what's happening.

Support autism awareness

Make sure that people with autism are given opportunities to succeed in school, job and day programs, and as employees. Baltimore also needs to take time to understand how unique autism is and the many different ways it can impact someone. The training that Maryland organization Pathfinders for Autism provides give people just a small idea of what autism may be like for someone, so that they can understand and be kind. Always presume intellect.

— Patrick Skerry, Towson University men's basketball coach; co-launched Autism Speaks' Coaches Powering Forward for Autism campaign

Follow the golden rule


Start treating everybody like human beings, regardless of the preconceived notions that we may have about someone. Addicts and alcoholics and people in lower-economic situations are still human beings just like everyone else, and they deserve the same dignity and respect that you would give your parents and family members. They're not different than you — they just have a different life path.

— Sam Kerr, outreach worker for Bmore Power


It's important to vote so the residents have control and power over what's actually done in elected office. We know some people have lost hope in that process, but I still believe it's important to be very engaged and to hold our elected officials accountable to do things that will make our neighborhoods and communities better.

— Ashiah Parker, chief operations officer of No Boundaries Coalition, which hosts candidate meet-and-greets, and canvass dates every second and fourth Saturday of the month

Former NFL linebacker Aaron Maybin tweeted a video from a Baltimore school building and became a prominent figure in the drama over heating malfunctions and other poor conditions at many city schools. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun video)

Invest in education for all

[Make] tangible, stable investment in our youth and areas of education where our youngest, poorest and most vulnerable are. This population can't even get the basic necessities in order to get the education that we all know is the cornerstone of life. And wherever you live at, whether or not you have money, you have resources. You have time. You have energy. You have the physical intellectual tools that you were given. If it affects one of us, it affects all of us. Volunteer some time. Donate an item or two. Everybody needs to be involved.

— Aaron Maybin, artist, activist and former NFL player

Stay up to date on vaccinations and stay smoke-free

According to the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, Baltimore City residents have a higher-than-average prevalence of asthma, the highest asthma hospitalization in Maryland and one of the highest in the nation, and asthma is also the leading reason for missed days at work and school in the city. One way to protect people with asthma and prevent missed work and school days is to stay up-to-date on your vaccinations. The annual flu vaccine, while not perfect, reduces the risk of fatality and protects those who have chronic lung disease like asthma. Staying tobacco-free can also prevent children from developing asthma and can avoid triggering asthma attacks, since tobacco smoke is known to inflame the lungs.

— Melanie Carver, vice president at the Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America

Transform from the inside-out

The only way that I know how to change is with a transformation of my mind and my habits. Through that I was really able to overcome my lack of self-love and self-confidence. Until people in Baltimore and the energy in Baltimore is transformed in that way, it'll just be bandaids on top of our problems. We have to go to each person individually and help them and guide them into their higher selves. It's about loving themselves and knowing they're connected to everything and everyone around them. Only then will that love will reflect into the environment in Baltimore.

— Kyle Yearwood, artist

Baltimore Sun staffers make "best of" choices in the dining category.

Take care of our animals


It really takes a community to save a life. BARCS takes 11,000 animals a year, and adopting really makes a difference. If you already have a pet, spaying, neutering and vaccinating them and ensuring that they are kept properly contained when they're outside helps keep everyone — the pet and people — safe. Other ways to help out are to volunteer, foster for animals, or even assist with the Baltimore Community Cat Program, which helps trap free-roaming cats to spay, neuter and vaccinate them. Lastly, reporting animal abuse or issues to 311, or 911 if it's an emergency, helps ensure that our family companions in our community are being well-cared for.

— Jen Brause, executive director of Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS)

Consider health issues when donating to local pantries

A lot of people don't realize that dietary restrictions are very complex, and people aren't able to find the foods they need at the local food banks and food pantries. Many people are choosing between hunger and health, and it's about making that hard decision: Do I go hungry or do I just eat something to make my stomach stop rattling around? S.A.F.E. Food Pantry, the only provider of gluten-free and allergy-free food in the state of Maryland, tries to educate the community that this is a true need and assists in getting gluten-free and allergy-friendly foods. Since food banks and pantries rely on donations, people can serve the community through S.A.F.E.'s food drive programs, through their community or their workplace.

— Tiffany Holtzman, founder & board president of S.A.F.E. Food Pantry

Heed indicators of drug addiction

Don't ignore the signs or that voice when it tells you a loved one is struggling with addiction. As family members and loved ones, we definitely know when something is wrong. If you just go with the gut, then you have to go find resources and find your loved one help and get educated on what to look for. There's so much help in the community. You don't have to go out of state. You have to speak up and reach out.

— Tammy Lofink, co-founder and president of Rising Above Addiction

Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is interviewed by the Sun editorial board.
Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh is interviewed by the Sun editorial board.(Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Be engaged

Similar to what [Baltimore's] Call to Action group is doing now — we probably have 13,000 or 14000 volunteers that work with our Parks and Recreation programs throughout the city. I want to keep our young people occupied this summer and beyond. I want to see Baltimore become more competitive and not combative; teaching young people how to compete against each other without being combative.

— Mayor Catherine E. Pugh

Interact with the homeless population

Volunteer or participate at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter or a service provider that serves the homeless. It would give people the opportunity to interact with someone who is homeless. When people get to know them, it kind of changes their perspective about who they are and the issues that they face. A lot of times people think that it's really sad, that they must be really depressed, but that's usually not the case. They have ups and downs and all the feelings that everyone else has — they just happen to be homeless.

— Mario Berninzoni, executive director of Arundel House of Hope

Listen to survivors

Being a witness for people's stories and experiences is important, and not having a prejudgment, not deciding what they should do, but trusting that they might know what they may need based on an experience that they had, can be powerful. Coming forward to speak your truth and to defend yourself is really hard, and as community we have a choice to make that better or worse. With F.O.R.C.E's Listening Campaign, in which survivors are trained to interview one another, we really believe people when they speak their truth, then we can also hear the solutions that they have and learn about some of the issues that face our city.

— Hannah Brancato, co-founder of F.O.R.C.E.: Upsetting Rape Culture

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Say 'I love you'

There's a lot of broken homes, and a lot of young people, they're not getting love. There's nobody telling them "I love you" — that's what missing in society. We have to go back to the tradition. We need that, because folks are just not getting that from anybody.

— Kaleb Tshamba, head of board of trustee and historic researcher at Arch Social Club

Volunteer for veterans

The VA Maryland Health Care System has everything from families that serve as a medical foster home, or people who take in an older veteran that needs assistance. We also have volunteers that come into the hospital and they do a number of things, like serving as greeters, escorts or drivers to patients. Other volunteer go to homes of veterans to give a little respite to their veterans. For the person who doesn't have the time, you can donate money and comfort items to assist homeless veterans.

— Christopher Buser, chief of social work at the VA Maryland Health Care System

Destigmatize mental health issues

One in five relatives have mental illness, and one in 100 people develop schizophrenia, but even when people are having concerning issues, they often do not reach out because they had people who didn't understand and told them to buck up, told them to get on with things, or withdrew. There's discrimination among people who are trying to deal with these issues. Knowing what the facts and the statistics are is making it safe for people around you to share and to perhaps get some support, or at least some understanding.

— Kate Farinholt, executive director of National Alliance on Mental Illness Maryland

Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, is a well-known economist and has joined Governor-elect Larry Hogan's transition team.
Anirban Basu, Chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group, is a well-known economist and has joined Governor-elect Larry Hogan's transition team.(Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

Make Baltimore charming again

We have to be more charming to each and every out-of-towner. Austin, Texas has the saying "Keep Austin Weird," so we have to make it clear to people that we are Charm City, that we are a northern-southern town. We have to have a reputation for being very kind, gentle and ultra-friendly, and give a new face to the visiting population -- that means when we see an out-of-town license plate struggling to merge on Pratt Street -- to let them through and wave to them.

Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group, Baltimore economist

Adopt or mentor teenagers within the foster system


[People] who might have space or who want to be a resource can consider being a foster or an adoptive parent. Another way to help is to become mentors, volunteer, and to get involved with organizations that are working with foster youth or people who are disconnected. We also really need support around internships and apprenticeships, or businesses to assist people in foster care. What's really going to make a difference in foster care is building social capital and creating networks for people, even if they age out of the foster. Adults who have been in the foster care system who are doing well can also give back and help dismantle the stigma of being in foster care.

— Shalita O'Neale, founder and CEO of the Fostering Change Network Foundation

Support local genius

You can have a whole week or weekend, month or year where you're just supporting local Baltimore genius. It'll make your life better and Baltimore better. Making sure that you're buying books from local authors, folks like D. Watkins; that your walls are covered with beautiful photography by Devin Allen; that you're having brunch at Home Maid, or having lunch a Teavolve Cafe and Lounge, or dinner at R. house; making sure that you're supporting local clothiers. There's so much genius in Baltimore, and we spend a lot of time looking outside of Baltimore to capture experiences that are right under our noses in our own hometown.

— Wes Moore, author and social entrepreneur

Here are 10 change-makers who have made the Baltimore area better with their courage, innovative thinking and leadership.

Be positive and environmentally aware

Help bring a sense of optimism instead of worry and fear. Meeting other people's eyes when you're walking down the street, just looking up and acknowledging other people, whether it's a smile or a nod of a head, it makes us feel more connected to other Baltimoreans and brings more positive feelings about the city. Plant a tree. It cleans the air, releases oxygen, provides a place for birds or butterflies to rest, provides shade and beautifies neighborhoods. And go on a plastic diet. Bring a reusable bag when you shopping. Use a reusable bottle and take advantage of the unlimited amount of recyclables that the city will remove from your house.

— Laurie Schwartz, president of Waterfront Partnership

Tutor a student

Having someone who's around to help work on classwork or homework is really important to our educators, who are one-to-20 to 25 students. Students are not always excited to be working on homework; after school, their parents are usually working late or might not know what the homework is; and it's usually difficult for students to get that one-on-one.

— Erin Myers, ‎director of volunteerism and partner engagement at Living Classrooms

Embrace fatherhood

Men should do their absolute best to choose their partners wisely and be prepared for the possibility of becoming a father before it happens. Everyone should understand how important responsible, positively engaged fathers are to the community on whole. When fathers are engaged our children and families are better for it. We have to be there as much as we possibly can, and women should encourage it as much as they possibly can. We have to encourage it all the way around. Stats prove involved fathers make a huge difference for the better.

— Matt Prestbury, founder of Black Fathers Facebook group

Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City's Health Commissioner, speaks at a press conference at the University of Maryland Baltimore regarding the need to increase enrollment of young people in the Maryland Health Connection's affordable insurance plans.
Dr. Leana Wen, Baltimore City's Health Commissioner, speaks at a press conference at the University of Maryland Baltimore regarding the need to increase enrollment of young people in the Maryland Health Connection's affordable insurance plans.(Barbara Haddock Taylor / Baltimore Sun)

Take control of your health and help those around you

Learn to use naloxone or narcan, and carry it in your medicine cabinet and first aid kit. We are in the middle of an opioid epidemic, and in the case of an overdose, this is one medication that will save someone's life within seconds. Everyday residents who are not medically trained — our neighbors and friends — have saved the lives over 1,600 lives. And, know your numbers. Go to your primary care doctor every year and make sure that you know your blood pressure and cholesterol. Get tested for HIV. HIV does not discriminate — one in 5 don't know that they have it, so it's important that we all get tested.

— Leana Wen, Baltimore Health Commissioner