Growing up in West Baltimore, Jaiheem Henderson recalled times when he and other students who had joined the ranks as mentees of nonprofit Next One Up met in public libraries, church basements and a small office downtown that belonged to founder Matt Hanna.
He also remembers being kicked out of some of those spaces.
“Guys, I know this was tough,” 21-year-old Henderson, now a senior at Stevenson University, said “Coach Hanna” told him and other Next One Up participants in those moments. “I promise you, one day you will have a place that you can call your home.”
On Sunday, that promise was realized with the unveiling of Next One Up’s new Belvedere Square facility to families and members of the nonprofit that provides academic, professional and athletic mentorship to boys and young men in Baltimore. Next One Up will host a fundraiser and grand opening to the public Thursday.
“Base Camp,” as Hanna refers to the new center, boasts a gym, a maker space for STEM and arts projects, and rooms for studying and socializing, plus a barbershop run by an alum of the program.
With equal space dedicated to education, athletic pursuits and social interaction, the 14,000-square-foot, third-floor facility reflects the organization’s mission, said Charlotte Owsianny, Next One Up’s chief advancement officer.
The $2.5 million project, funded by donations, including from Baltimore-based construction company Whiting-Turner, will open fully to Next One Up members in late October.
“Fourteen years ago, I had that vision that someday I’ll have a building that I can do this in,” Hanna, 44, said. “We’re the strongest we’ve ever been.”
After graduating from the Johns Hopkins University in 2002, Hanna taught 10th grade history classes at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School. He started Next One Up in 2009 as a small weekend get-together for students, whom he met in Patterson Park to play pickup football, basketball and lacrosse games.
“I felt [there were] so many young men that were under-programmed,” Hanna said. “The weekend would come, they’d have nothing to do. The summer would come, and the opportunities were pretty scarce or maybe they just couldn’t afford camp.”
Hanna soon wrapped in talk of college and jobs, and in 2014 committed himself full time to Next One Up. Over the next few years, after struggling to find spaces to accommodate Next One Up’s meetings, Hanna decided it was time for a major change.
“We need control,” he said. “With all the abandoned properties in the city, you can’t tell me that there’s not one for us.”
Even when the nonprofit was operating out of borrowed spaces — like fields at Hopkins, the Druid Hill YMCA, the 29th Street Community Center and most recently, the Gilman School — some participants felt there weren’t many other places in the city where they could spend their time in a structured way. All of Next One Up’s members, Hanna said, are Black boys and men.
“Next One Up was one of the fewer places where other Black men could go and congregate,” said 23-year-old Towson resident Juanell Walker, an alum of the program who now works at the investment management firm T. Rowe Price.
“The city had closed down a lot of the [recreation centers] around town and so a lot of kids, they really didn’t have a place to go to hang out and be out of the house or whatnot, unless they did something at their school or if they were involved in athletics,” he added.
This summer, a revived youth curfew left some teenagers wanting more from the city’s public spaces, where they said they’ve felt unwelcome. In August, a Baltimore Sun analysis of police data found that the number of young Baltimoreans 19 and under being shot or killed in 2023 is strikingly high.
Both Henderson and Walker credited Next One Up with helping them prepare for life beyond high school, specifically by offering SAT prep.
“That was our only way to get into a college,” said Walker, who graduated with a degree in political science from Trinity College in the spring.
The nonprofit has also given participants something less quantifiable: a place to socialize and forge relationships.
“In life, we all find a second home outside of our own physical home, whether that’s church or a sport, or even, as the narrative may follow here in Baltimore, in the streets,” Henderson said. “So to be able to have the Base Camp now as a physical option that’s going to be open seven days a week, with a hot meal and infinite amounts of opportunity to grow and get better, I think it means the world.”
Henderson, who has been captain of Stevenson’s football team since his sophomore year and is on Next One Up’s alumni advisory council, helped with fundraising for the new center. The space will be open to alumni, which Hanna said will inspire younger members.
“These boys are now going to see all this success in the room,” he said.
Of Next One Up’s nearly 200 members, 100 are middle and high school students; the rest are in college or participate as alums. The nonprofit recruits students starting in sixth grade from underserved schools, said Chief Program Officer Shel Simon, noting that Next One Up is “really looking for commitment” from interested students.
The application process takes roughly two months, Simon said, and members range in age from 12 to 21.
Next One Up students will begin orientation in the new facility next week. They’ll leave their phones at a check-in desk and change into casual uniforms, Simon said. It will be the first time that Next One Up offers programming seven days a week during the school year.
In the gym, students will have access to weights and specialty training equipment. In study rooms, they’ll receive tutoring and mentorship from student-athletes at Hopkins and participate in weekly workshops with Black Mental Health Alliance, a Baltimore-based group.
“We’re very, very intense,” Hanna said of Next One Up’s approach to instilling a sense of responsibility in students. “Making sure that these guys understand that this is a family, that it’s a group approach, and you only get out what you put in.”