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Baltimore’s Kaye Whitehead named to Essence ‘Woke 100’ list with Michelle Obama, Simone Biles

Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead is an associate professor of communication and African and African American Studies in the Department of Communication at Loyola University Maryland and the host of "Today with Dr. Kaye" on WEAA radio.
Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead is an associate professor of communication and African and African American Studies in the Department of Communication at Loyola University Maryland and the host of "Today with Dr. Kaye" on WEAA radio. (Kim Hairston / Baltimore Sun)

Dr. Karsonya “Kaye” Wise Whitehead was heading to the gate for her flight to Atlanta Friday night at Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport when she started screaming and began to cry.

Whitehead had just learned that she was selected to Essence magazine’s 2019 list of “Woke 100″ women. The Loyola University Maryland professor and host of “Today with Dr. Kaye” on WEAA radio joins the likes of first lady Michelle Obama, CBS news anchor Gayle King, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, and U.S. Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Whitehead is the only person living and working in Baltimore named to the list.

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“I felt in that moment I was seen. Somebody saw my work and my love and passion and concern for Baltimore,” the 50-year-old Hamilton resident said. “My grandmother used to get Essence. She would have them stacked around the house There were always beautiful and brilliant women on the cover and in the pages of the magazine.”

Whitehead said that as a little girl she would envision herself in the magazine — going as far as to insert pictures of herself in older magazines and craft autobiographies about herself and her latest accomplishments.

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“I wanted to be one of those women,” she said. “I wanted to be here. I wanted to work so hard on behalf of my people that the world takes notice.”

The November issue calls Whitehead "a much-needed voice in addressing issues such as gender and institutional racism in Baltimore.”

Whitehead, a New York Emmy-nominated documentary filmmaker, is also the founding executive director of the Emilie Frances Davis Center for Education, Research, and Culture, and a K-12 Master Teacher in African American History. She is the author of five books, including “I Speak for the Unforgotten: Dispatches from Baltimore,” which is scheduled to be released this December.

“We are excited that Dr. Whitehead’s excellent work at Loyola and in the city of Baltimore is getting national attention,” said Dr. Amanda M. Thomas, provost and vice president for academic affairs at Loyola University Maryland, in a prepared statement. “Dr. Whitehead is a person who puts our Jesuit mission at Loyola into action for the benefit of all people, working to advance the conversation — and inspire action with impact — around equity and inclusion.”

Whitehead, a mother of three, moved to Baltimore 17 years ago with her husband, Johnnie Whitehead, a missionary, from her native Washington, D.C. She has become an authority on race, class, gender and how they intersect in education. From 2013 to 2015, Whitehead was chosen as one of four experts to participate in Barack Obama’s Black History Month Panel.

The Essence selection means a lot to Whitehead, who said she sees it as an opportunity to inspire future black leaders, like the girl to whom she gave her copy of Essence on the flight to Atlanta.

“All I could think was I wanted to inspire young black girls. If I could be on the page, she could be on the page,” she recalled. “[I told her] to ‘Put it on your shelf. One day you’ll be there.’”

Whitehead’s latest achievement will be celebrated at Loyola University Maryland on Wednesday during “Cupcakes with Kaye” from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the center of the Loyola University Maryland Quad.

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