Meet the Baltimore area’s most intriguing movers and shakers of 2017.
Look for the 25 Women to Watch in a special magazine supplement in some editions of The Sun on Sunday, Oct. 8.
35, chief operating officer of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture
Saida Agostini isn’t very handy with a needle and thread. But she excels at stitching together activists, rape survivors and members of the LBGTQ community to work for a common cause. For the past year, Agostini’s been chief operating officer of FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, the collective that created The Monument Quilt, in which stories of 2,200 survivors of rape* and domestic abuse are written, sewn and painted onto red fabric. Agostini, who has overcome violence in her own life, contributed a square which spells out “love” and was made with an artist friend’s help. She puts it bluntly: “I’ve been a witness too many times to people being told their experiences don’t matter. You cannot do work for people without including them in the process.”
—Mary Carole McCauley
42, president, Westport Neighborhood Association
Keisha Allen stepped into community activism when she was left in charge of a neighborhood association bake sale. A decade later, she’s the group’s president, keeping Westport’s interests in the forefront as the nearby $5.5 billion Port Covington redevelopment is under way. She helped negotiate a $39 million community benefits agreement for the six neighborhoods surrounding the massive project. Her day job in medical billing gives her more time off than her community activism: “When I come home, I put on my cape. I want people to treat our neighborhood with the same respect they treat some of the more affluent neighborhoods.”
46, CEO of Maryland Community Health Initiatives and executive director of Kids Safe Zone
One foggy August morning, Ericka Alston-Buck woke up at 3:30 and drove to Six Flags to ride the “Wild One” roller coaster 10 times before 10 a.m. The rides were broadcast live on local television for a charity event during the morning rush hour, enabling her not only to extend the visibility of the West Baltimore youth center she oversees, the Kids Safe Zone, but to give 100 free tickets to its children.
It is that kind of atypical approach that has led Alston-Buck, the center’s founder and executive director, to keep the youth center open in an impoverished and dangerous area in which more than 100 people have been murdered within a one-mile radius since 2015.
She founded the Kids Safe Zone shortly after taking a job as a publicist for the Penn North addiction recovery center — the same center the West Baltimore native once attended in her 20s while recovering from a drug addiction.
After the riots following 25-year-old Freddie Gray’s death, Alston-Buck says she heard residents repeatedly complain: “Our kids have no place to go after school — no sports, no jobs, no recreation.”
She appealed to her employer, and Penn North gave her the keys to a vacant laundromat. Drawing upon a background in communications, she raised donations on social media to open the doors within five weeks.
On a typical weekday afternoon, Alston-Buck’s team sees as many as 150 children aged 5 to 17 playing video games, watching movies, doing homework, eating snacks and dinner, getting mentored, practicing meditative yoga and going on field trips.
She’s since become the CEO for the umbrella organization Maryland Community Health Initiatives Inc., which includes the Kids Safe Zone, Penn North recovery center and several other efforts, including residential housing for 12 women and their 18 children.
Baltimore Police Commissioner Kevin Davis describes Alston-Buck as “a beacon of hope,” and state Del. Bilal Ali says, “If I could clone Ericka and sprinkle her around the city, this would be a much better city.”
55, president, the Barbour Group
For years, Karen Barbour has advocated for and supported entrepreneurs through her bonding company, the Barbour Group. Then last year, she launched the Alliance for Hispanic Commercial Contractors, a network designed to help its 20 member businesses grow. The alliance addresses a dramatic achievement gap for Hispanic-owned commercial construction firms, she says. She took her advocacy one step further this June with the creation of the National Small Business Party, a 100-member political party. Barbour lobbies for legislation designed to eliminate regulatory barriers for entrepreneurs, she says, because of “the importance of economic fairness.”
54, president, Transamerica Stable Value Solutions Inc., vice president and managing director, Institutional Markets at Transamerica
Bradie Barr is something of a guardian of retirement. Last year she began overseeing a business that “wraps” insurance around 401(k) and other plans — $55 billion worth — which lowers participants’ risk. “The money you put in is protected, and the money you earn is protected,” she says. “This has real tangible value to people, and I like that.” She says it’s all “real money,” a lesson that stuck from her early days as a bank teller cashing people’s paychecks. And if protecting money feels good, next up for Barr is giving it away through Transamerica’s foundation. “It’s pretty cool,” she says.
Alison G. Brown
61, senior vice president and chief strategy officer, University of Maryland Medical System
Alison Brown believes in going after what she wants. “If you see an opportunity that you think you might like to have, you really have to raise your voice, raise your hand and put yourself out there to be considered,” she says. That philosophy has helped her rise through the ranks at the University of Maryland Medical System. As senior vice president and chief strategy officer, she makes sure key parts of affiliations with other hospitals run smoothly. Her next big project is the affiliation with University of Maryland Capital Region Health in Prince George’s County, where she will be charged with rebuilding the reputation of the troubled health system, among other tasks.
—Andrea K. McDaniels
52, director, Baltimore’s Office of Civil Rights and Wage Enforcement
The daughter of respected civil rights activist Walter P. Carter, Jill Carter feels she has the opportunity to carry out her father’s work. In her new role leading Baltimore’s civil rights efforts, the former state delegate has restaffed and reinvigorated three community boards that oversee police misconduct, wages and discrimination. “Baltimore, when it comes to issues of racial and economic justice, has not advanced very far since the time of my father,” the Ashburton resident says. Her impact has already been felt. The police department’s internal affairs chief says Carter has convinced the agency several times to sustain complaints from citizens that would have otherwise been dismissed.
42, president, Enoch Pratt Free Library
New to Baltimore, Heidi Daniel has a long to-do list: Try Old Bay caramel ice cream at the Charmery, enroll her children in a city public school and run the $40 million Enoch Pratt Free Library system. Daniel, a former Ohio librarian, is spending her first weeks on the job touring each of the 22 branches, meeting with the 500 employees and managing the citywide rollout of extended library hours. The Pratt is here to serve the community, Daniel says, adding, “People tend to think of one thing about the library: You’re coming in looking at a book and going home. We’re so much more.”
Margaret B. Davis
58, president and CEO of Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts
How do you follow someone who’s been on the job for 21 years? Margaret B. Davis is about to find out. On Nov. 1, she takes over the leading role at the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, the center of the Annapolis arts scene, from Linnell Bowen, a woman described as “a force of nature.” But Davis has her own impressive credentials. She previously was the head of the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation, where she doubled revenue after taking over in 2009. That work was important to Davis, who recently moved to Annapolis, but the mission of the arts center is, too. “This is what I am called to do,” she says, “to help bring in great art and connect it to the citizens and the public.”
Dr. Elizabeth Dovec
36, medical director, Greater Baltimore Medical Center Comprehensive Obesity Management Program
Weight loss surgery can be life-changing for patients, says Dr. Elizabeth “Betsy” Dovec. People are able to fit into airplane seats and buy fashionable clothes. Illnesses such as diabetes and high blood pressure dissipate. Watching the transformation of each patient brings Dovec a sense of fulfillment. “It’s way more than they lose a lot of weight,” Dovec says. She runs a successful private Facebook support group for patients that has about 4,000 members, and last winter more than 130 of her patients committed to running the GBMC Father’s Day 5k. The number of patients who get weight loss surgery at GBMC’s obesity management program has jumped from about 400 to more than 1,000 since Dovec began there four years ago. But surgery is not enough to fight what she calls the world’s biggest epidemic. She would like to help facilitate a larger discussion on how to prevent it.
—Andrea K. McDaniels
Khalilah M. Harris
39, chief of staff and vice president of external affairs, Opportunity@Work
“Hard work is hard,” is one mantra Khalilah M. Harris took from working with the Obama administration. As the first deputy director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African-Americans, Harris worked to dismantle the school-to-prison pipeline while supporting women and minorities in education and encouraging equity in STEM careers. “ZIP code and genetic code shouldn’t determine your success,” Harris says. Today, the Ednor Gardens-Lakeside resident continues creating access to tech education and jobs at nonprofit Opportunity@Work. Harris, who is also involved with activist groups, doesn’t anticipate any slowdown. “There’s a lot of work do be done, and it’s hard, so I’ll keep on working.”
30, founder, Discover Charm City and GalPal Events
Alysha January was new to Baltimore and eager to explore when she started her Instagram account, @DiscoverCharmCity, in 2013. As her posts about events and restaurants increased, so did her followers — to 14,000. “I learned — and this is in the nicest way — that people are lazy and they don’t want to search for things to do,” says January, the marketing and development coordinator for the Historic Charles Street Association, who also organizes donation drives and hosts “GalPal” events. Her brand boils down to promoting Baltimore’s local businesses and people, she says. “They’re the real charms.”
21, WNBA player for the Connecticut Sun
After Brionna Jones’ freshman year with the University of Maryland women’s basketball team, the Havre de Grace native set a goal: to be drafted into the WNBA.
The center’s aspirations stemmed from a transformative first college season, when she returned from a knee injury she suffered at Aberdeen High School and improved her fitness.
About three years later, the hope became reality when the Connecticut Sun selected Jones with the No. 8 overall pick in the 2017 WNBA Draft.
“That’s every little girl’s dream,” Jones says of playing in the WBNA. “I realized I can really do this if I can keep pushing myself.”
Draft night capped a frantic end to her college career.
Jones led the nation in field goal percentage in the 2015-16 season (66.5 percent) and 2016-17 (69 percent). She was a first-team Associated Press All-American as a senior. After a plethora of Big Ten honors and national recognition, Jones and fellow senior Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had their jerseys hung in the Xfinity Center rafters before the team advanced to the Sweet 16 in last year’s tournament.
Jones says she had only a few days to rest before training for the draft started. After joining the Sun, she jumped into training camp and practices to acclimate to her new squad, continuing the hectic, nonstop schedule many WNBA players say is the toughest part of the transition to the professional level.
Jones finished her rookie season averaging 2.9 points and 1.7 rebounds a game in 23 appearances.
“Bri is the definition of hard work,” Maryland coach Brenda Frese says. “She came in a talented local kid and just worked relentlessly throughout her career to become one of the best post players in the country. It’s amazing to watch how her hard work helped her achieve one of her dreams in getting drafted, and I know that work ethic will help her have success in the WNBA.”
Jones now lives alone in her Connecticut apartment, which she joked has been just as much of a change because she no longer lives with her teammates in College Park.
“It’s a lot different being an adult by yourself,” Jones says. “I have to figure out taxes and everything, so I think that’s the biggest adjustment outside the basketball court.”
32, creative director, Taharka Brothers Ice Cream; owner, Blk//Sugar and Blk//Mkt
Krystal Mack understands that entrepreneurial dreams change, and she’s not afraid to evolve with them. “You should be quick enough and smart enough and know yourself enough and be prepared enough to change as your dream changes,” she says. Mack was an esthetician for six years before she went into business peddling homemade ice pops and pies from a tricycle. She opened her first bakery, Blk//Sugar, at R. House last year before closing it in August, and simultaneously launched Blk//Mkt, an online marketplace featuring local makers that supplied the wares at Blk//Sugar. In September, she joined Taharka Brothers Ice Cream, where she hopes to help the brand grow as the company restructures. “I belong where I started; I belong in the community with people,” Mack says.
40, chief of Compliance, Accountability and External Affairs Division for the Baltimore Police Department
Ganesha Martin wasn’t expecting to relocate to Baltimore, but the Texas transplant fell in love with Charm City. Where others see insurmountable problems — broken police-community relations, entrenched poverty — she sees endless potential.
“When you start with pure resiliency, when you start with ‘I will never give up’ and this pride about who you are and where you come from, you can never count a city like that out. Maybe down, but not out,” says Martin, who serves as the Police Department’s chief of Compliance, Accountability and External Affairs Division.
She’s the department’s chief liaison with the U.S. Justice Department, which found a pattern of unconstitutional and discriminatory policing in Baltimore. The federal investigation was ordered after the 2015 death of 25-year-old Freddie Gray and resulted in a consent decree between the city and the U.S. Department of Justice.
Martin began her career as a civil litigation lawyer in Texas, then worked in Albuquerque, N.M. She came to Baltimore to work for then-Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, then moved to the Police Department to serve as chief of staff for then-Police Commissioner Anthony W. Batts.
Martin became the legislative director for the Police Department, representing the department in Annapolis. In that role, Martin says, she realized the department needed to do more to engage the community, and then headed the newly created bureau of community engagement.
Then Freddie Gray died.
During the Justice Department investigation into the BPD, she worked with officials, making sure boxes of documents were handed over, including the department’s entire disciplinary database.
Meanwhile, Martin and a team set to work researching the ways other cities implemented consent decrees. Baltimore started working toward reforms earlier than others, even before the consent decree was approved in April.
Martin says engaging the community and the officers is key. “This process fails if the community and cops do not feel a part of it, and they don’t feel that the changes are being made are for them,” she says.
She also mentors a 19-year-old from East Baltimore, who she says helps give her perspective on the job.
Police Commissioner Kevin Davis praised her work in the department.
“Chief Ganesha Martin has consistently demonstrated strong leadership during a time of great change and opportunity for the Baltimore Police Department. Ganesha’s commitment to make life better for the cops and the community will serve as the bedrock for the reforms underway on our agency and in our profession,” Davis says.
It’s a path forward she did not anticipate for herself.
“I never planned to be in this job, but it seems a job that is built for who I am. I became a lawyer to speak up for people who didn’t have a voice. Both the cops and the community have been neglected,” Martin says.
While her work keeps her busy, she finds time to travel. She got engaged at Africa’s Victoria Falls to her boyfriend of five years, an infectious disease doctor for the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. No wedding date has been set.
“I’m married to the consent decree right now,” she says with a laugh.
Michelle N. Mendez
37, senior attorney, Catholic Legal Immigration Network Inc.
With the Trump administration vowing to increase deportations of undocumented immigrants, local attorney Michelle Mendez has found herself on the front lines of the national battle over immigration. The manager of the Catholic Legal Immigration Network’s new Defending Vulnerable Populations Project, Mendez trains lawyers across the country on how best to fight deportations and represents around 50 clients per year pro bono — particularly mothers who are seeking asylum from persecution in other countries. Recently, Mendez, a native of Colombia who graduated from the University of Maryland’s law school, successfully helped two Highlandtown men get out of jail after they were arrested on immigration charges. “If a person has access to competent counsel, it makes a big difference,” she says.
41, chief marketing officer, Stanley Black & Decker
When Stanley Black & Decker wanted to roll together its traditional brand campaign, digital marketing, graphic design and video teams, the tool company turned to Allison Nicolaidis to spearhead this new, unified approach. After 18 years with the company, the challenge was one Nicolaidis welcomed — she’s passionate about growing Black & Decker’s business. She’s also dedicated to helping other women advance in the male-dominated tool industry. A networking and mentorship program she created brings together the company’s younger and more seasoned female employees. “As I go through my career I realize there are women in the organization who really want to move ahead and they really want to get some of the coaching and relationships that they see in the rest of their peer group that isn’t available to them,” she says.
33, political commentator and professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Education
Wendy Osefo didn’t vote for President Donald J. Trump, but she credits his election with launching her cable news celebrity. A growing voice for liberal and feminist causes, she appears as often as four times a week and doesn’t shy from aggressive debate. Osefo teaches online courses about politics, social justice and entrepreneurship in the Johns Hopkins School of Education. She embraces her identity as a millennial professor who quotes the rapper Tupac: “I’m not saying I’m gonna change the world, but I guarantee that I will spark the brain that will.”
Kelly A. Powers
38, principal, co-director of Pro Bono Advocate Program, Miles & Stockbridge
Kelly A. Powers’ clients often are in the worst moments of their lives. Their children have been abducted by another parent or they risk losing children after fleeing with them across international borders to escape harm.
At Miles & Stockbridge, Powers has helped build an international family law practice that has handled more parental abduction cases under the 1980 Hague Convention treaty than any other practice in the world, according to the firm. In 2012, Miles & Stockbridge recognized Powers for devoting more than 1,000 hours of services to indigent clients pro bono, directly and through the Women’s Law Center.
“It can be very stressful, but it’s also rewarding to resolve the cases,” Powers says. “Every case has some kind of new and interesting issue. I like helping the people involved. And it’s never boring.”
The Bel Air native, who practices yoga to achieve work/life balance, sees a need for attorneys to take on such cases. An increasingly connected world means more international families in more complex circumstances when relationships break down.
One client fled her home country to escape domestic violence and sought asylum in the U.S. with her 6-year-old son. The father requested the court send the child back, but Powers argued the child would face a grave risk of harm. In another case, she helped return children taken to Maryland by their father to their mother in Mexico.
Stephen J. Cullen, co-leader with Powers in the Family Law & Private Clients Practice Group, describes his colleague as kind, clever, unflappable and dedicated to her work.
“Clients and colleagues all love her,” he says.
Powers, whose mother taught kindergarten, always knew she wanted to work with children and families. She first pursued elementary education but decided to attend the University of Baltimore law school and focus on family law. A judicial clerkship in Baltimore City Circuit Court offered experience in the family division.
“I saw really quickly the need for pro bono services and access to justice to low-income people, and in the Baltimore area in particular,” says Powers, who was attracted to the firm because of its pro bono emphasis. “Doing the actual work in the firm ... especially with people’s private lives and their children and families, you just don’t ever want to let anybody down.”
64, Maryland state superintendent of schools
Karen Salmon takes off each morning from her home on the Eastern Shore with an extra-large cup of iced coffee — decaf, to be precise. She’s needed it to commute 81 miles one way to work in Baltimore in her first year as Maryland’s state superintendent of schools. She’s made 180 visits to schools, overseen the rewriting of the state’s school accountability system and established a new research division to help schools pick curriculum and classroom practices that work. The Harford County native’s mother was a schoolteacher. “She worked into her 80s. Education comes to me through that,” she says.
Joyce J. Scott
Known for provocative beadwork-based art that addresses issues of racism and the treatment of women, Joyce J. Scott was newsworthy long before receiving a MacArthur Fellowship — the “genius grant” that comes with a $625,000 stipend — in 2016. But the award certainly didn’t hurt.
“To be MacArthur-ized brought me a lot of love from people internationally,” says Scott, a longtime Sandtown resident. “For a ‘Baltimoron,’ an African-American woman, it’s validation. And my calendar is bursting exponentially.”
The award also brings occasional surprises. In Tulsa for an exhibit in August, Scott was invited to sing a Pat Benatar song in carpool karaoke fashion with young women whose scavenger hunt had a MacArthur Fellow on the checklist.
Music is a big part of Scott’s life. Gifted with a powerful set of lungs and innately stylish phrasing, she could have had a career as a singer. Scott is also a natural humorist and mimic, talents that found an outlet when she and a friend launched a song-dance-comedy duo dubbed the Thunder Thigh Revue in the 1980s.
“I know what you’re thinking: ‘How multifaceted is this woman?’ I’m also a nuclear physicist in my spare time,” Scott says with one of her disarming grins.
As for her visual art, Scott makes potent statements about race, gender and violence with mixed-media sculptures that often incorporate beads and glass (her use of the latter earned her a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Glass Arts Society in June).
“What I admire most about Joyce’s work, in addition to the formal dexterity of it, is her conviction that art can really matter for a broad majority of people,” says Baltimore Museum of Art director Christopher Bedford. “Her vocabulary is geared to many different populations simultaneously.”
This fall will see one of Scott’s most ambitious exhibits, “Harriet Tubman and Other Truths,” at Grounds for Sculpture in Hamilton, N.J.
“It’s going to be big,” Scott says. “I want people to come in and get their socks knocked off. I want attendants there to pick up those socks and put them back on people’s feet.”
The exhibit “involves my sense of humor, my sense of distress and my honoring of the past,” the artist says. “It will speak not just to African-American history, but American history. Harriet Tubman reminds me so much of of my mother. They were both ass-kickers to the nth degree, and both were consumed with the quest for justice.”
Scott’s own intense convictions have kept her focused and productive throughout a remarkable career.
“Being creative means living a creative life,” she says. “It’s a way of tackling problems and issues of life, a fundamental way of being.”
Mary Ann Scully
65, president and CEO, Howard Bank
Mary Ann Scully was a senior at Seton Hill University in Western Pennsylvania when she realized her liberal arts education might not prepare her for much. Someone suggested she enter a bank or insurance company training program.
She picked a branch manager training program at a Baltimore bank. Scully was interested in community lending but was told she needed a master’s degree.
“I was a driven person, so I went to grad school at night,” she says. “When I was accepted to the community lending program, I found men without degrees.”
She felt the business environment would only change if women changed it. So in 2004, she co-founded her own bank.
Scully now leads Howard Bank, which topped $1 billion in assets last year and is the largest publicly traded bank headquartered in the Baltimore area.
The bank serves small and medium-size businesses and offers mortgages, and she gains satisfaction from the “tangible and impactful” results.
Scully sees herself as more than a lender. She calls herself a “connector,” linking funds from people who have them to those who need them, and connecting businesses to accountants, tax advisers, attorneys, consultants, marketing experts and anyone else of value.
“It really is a people business,” she says.
Others have noticed those efforts.
“She is generous with her time, her energy, her intellectual capital and her heart,” says Wendy Merrill, founder of StrategyHorse Consulting Group, which has done business with the bank. “Her kindness is boundless, and she has been a mentor, a friend and a personal and professional inspiration to me as a professional woman, working mom and entrepreneur. She is also real.”
Scully is also busy. In addition to sitting on several area boards, she became a “later-in-life” mother. Her son, James, is 19.
Reading books, by the water if possible, and running have become a good outlet for stress, though, she says she’s not nearly as good an athlete as her husband, Chuck Scully, a professional golfer who works as a club pro at Hobbit’s Glen Golf Course. The family lives in western Howard County.
Next for the bank, she’s looking for more growth beyond the suburbs. The bank recently announced it would acquire Baltimore-based 1st Mariner, doubling the bank’s assets. Scully also plans to move the headquarters from Ellicott City to Baltimore.
“I want to dispel the notion that Baltimore is just a branch town,” she says. That will “have an impact and leave a legacy.”
53, vice dean for basic research, Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine
Geraldine Seydoux figures the way to cure genetic diseases may be found with tiny worms that crawl beneath our feet. A professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, she runs a lab for graduate students, and her experiments with roundworms have advanced understanding of the blueprint of life: DNA. The Guilford mother of two has published 70 papers and was recently named dean of the medical school’s 170 research scientists. Still, she will continue her work to unlock secrets of the genetic code. “The best way to understand is to change it and see what happens,” she says. “That’s what we do all day long.”
40, president, Next Day Blinds
Allison Siegel didn’t know much about window treatments when she signed on to be the chief revenue officer of Jessup’s Next Day Blinds. “I’m always looking for a new challenge,” says Siegel, who had previously worked in retail and marketing. “I jumped at the chance to be able to grow a company.” Now she’s eight months into running the ship. As president, Siegel is on a mission to improve company culture to focus more on employee experience. Next Day Blinds has earned a national reputation through e-commerce, but Siegel wants to establish the brand as a local retailer for Baltimore-Washington area homeowners.**
Ali von Paris
27, owner and founder of Route One Apparel
Ali von Paris recently moved her company’s center of operations from Hunt Valley to Towson. In July, she was appointed by Gov. Larry Hogan to the Maryland Tourism Development Board for a three-year term, and before that, she was selected for the Young Alumni Council and the advisory board of the Robert H. Smith School of Business at her alma mater, the University of Maryland, College Park. And, of course, she produces a continual stream of Maryland-themed merchandise and apparel on her e-commerce site. She also locked in a licensing deal with National Bohemian and is in talks with Old Bay. She promises even more. “I’m just getting started — 2017 to 2018 is going to be a great year,” she says.
—John-John Williams IV
*Correction: A previous version of this story misstated the genders of the contributors to The Monument Quilt. The quilt’s squares were created by people of multiple gender identities. The Sun regrets the error.
**Clarification: This article has been updated to clarify Next Day Blinds’ standing in the national e-commerce market.