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Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: Baltimore Urban League offers a train to the middle class | COMMENTARY

Datwone Gibson, 21, landed a job in tech support for the city of Baltimore after finishing a free training program offered by the Greater Baltimore Urban League.

Last year, during Mike Rosenbaum’s brief campaign for governor, the tech entrepreneur identified four career paths offering wages that could significantly improve the life trajectories of thousands of struggling Marylanders — technology, health care, skilled trades and manufacturing.

Drawing on the big data he uses in his businesses, Rosenbaum found that those fields have the most openings and offer the kind of salaries (at least $60,000 a year) needed to keep pace with the cost of living in one of the wealthiest states in the nation. With training in those fields offered on a large scale, thousands of people could have better-paying jobs relatively quickly.

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Rosenbaum believes the Baltimore region is full of young men and women who could be well-paid IT professionals, they just don’t know it yet. They have the right aptitudes, just not the right resume. That’s a belief gained from Rosenbaum’s work in human resources and the first company he developed, Catalyte. (A second company, Arena Analytics, uses data analysis to identify the best workers to hire and promote in health care.)

Rosenbaum has a lot of strong ideas about workforce development that could move thousands of Baltimoreans, in particular, into the middle class. The next governor should be listening to him.

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Datwone Gibson is the kind of young adult Rosenbaum has in mind when he speaks of human potential and finding talent in unexpected places. It was a program of the Greater Baltimore Urban League that put Gibson on the road to a tech career that, according to ZipRecruiter, could eventually earn him up to $140,000.

Of course, six years ago, when he was a teenager, such thoughts never occurred to him. Gibson was a student at Civitas Middle/High School in West Baltimore, and he constantly caused trouble, enough that he ended up for a time in the juvenile justice system. He says “beating up people” is what he did a lot.

After the city school board voted to sever ties with the independent operator of Civitas and close it, the system assigned Gibson to Green Street Academy, the well-regarded public charter school in the former Gwynns Falls Park Junior High on North Hilton street.

“And that turned the page for me,” he says.

The environment was better, the other students and teachers more engaged. Gibson joined the football team. He played basketball, too. “People worked on me there,” he says, “and they got me on track.”

He graduated from Green Street in 2020 and enrolled in Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania, the following year. But his college days were brief. He spent only one semester at Albright before dropping out for financial reasons. Neither of his parents could help with tuition, and Gibson was unable to arrange for the continuation of financial aid.

So he came back to Maryland, lived with an aunt in Prince George’s County, worked at Burger King and Royal Farms. But he didn’t lose focus on the future.

“I knew I wanted to be a professional,” Gibson says, “and I knew I wanted to be in a growing field.”

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But which one?

It was James Mitchell, owner of Reasonable Tech Solutions in Towson and a youth basketball coach, who told him about the Greater Baltimore Urban League’s new program in cybersecurity training, part of the organization’s efforts to help low-income people and those who’ve been incarcerated prepare for jobs that can move them up the socioeconomic ladder.

With a grant from Comcast Universal, the program commenced in March with a series of free classes. So far, it has resulted in 47 men and women being certified in cybersecurity, according to Tiffany Majors, the president and CEO of the GBUL. At least 11 of those people were previously incarcerated. Half of the 47 graduates have found jobs, and the GBUL continues to work on helping the remainder gain employment. New classes are expected to start in January.

“We have people who were making between $9 and $11 an hour who could one day be making $140,000 a year in cybersecurity,” Majors says, noting that a major goal of the program is to increase the number of Black women and men in IT.

She’s particularly proud of Datwone Gibson; she’s known him for years, largely through the travel basketball team that Gibson and her son played on, with Mitchell as their coach.

“In the 10 years that I’ve known Datwone, I’ve never met one of his family members,” she says. “He did not have much support or resources for his dreams and his interests [but] he made things work. He was always very positive, compassionate and dedicated to a better life for himself.”

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Gibson had a job at Walmart when he took the GBUL cybersecurity training. “Datwone finished in April with three high cybersecurity certifications — Security Plus, Network Defending and Ethical Hacking.”

Now he’s employed in tech support for Baltimore’s police department and schools, working for the city from his home in East Baltimore, and on his way to the middle class. “I’m a service desk analyst and it’s a blessing to have this situation,” he says, speaking with such happiness, enthusiasm and gratitude I could hardly keep up with my note taking.

Good for him, good for Baltimore, and props to the GBUL. If worker training programs in the key growth fields were expanded — really scaled up with major funding from the state and private sources — it could be transformative for generations to come.


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