The Baltimore Sun joined this year with non-profit Baltimore Homecoming Inc. to seek nominations for the local group’s second annual “Homecoming Heroes” awards, which recognize exceptional community leaders working creatively to inspire and motivate change in Baltimore City, overcoming challenges and transforming lives. A selection committee made up of last year’s winners and area leaders whittled 90 nominations down to 10 semifinalists, and now, after tallying 25,000-plus votes submitted online at The Sun’s website, five winners have been selected.

Each will receive a $3,000 cash prize and the opportunity to share their visions at a three-day conference later this month with a select group of Baltimore ex-pats and innovators — including filmmaker Barry Levinson, Orioles’ Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson and retired Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski — looking to bolster the city through investment, collaboration and partnership.


This year’s winners are:

Leonor Blum, founder and executive director of ¡Adelante Latina! A long-time professor of Latin American history and politics at Notre Dame of Maryland University, Ms. Blum founded ¡Adelante Latina! after her retirement in 2012. The organization provides free, after-school college prep programs for academically promising, low-income Latinas in Baltimore City public schools. This summer, the group’s third cohort of nine students graduated; all went on to college with full scholarships.

Van Brooks, executive director of the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education. After being paralyzed from the next down by a football injury in 2004, when he was just 16, Mr. Brooks finished his education while undergoing years of intense rehabilitative therapy. He later channeled that dedication toward middle school students and meaningfully changing their lives for the better. He founded Safe Alternative Foundation for Education (SAFE) in 2012; it provides after school, weekend and summer education programs for middle school students that integrate academics with real world applications.

Marlo Hargrove, co-founder of Freedom Advocates Celebrating Ex-Offenders (FACE). Mr. Hargrove co-founded FACE, which offers treatment and support services, along with transitional housing, for men coming out of prison and recovering from addiction. Hundreds of men have received drug and alcohol treatment, reconnected with their families and gained employment through FACE’s northeast Baltimore location. Now Mr. Hargrove, who himself got clean in 2002, and his partner are working to expand their program in the Sandtown-Winchester area of West Baltimore.

Shantell Roberts, founder and executive director of Touching Young Lives, Inc. The devastating death of her 1-year-old daughter inspired Ms. Roberts to found Touching Young Lives, a non-profit focused on the well-being of infants and children. The group partners with hospitals to identify families who lack a safe sleeping space for their infants. TYL provides education on best practices and a portable alternative crib to protect infants — a simple box with a mattress that reduces the risk of sleep-related death. The group has thus far given out more than 8,000 of them throughout the state.

Ana Rodney, founder and executive director of MOMCares. A doula for roughly a dozen years, Ms. Rodney found herself overwhelmed in 2014 after her son was born premature and taken to an neonatal intensive care unit, where she felt helpless — and exhausted. She founded MOMCares to provide postpartum services to single, low-income mothers of color with children in NICUs. The organization offers packaged meals, transportation, bedside support and child care for older siblings, while helping mothers expand their coping skills through yoga and meditation.

Finalists for this year’s contest will be invited to participate in a T. Rowe Price Foundation program that meets several times a year and focuses on leadership development and tackling specific challenges. They were: Rev. Heber M. Brown III, senior pastor at Pleasant Hope Baptist Church and founder of the Black Church Food Security Network, which encourages agriculture on church-owned land; Kayenecha Daugherty, executive director of Creative Nomads, which provides children and families in Baltimore opportunities to access to arts, music and culture; Blair Franklin, executive director of the YES Youth Drop-in Center for homeless people ages 14-25, which is run by people who were once homeless themselves; Nneka N’namdi, founder and director of Fight Blight Bmore, which is developing a mobile application to allow community members to document, report and analyze blight; and Jamye Wooten, founder of CLLCTIVLY, which seeks to reduce the fragmentation and duplication of black-led social change organizations in Baltimore.

Last year’s winners were: Erricka Bridgeford, co-founder Baltimore Ceasefire movement; Baltimore City Police Department Major Monique Brown; Alphonso Mayo, founder and director of Mentoring Mentors; Mr. Trash Wheel, the anthropomorphized, trash-collecting water wheel, and Brittany Young, founder and CEO of B-360, a program that uses dirt bikes to teach young students about everything from 3-D printing to polymer making, along with safe and responsible riding.

Editor’s note: This editorial has been updated to reflect the correct spelling of Leonor Blum’s name.