Six weeks ago, we asked readers to nominate Baltimoreans who have shown exceptional dedication, creativity and success in transforming the city for the better for recognition in this fall’s second annual Baltimore Homecoming event. A committee of local business and non-profit leaders — including last year’s honorees — narrowed down scores of nominees to 10 semi-finalists for this year’s Homecoming Heroes. These 10 individuals stood out for their impact, their ability to inspire others, their success in mobilizing the community and their creativity. Now it’s the public’s turn to weigh in again with an online vote to determine the top five who will receive a $3,000 cash prize, sponsored by T. Rowe Price, and more importantly, the opportunity to address the attendees at the Baltimore Homecoming event in October. This year’s semi-finalists are:
Leonor Blum, founder and executive director of ¡Adelante Latina! A former Notre Dame of Maryland University professor of Latin American history and politics, Leonor Bloom founded ¡Adelante Latina! after her retirement in 2012 to provide after-school college preparation for academically promising, low-income Latinas in Baltimore City public schools.
Van Brooks, executive director of the Safe Alternative Foundation for Education. After becoming paralyzed by a football injury in 2004, Van Brooks decided to dedicate himself to changing the trajectory of middle school students’ lives. Safe Alternative Foundation for Education (SAFE) provides after school, weekend and summer education programs that integrate academics with real world applications.
Rev. Heber M. Brown III, founder of the Black Church Food Security Network. Pleasant Hope Baptist Church Senior Pastor Heber M. Brown III founded the Black Church Food Security Network in 2015 with a vision of solving food inequity by enlisting those most directly affected by it. The organization creates “soil to sanctuary” pathways between black and urban farmers with historically African-American congregations and encourages agriculture on church-owned land.
Kayenecha Daugherty, executive director of Creative Nomads. After a long career in the music industry, Kayenecha Daugherty founded Creative Nomads to ensure that youth and families in Baltimore have access to arts, music and culture, and to nurture emerging arts professionals. Last year, it received one of the inaugural Baltimore Children and Youth Fund grants for Drumming with Dad, a program that uses African drums to foster bonding between fathers and children.
Blair Franklin, executive director of the YES Youth Drop-in Center. Long-time black LGBT youth activist Blair Franklin leads Baltimore’s only drop-in center for homeless youth. The center provides services for homeless people aged 14-25 and is founded and run by people who were once homeless themselves. The Youth Empowered Society center has become a national model for combating homelessness by developing the leadership and employment skills of youth and advocating for systemic reform.
Marlo Hargrove, co-founder of Freedom Advocates Celebrating Ex-Offenders. FACE offers transitional housing for men coming out of prison and recovering from addiction, coupled with support services to help reduce recidivism and relapse. Hundreds of men have gotten drug and alcohol treatment, reconnected with their families and gained employment through FACE’s northeast Baltimore location, and now the organization is working to expand to Sandtown-Winchester in West Baltimore.
Nneka N’namdi, founder and director of Fight Blight Bmore. Nneka N’namdi uses her experience in business, technology and the arts to increase awareness and activism around the toll blight takes on communities in terms of trauma, adverse health impacts, crime and disinvestment, as well as the acute dangers posed by unstable structures and unsafe demolition. Fight Blight Bmore is developing a mobile application to allow community members to document, report and analyze blight.
Shantell Roberts, founder and executive director of Touching Young Lives, Inc. The death of her 1-year-old daughter inspired Shantell Roberts to found Touching Young Lives. The organization partners with hospitals to identify new mothers who lack a safe sleeping space for their infants. TYL provides both education and a portable alternative crib — a simple box with a mattress that reduces the risk of sleep-related deaths. So far, it has distributed more than 8,000 of them across Maryland.
Ana Rodney, founder and executive director of MOMCares. A long-time doula, Ana Rodney found herself overwhelmed in 2014 when she gave birth to a premature son. She founded MOMCares to provide post-partum services to financially stressed mothers of color with children in neo-natal intensive care units. The organization offers packaged meals, transportation, bedside support and child care for older siblings, among other services.
Jamye Wooten, founder of CLLCTIVLY. One of the co-founders of Baltimore United for Change in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death in 2015, Jamye Wooten founded CLLCTIVLY in 2019 to reduce the fragmentation and duplication of black-led social change organizations in Baltimore. CLLCTIVLY is developing an online map and directory of such groups in Baltimore based on their focus and location as the first step in fostering collaboration among them. CLLCTIVLY also offers $1,000 no-strings-attached Black Futures Micro-Grants to change-makers in Baltimore.
To vote for your favorites, go to baltimoresun.com/heroes2019. Voting runs until Aug. 15, and the winners will be announced on Oct. 14 in advance of the Baltimore Homecoming event the following two days.