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Ravens Insider: 25 Black Marylanders to Watch for 2024, plus 5 Living Legends


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The Baltimore Sun celebrates Black History Month by honoring a wide range of notables who are working to improve the lives, health, education and experiences of all Maryland residents. The third annual 25 Black Marylanders to Watch includes activists and artists, CEOs and presidents, venture startups and adventurous restaurateurs.

The names were chosen by The Sun’s editors and reporters, who cover these topics and communities and see the progress these honorees are making in their fields. In addition, we honor five Living Legends, who continue to give back while still leading in their own ways.

Jump to a section: Activism | Arts | Business | Education | Food | Health | Legal | Politics | Religion | Sports | Living Legends


Annette March-Grier is the president and co-founder of Roberta's House, a grief support center that primarily serves Black residents in Baltimore City and Prince George's County who are coping with loss. (Lloyd Fox/Staff photo)
Annette March-Grier.

Annette March-Grier

President and co-founder, Roberta’s House

Growing up on the second floor of a funeral parlor, Annette March-Grier has always been familiar with mourning. But it was when her mother died in 2006 that she realized supporting families through loss was her calling.

“I often tell people: this is where my grief became my growth, where I turned my pain into passion,” March-Grier said.

March-Grier is the president and co-founder of Roberta’s House, which provides grief education and support in the form of trauma-informed care in Baltimore City and Prince George’s County. In 2021, Roberta’s House opened a $14 million building on East North Avenue.

March-Grier said about 95% of her clientele is African-American. She added that the lack of clinicians in Baltimore who specialize in grief and trauma and treat Black people highlights the need for the free, culturally sensitive services she provides that reach over 2,000 people annually.

“No one should grieve alone,” March-Grier said.

— Maya Lora

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Terri Lee Freeman, former president of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis, Tennessee, became the executive director of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun
Terri Lee Freeman.

Terri Lee Freeman

Director, Reginald F. Lewis Museum

Terri Lee Freeman has never met a mountain she couldn’t move.

As the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture emerges from the pandemic, Freeman’s staff is beginning to inch the taxpayer-supported institution forward.

Freeman is pleased that attendance at Maryland’s premiere Black museum crept up from 19,236 in-person and virtual visitors last year to 20,614 for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2023, as visitors responded to an Afro-Futurist art exhibit and an interactive display inviting guests to imagine the future of Black Baltimore.

There’s still a way to go before the Lewis hits the benchmark of 70,000 visitors annually, but Freeman is confident the goal is achievable. And though the museum just missed the state-mandated requirement to raise 50% of its annual budget last year, Freeman expects the Lewis to meet or surpass that target in 2023-24.

In August, a new permanent installation exploring the history of lynching in Maryland will open.

“I’m really pleased at how the community is engaging with our content,” Freeman said.

— Mary Carole McCauley

SHAN Wallace is an artist and photographer and designed one of the murals at Camden Yards. SHAN is one of the 25 Black Marylanders to Watch. (Lloyd Fox/Staff photo)
SHAN Wallace.

SHAN Wallace

Artist, photographer and muralist

Much like the Orioles last year, artist SHAN Wallace had the city behind her for the unveiling of her new Orioles stadium mural in May.

“I’ve received so much love and encouragement around it,” Wallace said.

Over the summer, the East Baltimorean — whose work has appeared in the Baltimore Museum of Art and in exhibits across the country — concluded her stint as the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s inaugural artist-in-residence.

She kicked off 2024 teaching a teen photography class at the Walters Art Museum; creating a large piece for D.C.’s National Museum of Women in the Arts, where she’ll be featured in this year’s “Women to Watch” exhibit; and pushing forward on “Glory Days,” a documentary that she said captures her experience as a partygoer in Baltimore’s LGBTQ+ nightlife scene.

“The gay scene really raised me,” Wallace said. “I wouldn’t be who I am without gay nightlife in Baltimore, which at one point was just so vivid, and so active and so lively.”

— Abigail Gruskin

Baltimore-based rapper and musician Wordsmith also know as Anthony Parker will perform Saturday with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at Harford Community College's APGFCU Arena.
Jerry Jackson/Baltimore Sun


Songwriter, poet and BSO Partner

Ask the hip-hop artist and activist Wordsmith (aka Anthony Parker) what he’s looking forward to in 2024, and he responds with a “to-do” list that would wear out a battalion.

He is about to embark on a national tour as part of a musical trio performing “Concerts for the Human Family” based on themes of love, unity and reconciliation.

He’ll spend March and April working with students at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Penn North branch to rehearse and perform a play inspired by a museum exhibit celebrating Black female geniuses.

He has a big Black History Month concert coming up in Montgomery County.

Oh, and did we mention that the community action group he founded, Rise With a Purpose, serves lunch every Friday to homeless members of the Penn North neighborhood?

“I don’t want people to remember me primarily as a musician,” Wordsmith said, “but as a good man who was reliable and who tried to lift his city up.”

— Mary Carole McCauley

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P. David Bramble, managing partner and co-founder of Baltimore-based MCB Real Estate. Bramble is leading MCB's project to redevelop Harborplace, which it owns, into a mixed-use development. He is in Crust by Mack, a new business in the Pratt Street pavilion at Harborplace. (Kim Hairston/Staff photo)
P. David Bramble.

P. David Bramble

Managing partner, MCB Real Estate

P. David Bramble had a negative view of developers until he became one himself.

Now the West Baltimore native looks back with pride at local and national projects his MCB Real Estate has worked on since 2007. The Baltimore firm, founded with partner Peter Pinkard, has brought new homes and grocers to distressed areas and transformed contaminated sites.

The MCB managing partner considers the reinvention of Baltimore’s Harborplace his most challenging project yet. MCB is seeking city approval to demolish retail pavilions it bought out of receivership for a mixed-use project set in parkland.

Bramble, a lawyer who began rehabbing rowhouses after law school, is encouraged by support from both city residents and officials, despite some strong opposition to proposed apartments and offices. While MCB expects to pose a ballot question allowing the project, opponents are exploring one to block it.

“Most people recognize that it’s time for really big, sweeping change, huge change, and this project can be the trajectory setter for that change.”

— Lorraine Mirabella 

Delali Dzirasa, fearless founder, poses. ..(Karl Merton Ferron/Staff Photo)
Delali Dzirasa.

Delali Dzirasa

CEO, Fearless

Delali Dzirasa’s Baltimore software company was at a crossroads.

Fearless had been building software with a social or civic impact since 2009, growing in 14 years from a basement startup to about 260 employees as it expanded from government to commercial contracts.

“We looked at our mission and vision, to create a world where good software powers things that matter,” said Dzirasa.  But some societal sectors seemed left out, he said, and it was time to “think a little bit bigger about how we actually drive this kind of impact around the world.”

In August, Fearless launched a new business model to overcome blockers that can derail digital transformation, establishing two new divisions. Fearless Digital develops software, while Denver-based Fearless Guides, an acquisition, coaches leaders in developing people, operations and strategies.

Fearless now aims to generate $1 billion in revenue, work in 10 countries and improve 100 million lives, by 2030.

Dzirasa looks forward to “the blank canvas of how are we going to solve this? …I’ve always been driven by impact and how do we build things that help people.”

— Lorraine Mirabella 

Maurissa Stone (LaKaye Mbah Photography/handout)
Maurissa Stone (LaKaye Mbah Photography/handout)

Maurissa Stone

Organizer, The Black Canni

Maurissa Stone got into her line of work “as a result of a painful problem.”

Stone, who has worked in community development, non-profit management and consulting, saw racism embedded in policies and practices throughout workplaces and organizations, meaning “your ability to survive as a Black person has less to do with what you’re bringing to the table and more to do with your ability to negotiate the culture.”

Seeking solutions, she started Living Well Center, now at Baltimore Unity Hall on Eutaw Place, as director of innovation. It started in Remington in 2009  “to house a community that’s focused on addressing harm and healing for Black people.”

In October, hoping to broaden access to Maryland’s legalized recreational cannabis industry and as a healing tool, she launched the Black Canni conference of pharmacists, growers, and business and legal experts.

“There’s a stigma attached to cannabis. But cannabis today is not the scary dude on the corner anymore.”

Stone, who offers DEI consulting through Iona Concepts, hopes to spread a Black Canni movement beyond Baltimore.

“My work is rooted in liberation for Black people.”

— Lorraine Mirabella 

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Heidi Anderson president, University of Maryland Eastern Shore.
Heidi M. Anderson.

Heidi M. Anderson

President, University of Maryland, Eastern Shore

Heidi M. Anderson became president of the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, one of Maryland’s four historically Black colleges and universities, in 2018.

Under her tenure, the university, located in Princess Anne, saw increased enrollment along with HBCU’s nationwide. Additionally, the school saw its first U.S. News & World Report ranking in 2023 after the publication listed it as one of the top HBCUs in the nation..

“One great year of rankings does not make a great university,”  Anderson said in a news release. “But our sustained rise in the rankings indicates that we are on the right trajectory of performance. Our rise in the rankings is a reflection of the quality of our students and faculty and the commitment of our leadership team to sustained excellence.”

Anderson did not make herself available for an interview.

Anderson holds a Ph.D. in pharmacy administration and was previously the provost and vice president for academic affairs at Texas A&M University-Kingsville from 2015 to 2017. She served as the provost and vice president of Academic Affairs at the University of the Sciences in Philadelphia from 2013 to 2015.

— Caitlyn Freeman

Katrina Caldwell, Vice Provost for Diversity and Inclusion and Chief Diversity Officer at Johns Hopkins University. (Chris Paulis Photography)
Katrina Caldwell.

Katrina Caldwell

Vice provost for diversity and inclusion, Johns Hopkins University

Katrina Caldwell had a busy first month when she joined the Johns Hopkins University in 2020 as vice provost for diversity and inclusion. In addition to being in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic, a swastika was found in a campus building.

Caldwell has 30 years of experience leading colleges and universities’ diversity missions, primarily in Chicago. As DEI initiatives are scrutinized as a zero-sum game at a national level, Caldwell remains clear-eyed that diversity means everyone deserves to be in environments that support their goals, needs and what they need to feel safe to thrive.

Higher education institutions, whether public or private, have a responsibility to change the conditions of their community, especially if that community is marginalized, Caldwell said. Community members, in conversations with Caldwell’s office, have said they want a stronger, mutually beneficial relationship with the university.

“It’s not about just giving out money,” Caldwell said. “It really is about building relationships.”

She’s leading Hopkins’ $6 million, five-year Diversity and Inclusion Strategic Plan, which evaluates the institution’s culture and advances future goals in areas like research, health equity and academics. Hopkins just completed a year-long campus-wide climate study that will be presented in February.

— Lilly Price

Dr. David Heiber, founder and CEO of Concentric Education Solutions. Photo for 25 Black Marylanders to Watch.(Lloyd Fox/Staff)
David Heiber.

David Heiber

Founder, Concentric Education Solutions

Just 1% of all venture capital funding in 2022 went to Black-founded companies. This fall, David Heiber was in that 1%, having received a $5 million series A round from Maryland-based New Markets Venture Partners.

Heiber’s education technology start-up, Concentric Education Solutions, is used by 200 schools in six states to conduct home visits that reconnect chronically absent students with school, in addition to tutoring and mentoring services. His employees visited 20,000 homes in Baltimore last year.

“It’s an anomaly in and of itself,” Heiber said of the $5 million investment. “It gives us a tremendous visibility.”

A former teacher and school administrator in Baltimore and Washington, D.C., he started his company in 2010. He plans to use the funding to hire chief executives and scale the company’s software infrastructure. Concentric created an re-engagement app to track why students miss school and to share that information with educators. The company also provides mental health counseling.

— Lilly Price

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Jasmine Norton, executive chef and owner of The Urban Oyster, at the new location on the Avenue in Hampden. (Kim Hairston/Staff photo)
Jasmine Norton.

Jasmine Norton

Owner, The Urban Oyster

In just seven years, Jasmine Norton has been through the highs and the lows of the restaurant industry. But 2024 is looking particularly bright.

Norton, a self-taught chef, launched her seafood business, The Urban Oyster, in 2017 after leaving a career as a sales manager in New York City. She started out shucking oysters at farmers markets, festivals and brewery pop-ups before opening her first brick-and-mortar, in Locust Point, in 2019.

The restaurant proved to be short-lived, shutting down in the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Norton, however, was determined to make a comeback. She moved into the kitchen at the Hotel Revival in Mount Vernon, turning out chargrilled oysters and shrimp tacos for curbside pickup. Later, she launched a spinoff business, The Urban Burger Bar, inside of Hampden’s Whitehall Market.

As a new year begins, she’s about to open a new dining room for The Urban Oyster. The restaurant will debut in February at 914 W. 36th St. It’s garnering buzz not only for the food — new dishes will include lobster cavatelli and oxtail lasagna — but also for its significance: Norton believes she is the first Black woman to own an oyster bar in Baltimore.

“I’m a woman of my word,” she said recently, standing in front of the restaurant. “This is not only redemption for the brand, this is redemption for the community, for everyone who supports us. We’re bigger and better being here.”

— Amanda Yeager

Restaurateur Chris Simon is preparing to open Prim & Proper, a new restaurant on Redwood Street. (Jerry Jackson/Staff photo)
Chris Simon.

Chris Simon

Founder, BLK Swan and BTST Services

Baltimore foodies have likely heard of BLK Swan, the trendy Harbor East restaurant and nightlife spot that Chris Simon opened in 2021.

What they may not know is that Simon has also found success in a very different field: mental health treatment.

Simon, who has a master’s degree in social work from Morgan State University, founded BTST Services in 2008, inspired by a job working as a mentor in group homes. The company offers psychiatric rehabilitation, medication management and therapy to clients throughout Maryland.

Sixteen years in, BTST has nearly 300 employees and offices in Baltimore, Lanham, Frederick and Hagerstown. Simon has partnered with celebrities like Taraji P. Henson and Charlamagne tha God to destigmatize mental health treatment.

The company is poised to expand after a recent investment by Webster Equity Partners. Simon declined to share a dollar amount, but said he wants to offer services outside of Maryland next.

He’s getting ready for growth on the restaurant front, as well. In February, he’ll open Prim & Proper, a new restaurant and social club in downtown Baltimore with chef Calvin Riley and partners Berry and Janell Clark of Papi Cuisine. Simon’s vision is for the restaurant to bring an upscale experience to the downtown dining scene.

“I’m always working to fill the void,” he said.

— Amanda Yeager

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Dr. Esa Davis is the inaugural associate vice president for community health at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. She also serves as senior associate dean for population health and community medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.
Dr. Esa Davis.

Dr. Esa Davis

Associate vice president for community health, University of Maryland Baltimore and senior associate dean for population and community medicine, University of Maryland School of Medicine

Dr. Esa Davis is quick to say that she stands on the shoulders of giants – more specifically, the shoulders of her grandmother, who worked as a registered nurse in an intensive care unit in North Carolina for more than 40 years.

Her grandmother, a bright and caring woman who ran her own hair salon when she wasn’t working the night shift, had always wanted to be a physician, Davis said. But as a child born in the segregated South, that wasn’t possible. She hoped one of her five children would go into medicine, but although all of them graduated from college and received master’s degrees, none of them chose that path.

“She then tried to work on her grandchildren,” Davis said with a laugh.

Inspired by her grandmother, Davis became a family physician, treating patients for more than 20 years. She has a particular passion for helping mothers and their babies, and is a widely published researcher funded by the National Institutes of Health.

In May, the University of Maryland School of Medicine said that Davis would serve as the University of Maryland Baltimore’s inaugural associate vice president for community health and the senior associate dean for population and community medicine for the school of medicine.

In these roles, Davis will work with the communities surrounding the schools to promote public health and will help direct the development of a population health strategy for the School of Medicine.

— Angela Roberts

Tiffany Tate is the executive director of the Maryland Partnership for Prevention and the creator of the PrepMod software.
Tiffany Tate.

Tiffany Tate

Executive director, Maryland Partnership for Prevention

Tiffany Tate had every intention of returning to California when she came to Baltimore in the 1990s to get her master’s degree at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

And yet, nearly 30 years after she graduated, Tate still lives in the city and loves it as much as she did when she first learned about its many strengths and challenges as a student.

Tate, executive director of the Maryland Partnership for Prevention — a nonprofit that aims to boost national and local immunization efforts — sees public health as a calling, rather than a career. She particularly believes in the power of technology to give health workers the freedom to more creatively and efficiently serve their community.

Before the coronavirus pandemic began, Tate created software to help parents register their children for flu shot clinics at their local schools and prevent workers from being “buried under 10,000 pieces of paper.”

That same software ultimately became key to Maryland’s pandemic response, when the state health department contracted with Tate’s organization to allow Marylanders to use it to schedule vaccine appointments and for health care providers to report immunization data to the state. The software, PrepMod, was also used in two dozen other jurisdictions and states around the country, and Tate’s nonprofit donated it to historically Black colleges and universities.

“I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d be able to contribute to my field in this way,” Tate said.

— Angela Roberts

Dr. Michael Zollicoffer.

Dr. Michael Zollicoffer

Baltimore pediatrician

Dr. Michael Zollicoffer, or Dr. Z, as he is better known to his patients, is proud to say that he followed in his father’s footsteps.

In 1962, his father, Dr. Lawrence Zollicoffer, became the fourth African American to graduate from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. While the elder Zollicoffer had graduated from the historically Black North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University at 17 years old, he waited for 10 years — until the University of North Carolina would admit him — to begin studying for his medical degree.

The younger Zollicoffer also graduated from the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. And just as his father joined other Black physicians to open the Garwyn Medical Center in Baltimore, Zollicoffer opened his own medical practice almost 40 years ago.

Throughout his career, Zollicoffer has mentored dozens of medical students, training them to champion the needs of their underserved patients. Zollicoffer is still known to make house calls to people who are too ill to come to his office or who don’t have transportation.

“If the insurance is good or not, we’ll still see you,” he said, “and if you don’t have anything to pay, then you don’t pay.”

— Angela Roberts

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Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead.
Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead.

Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead

Adjutant General, Maryland National Guard

Where “opportunity meets preparation” is how Maj. Gen. Janeen Birckhead describes her 30-year military career.

Before assuming her current post as Adjutant General of Maryland, the two-star Army general came from a family that prized community service and civic engagement. As a teenager growing up in Snow Hill, her mother, civil rights icon Fannie Ward Birckhead, urged her daughter to serve her community, from raising money via bikeathons, to volunteering as a candy striper at Peninsula Regional Hospital in Salisbury.

Now, as the only Black woman leading a state military, Birckhead oversees 6,000 Guard members and civilian federal and state employees as they navigate everything from operating COVID testing sites, to preparing Marylanders for natural disasters and beefing up the state’s cybersecurity infrastructure.

Service is a “part of who I am at the grassroots level,” she said. “I see that in this role I’m able to impact people’s lives for the better.”

— Lia Russell

Kerri-Ann Lawrence is the first woman of color to be Lab Director of Forensic Services for the Baltimore County Police Department. She is standing in the county's fingerprint lab. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/staff photo)
Kerri-Ann Lawrence.

Kerri-Ann Lawrence

Lab Director, Forensic Services Section, Baltimore County Police Department

Kerri-Ann Lawrence is a stickler for procedure with a strong sense of justice, useful qualities for the head of Baltimore County Police Department’s forensics lab. “When something is wrong, it just irks me so much,” Lawrence said. “I might not be a lawyer but I’m still fighting for others.”

At 17, she immigrated to Baltimore from Jamaica with her family. After a semester at Towson University, she joined the U.S. Army, serving her first year in South Korea.

Lawrence began her career in Baltimore County as a crime scene technician in 2004, earning master’s degrees in intelligence analysis from Johns Hopkins University and forensic science from National University. She became lab director in September.

“I was filled with so much emotion: ‘Little me, all the way from Jamaica,’” she said. “A vet in the military, all of this and now I’m here.”

— Cassidy Jensen

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Angela Crenshaw is the first Black woman to lead the Maryland Park Service.
Angela Crenshaw.

Angela Crenshaw

Superintendent, Maryland Park Service

Angela Crenshaw called her role as the first Black woman to lead Maryland’s Park Service “astounding” — but she also understands the responsibility of restructuring an agency that, in her words, has had “a trying year and a half, two years.”

Crenshaw was named the Park Service’s acting superintendent following the arrest of former Gunpowder Falls manager Michael Browning on rape charges. He was convicted of a misdemeanor sex offense.

Crenshaw was officially appointed superintendent of Maryland’s Park Service late last year.

“What’s that saying – life comes at  you fast?” she said.

Crenshaw started at the Department of Natural Resources in 2008 in its Boating Services division and became a park ranger in 2013.

As she moves the Park Service forward, Crenshaw wants to be available to her staff to provide a safe and welcoming environment for rangers and visitors, noting Maryland’s “history of segregation” on its public lands.

“I know that sounds simple, but it hasn’t been in the past — the recent past and way back,” said Crenshaw.

— Hannah Gaskill

Federalsburg Town Council member Darlene Hammond. Darlene Hammond and Brandy James were elected to the town council in Sept. as the first elected Black council members in the town's 200-year history. Their election followed an NAACP and ACLU-led lawsuit to correct the voting districts to ensure better representation for the town's Black residents.(Lloyd Fox/Staff)
Darlene Hammond.

Darlene Hammond

Councilwoman, Federalsburg

Darlene Hammond had become used to working behind the scenes for her community — whether she was mentoring young people, volunteering during elections or serving on the board of a Caroline County-created advisory group to improve services for residents.

So when she stepped into the spotlight in her small town last summer by running and winning a seat on the Federalsburg town council, it was something of a new experience, and in more ways than one.

Hammond, a former pharmacy technician, became one of the first two Black council members in Federalsburg’s 200-year history after an NAACP and ACLU-led lawsuit to create a more equitable voting system there.

Hammond said she’s trying to use her new platform to inspire civic engagement for a community that still struggles to get involved, even after a historic victory.

“Your vote is your voice, and it does matter,” Hammond said. “If you want change you have to show up. You have to sit in that seat. It can’t be an empty seat.”

— Sam Janesch

Federalsburg Town Council member Brandy James. Darlene Hammond and Brandy James were elected to the town council in Sept. as the first elected Black council members in the town's 200-year history. Their election followed an NAACP and ACLU-led lawsuit to correct the voting districts to ensure better representation for the town's Black residents.(Lloyd Fox/Staff)
Brandy James.

Brandy James

Councilwoman, Federalsburg

More than four months after a monumental victory that made her and a colleague the first two Black residents of Federalsburg to win seats on the town council in history, Brandy James said she’s still just getting started.

“It does bring a different mindset to the council, a different perspective,” James said.

A crisis intervention expert who conducts trainings for police agencies, James was elected to the four-person town council in Caroline County in September after an NCAA and ACLU-led federal lawsuit to create a more equitable voting system.

The lawsuit followed a long line of similar cases over several decades, particularly across Maryland’s Eastern Shore, to align with the Voting Rights Act.

James said while the council hasn’t made any major decisions in her short tenure so far, she’s looking forward to focusing on issues like affordable housing, developing programs for the elderly and bringing more daycare centers to the 2,800-person town.

— Sam Janesch

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Rev. Robert R.A. Turner, 41, at the Empowerment Temple AME Church which he has led since 2021. Rev. Turner has been named one of 25 Black Marylanders to Watch. (Amy Davis/Staff photo)
Rev. Robert Turner.

Rev. Robert Turner

Senior pastor, Empowerment Temple AME Church

Martin Luther King Day found the Rev. Robert Turner taking on the same challenge he’d tackled 15 times since taking over as senior pastor of Empowerment Temple AME Church in West Baltimore: walking the 42.9 miles from its campus on Primrose Avenue to the White House.

The preacher with the booming voice chatted with passers-by and Instagram followers along the way. Thirteen hours later, he led a demonstration calling for the creation of a commission to explore how the government could make reparations for slavery.

Each of his 16 walks has drawn attention to a civil or human rights issue, and for Turner, the soreness and shredded sneakers are well worth the trouble.

“With Maryland’s large Black population, it should be a no-brainer that people in its largest city should lead on these issues,” he says. “Baltimore and America are still suffering from the issue of race.”

Since taking over at Empowerment, the megachurch founded by the charismatic Rev. Dr. Jamaal H. Bryant in 2000, he has stabilized its once shaky financial picture, spearheaded a building renovation, started a monthly fresh-food giveaway program, created community prayer stations, founded a benevolence committee to help locals with bills, and even found time to write a book. “Creating a Culture of Repair,” which offers 120 ideas for helping to heal racial divides, is to be published in April.

He’ll be making another walk to Washington in honor of Black History Month on Presidents’ Day (Feb. 19), where he again hopes to convince political leaders and others to see the urgency of the reparations issue.

“We are growing for Christ,” he says.

— Jonathan Pitts

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LSU Lady Tigers forward Angel Reese gestures for a three point basket scored by a teammate3 against the Coppin State Eagles during a non conference homecoming game for the St. Frances Academy Panthers alum and NCAA basketball champion...(Karl Merton Ferron/Staff Photo)
LSU Lady Tigers forward Angel Reese gestures for a three point basket scored by a teammate3 against the Coppin State Eagles during a non conference homecoming game for the St. Frances Academy Panthers alum and NCAA basketball champion…(Karl Merton Ferron/Staff Photo)

Angel Reese

Power forward, LSU women’s basketball team

As long as she’s playing for the Tigers, Angel Reese will be known there as “The Bayou Barbie.” But after leading the reigning NCAA champions to an 80-48 rout of Coppin State at the Eagles’ Physical Education Complex Arena on Dec. 20, the 6-foot-3 junior reminded media members that she was “The Baltimore Barbie” first.

That loyalty has endeared the Randallstown native and St. Frances graduate to thousands of basketball fans in and around the Baltimore area. It wasn’t that long ago when Reese herself was enthralled by another Baltimore star, Angel McCoughtry.

“Seeing what Angel did in college and the WNBA, winning Olympic gold medals with Team USA, that inspired me to dream big,” she said. “Being someone that this next generation of kids can latch onto and build their dreams around means a lot to me, and I take that responsibility seriously.”

— Ed Lee

Chad Steel, SVP of Communications for the Baltimore Ravens. (Lloyd Fox/Staff)
Chad Steele.

Chad Steele

Senior vice president of communications, Baltimore Ravens

Chad Steele and his family were at a hibachi restaurant in Hunt Valley in 2016 when a nearby table overheard him talking about leaving for the Super Bowl the next day.

When Steele said he worked for the Ravens, the man’s young son from the other table started glowing over the jersey and autographed picture of wide receiver Steve Smith Sr. he’d received for Christmas.

Seeing the reaction, Steele handed his phone to the boy: Smith was on the other end.

“What did that cost the Ravens?” Steele says.

As the son of an Army colonel, Steele moved 14 times growing up, so community has always been important. “Some of them I was accepted, some of them I wasn’t,” he says. Which is why he finds his role with the Ravens so rewarding.

Whether it’s connecting the media to the team, or connecting with fans, relationships and having an impact is what matters most to the father of two. Said Steele: “That’s the best part.”

— Brian Wacker

Coppin State men's basketball coach Larry Stewart is one of the Black Marylanders to Watch for 2024. (Kevin Richardson/Staff photo)
Larry Stewart.

Larry Stewart

Coach, Coppin State men’s basketball team

Reviving the Eagles basketball program wasn’t going to be simple — even for someone with the gravitas of Larry Stewart, a two-time Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Player of the Year and a five-year NBA veteran who is regarded as one of the greatest players in the school’s history.

Still, Coppin State’s lackluster record thus far is a sobering reminder that expectations should be reasonable.

Stewart remains committed to restoring the Eagles to their previous heights of four MEAC Tournament championships with the last occurring in 2008.

“There’s a fiery side because I love the game of basketball and I want to win,” he said. “But I also understand that it’s about patience. I see the game a certain way, and I played the game a certain way. So if your team is not on that level, you have to have patience with them. Over time and with that patience will come the wins.”

— Ed Lee

Frances Tiafoe of the United States plays a backhand in their round two singles match against Tomas Machac of the Czech Republic during the 2024 Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Jan. 17, 2024 in Melbourne, Australia. (Photo by Phil Walter/Getty Images)
Frances Tiafoe.

Frances Tiafoe

Professional tennis player

When tennis phenom Frances Tiafoe reached the 2022 U.S. Open semifinals, he was the first American man to do so since 2006 — and the first Black American man in 50 years.

The next year, “Big Foe,” currently ranked no. 14 in the world, reached a career-high ranking of no. 10.

It wouldn’t have been possible if not for his early training at College Park’s Junior Tennis Champions Center, which the Hyattsville native credited as “the only reason why I am where I am in my career.”

“It gave me 24/7 access to play the sport and made me fall in love with the game,” Tiafoe said in an email interview.

He launched a charitable fund there last summer with the USTA foundation and was inducted into the USTA Mid-Atlantic Hall of Fame in December. With three ATP singles titles under his belt, his sights are set on breaking into the sport’s top five.

“I want to keep making the DMV proud,” he said.

— Abigail Gruskin

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Living Legends

Alvin O. Gillard will retire at the end of Feb. from his role as executive director of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, a role he has held for 10 years. He has worked to defend civil rights in Maryland for over 40 years. (Jerry Jackson/Staff photo)
Alvin O. Gillard.

Alvin O. Gillard

Executive director, Maryland Commission on Civil Rights

This month is Alvin O. Gillard’s last as executive director of the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights, a position he’s held for nearly 10 years.

The commission is the state’s anti-discrimination agency which investigates complaints in areas like employment, housing and public accommodations. Gillard manages the day-to-day operations and will retire at the end of February.

“This agency is as relevant today as it was when it was created,” Gillard said. “We’d like to think the progress that we’ve made renders agencies like this obsolete. But that absolutely is not based in reality.”

By Gillard’s own estimation, he has spent over 40 years promoting civil rights. And he doesn’t see a future where work like his won’t be needed. He encouraged Marylanders to not “rest on past gains” and to be proactive about attacks on voting rights, reproductive rights and affirmative action.

“While we make progress, we are also fighting many of the same fights over and over again,” Gillard said.

— Maya Lora

Warren Hayman, a retired Morgan professor, is nominated as a Black Marylanders to Watch for 2024 for his work shaping students for generations. (Warren Hayman)
Warren C. Hayman.

Warren C. Hayman

Former Morgan State University educator

Warren C. Hayman has shaped generations of students through his decades of work in education.

“My motivation for my work is helping students of color to succeed in school and in life at all levels,” Hayman said in an email.

He worked for 42 years at Morgan State University as assistant dean of education until 2004. Then, he joined the school’s Urban Educational Leadership Program, which prepares future leaders, as a program coordinator until retiring in 2021.

Along with his work at Morgan, Hayman was on the Baltimore County School Board for 10 years. He has been the president of the Dunbar High School advisory board for the last 10 years.

Hayman said his greatest accomplishment was helping develop the Dunbar High School Health Partnership, which pairs Dunbar students with Johns Hopkins resources.

The program has produced doctors, pharmacists, college professors and nurses, among other professions.

— Tony Roberts

Dr. Joanne Martin, founded the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum with her husband Elmer in 1883, (Jerry Jackson/Staff photo)
Joanne Martin.

Joanne Martin

President and co-founder, The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum

Forty years ago, Joanne Martin pawned her wedding ring to help establish the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum. Now, the celebrated gallery boasts 150 life-sized exhibits, draws 80,000 visitors annually and — thanks in part to a $2 million grant last year from the federal government — will complete an expansion at its site on North Avenue in 2026.

Martin, who has two masters degrees and a Ph.D. in educational psychology, stays determined to build on the legacy of the museum set forth by her late husband, Elmer, who died in 2001.

“I have commitment, passion and drive to tell our [African-American] story, uncompromisingly and unapologetically, and to light a spark in children and make them want to learn our past,” said Martin, a historian and author who lives in Gwynn Oak.

“If I can make young people cry [at the starkest museum displays], then they have grabbed hold of history in an emotional way,” she said. “They must feel the importance of human life through the sacrifices [their forebears] have made, and how precious their own lives are now.”

— Mike Klingaman

Ernestine Shepherd, 87, who holds a Guinness world record (in 2010 and 2011) for being the oldest female bodybuilder in the world, teaches her Body Sculpture class at You Fit in Randallstown. She will be the Grand Marshal in the 2024 MLK Day parade in Baltimore. (Barbara Haddock Taylor/staff photo)
Ernestine Shepherd.

Ernestine Shepherd

Bodybuilder and community health activist

Decades ago, Ernestine Shepherd’s sister inspired the now 87-year-old to adopt a fitness regime many in their 20s would struggle to emulate. Today, Shepherd keeps a tribute to her sister in her bedroom: Christian Larson’s “The Optimist Creed,” which she reads every day.

“When she died, she said to me, ‘I want you to keep doing what we have been doing and help as many people as we can to live a healthy, happy, positive, confident lifestyle,'” Shepherd said.

Recognized twice as the oldest female bodybuilder in the world, Shepherd trains clients at YouFit gym in Randallstown and hosts a community walk in Druid Hill Park once a month. The lifelong Baltimorean also travels all over the country to speak on the importance of walking and encourages others to pursue healthier lifestyles through exercise.

Living according to the creed, Shepherd strives to “give so much time to improving myself that I have no time whatsoever to criticize others.”

— Maya Lora

At ringside was Baltimore's mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young, enjoying the bouts on the Gervonta "Tank" Davis against Ricardo Núñez fight card at Royal Farms Arena.
Kevin Richardson / Baltimore Sun
Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young.

Bernard C. ‘Jack’ Young

Former mayor of Baltimore

Bernard C. “Jack” Young has been busy since leaving Baltimore City Hall in 2020. He alternates days as a “climate volunteer” at Dunbar High School and NAF Academy, and at his church when he isn’t spending time with his five grandchildren.

On top of that, the longtime East Baltimore councilman is still who people turn to when they need help finding a job, paying water bills, or getting their trash picked up. “Just issues that make a person’s life better,” said Young.

Young left office as acting mayor in December 2020 after shepherding the city through a ransomware attack, disgraced Mayor Catherine Pugh’s “Healthy Holly scandal,” and the pandemic. Observers applauded him for steering the city through some “troubled times,” stepping up after representing East Baltimore for nearly 25 years on the council.

“Public service was my life,” Young said of his 25-year career in politics. “People knew to turn to me because I got stuff done.”

— Lia Russell

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