Tonee Lawson

Tonee Lawson, founder of The Be. Org. Courtesy photo

 

 

Three nonprofits join forces to encourage and empower city youth

Community members and others have continued to reflect on the Baltimore uprising that resulted from Freddie Gray’s death. Many have witnessed community leaders from different sectors rise to lead efforts and share their talents to promote change in their city from that uprising. The Baltimore Times has not forgotten the words and reflections of our community leaders. The newspaper continues to amplify these leaders’ voices and shine a spotlight on those who have provided reflections on what has changed and what has remained the same. It will do so through a project titled, “Baltimore Uprising: Have Things Changed or Remained the Same?”

The project, which was instituted in 2020 to observe the uprising’s fifth anniversary, provides an insightful view from community leaders about the past five years. It is made possible by a grant from Open Society Institute-Baltimore, whose goal is to ensure that Baltimore residents have many chances to reflect on the impact of the events that occurred in Baltimore City five years ago. This month, Times Community Services, Inc., in partnership with The Baltimore Times, plans to host a virtual community conversation and an art exhibit to showcase the work of community leaders and artists who have captured and have taken part in the positive change now seen in Baltimore City.

As part of the project made possible by the grant from Open Society Institute-Baltimore, the works of three community leaders who have formed The Baltimore Legacy Builders Collective. “The Baltimore Legacy Builders Collective is a group of three social entrepreneurs who have a great deal of respect for the work that each does, and who have come together as a partnership to share resources,” said Darren Rogers, founder of the nonprofit, I Am MeNtality, a nonprofit focused on assisting male youth with developing their leadership capacity by offering educational and experimental opportunities.

Studies show that Black organizations get a lot less funding than white organizations. Post Freddie Gray, our frustrations are still the same,” said Brittany Young, of b360, an organization that utilizes dirt bike culture to end the cycle of poverty, disrupt the prison pipeline, and builds bridges in communities. “Everyone acknowledges that Baltimore needs real systemic changes, and as people who do the work on the ground, we are out there getting our hands dirty, and people don’t know that we are not compensated, which is a slap in the face,” Young stated.

The object of the collaboration is to build capacity in three individual organizations and to help other Black-owned nonprofits, said Tonee Lawson, founder of The Be. Org. The organization’s mission is to encourage and nurture young people to live above their socially imposed limitations and to develop their character, talents, and leadership skills to allow them to go beyond a dream and achieve excellence.

“The key missing factor [for the collaborative] is funding. As we continue to grow individually and collectively, we know the solutions for the community lies in community organizations,” Lawson stated. The Baltimore Legacy Builders Collective was formed in 2019 after the group secured funding from the T. Rowe Price Foundation to hire a chief development officer who counts as a shared fundraising resource across the three organizations and for The Collective to build capacity and ensure sustainability. As part of the partnership, the group said it plans to empower other community-based organizations to build and replicate their model. Each said there is still much work to do in the community five years after the Baltimore uprising.

“I don’t feel like there has been any high-level and impactful change,” Rogers said. “People have made attempts to create change, but I’m concerned about their ability and the strategy utilized in being able to move the culture forward.” Young said Baltimore’s new administration does inspire hope. “I would say that while Baltimore has been making headway, I’m most proud of how no one wants to go back to that situation. We need more support for our organization, and that is a pain point,” Young continued. “I feel comfortable with the current administration being able to make and implement real change.”

In part, Lawson’s organization was founded because of a young lady’s desire to become an actress. Lawson recalled asking the youth what she was doing to reach her goal. “She had been told that no one from Baltimore ever makes it,” Lawson recalled. “I don’t think Baltimore has made any momentous improvements in terms of improving the outcomes for youth and giving them the courage or confidence to feel that they can make it. We give young people life skills to help them build themselves up. “The work we do is vital, and we are in a pivotal place right now because of all that is happening in the community, nationally, and locally.

“What we need to happen is that institutions, organizations, foundations, and governments fund organizations like ours so that we can continue to do the work vital to our community and vital to our youth.” To learn more about The Collective, visit https://www.baltimorelegacybuilders.org/. To learn more about I Am Mentality, visit https://iammentality.com/. To learn more about The Be.Org, visit https://www.thebeorg.com/.

Brittany Young, of b360 Courtesy photo

I AM MENtality

(left to right) Devin Johnson, Mentee; Darren Rogers, founder and executive director, I AM MENtality; and Jackson Bailey, mentee. Photo Credit: Juan Gordon/JR. Gordon Photography

Darren Rogers

Darren Rogers, founder and executive director, I AM MENtality. Courtesy Photo