News & Community
MEET 30 WOMEN WHO ARE SHAPING BALTIMORE’S FUTURE
“THERE ARE SO MANY AMAZING WOMEN IN BALTIMORE
who are doing great things and working together for a cause,” says our cover model, Black Girls Vote founder and CEO Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson. Baltimore has always been a town that honors and elevates women. They are our politicians and business leaders, our artists and activists. The 30 emerging leaders featured in this story are simply following in that long, great tradition. They are moving Baltimore forward, shaping the future of the region in terms of its priorities, policies, and passions—and inspiring others with their compassion and empathy. “Women approach leadership differently,” says Spoken Word artist Lady Brion. “They don’t embrace the divisiveness of the hierarchy. They are more communicative. More affirming.” But no less powerful. “My mom was my first mentor and still is,” says incoming Baltimore County Public Library director Sonia Alcántara-Antoine, echoing a sentiment voiced by many of our subjects. “She’s strong, tough as nails, and resilient.” Sounds like a city we all know and love.
On Thursday, February 25, we hosted a virtual panel discussion with some of the many leaders featured in this story. They spoke about the inherent greatness of women, the strength and power of voice, and the importance of elevating other women through mentorship.
“AS MORE PEOPLE CRAVE PERSONAL AND MEANINGFUL EXPERIENCES, I THINK SMALL BUSINESSES ARE GOING TO THRIVE.”
“I think it’s incredibly important for neighborhoods to have spaces where everyone feels welcome,” says Julia Fleischaker. And she should know. The owner of Greedy Reads bookstores—her first one in Fells Point, and her latest, in Remington—has created two such spaces. After 20 years on the marketing and publicity end of publishing, the devoted bibliophile says she was craving “actual human connection.” Her bookstores are beautifully curated, welcoming places that encourage browsing, lingering, and lively conversation. (Fleischaker even spotted a marriage proposal at one of her shops!) While in-person book signings and readings are on hold due to the pandemic, she still hosts virtual book clubs, and she recently spearheaded “A Virtual Variety Show” to benefit Writers in Baltimore Schools, which provides creative writing workshops to Baltimore City students. Like all small-business owners, Fleischaker has had her ups and downs lately, but she believes that COVID-19 will ultimately be a boon for her business. “Even before COVID hit, there was a reevaluation happening in what people consider important and what brings value to their lives,” she says. Now, that value is intensified. “As more people crave personal and meaningful experiences, I think small businesses are going to thrive.”
“TOGETHER, BLACK AND BROWN COMMUNITIES ARE BUILDING OUR CITY AND FIGHTING BACK AGAINST HISTORIC AND CURRENT OPPRESSIONS.”
There’s no question that the federal crackdowns on undocumented immigrants in the past four years have complicated Lydia Walther-Rodriguez’s life’s work. But she remains undaunted. As regional director of the immigrant advocate group CASA, Walther-Rodriguez just made her focus local, working, for instance, for Black and Latinx coalition building in Baltimore City and helping to secure new mayor Brandon Scott’s support for municipal IDs for immigrant communities. After immigrating from Panama, the Afro-Latina Walther-Rodriguez first got involved in immigrant rights as a student activist at Morgan State University, arguing for the Maryland DREAM Act in 2010. Since joining CASA three years later, her agenda has included everything from employment, literacy training, and police reform to citizenship and legal services. And now she sees new hope toward achieving all of the group’s goals.“Together, Black and Brown communities are building our city and fighting back against historic and current oppressions,” she says. “In a Biden/Harris administration, we must urge the legislative changes that can bring our families the dignity they deserve, while demanding local policy solutions that respect our peoples’ contributions and improve the quality of life in the Baltimore region.”
“A LOT OF FOLKS LIKE TO USE MY MENTAL ROLODEX. I DO A LOT BEHIND THE SCENES TO CONNECT COLLEAGUES AND KEEP MONEY FLOWING TO GOOD PEOPLE WHO DO GOOD WORK.”
As the founder of Scintillate, a food and lifestyle public relations firm, Marisa Dobson has always loved sharing other people’s stories, including those of clients such as Ida B’s Table and True Chesapeake Oyster Co. Dobson is also one of the driving forces behind community events such as Charm City Night Market, B-More Kitchen’s Battle of the Brands, and Baltimore Creatives Acceleration Network (BCAN). Even off the clock, she’s the consummate connector (“a professional matchmaker” is what she calls herself). Case in point: She introduced designer Tiffanni Reidy to Brittany Wight of Wight Tea Co. and Amanda Mack of Crust by Mack. Reidy ended up designing both of their Whitehall Mill stalls. She also introduced restaurateurs Dave and Tonya Thomas to culinary historian Jessica B. Harris, whom the couple now counts as a close friend. “A lot of folks like to use my mental Rolodex,” says Dobson. “I do a lot behind the scenes to connect colleagues and keep money flowing to good people who do good work.”
“. . . IT’S OKAY TO BE UNAPOLOGETIC ABOUT WHAT WE WANT. WE WANT A RETURN ON OUR INVESTMENT.”
In the wake of the Baltimore Uprising in 2015, Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson launched Black Girls Vote, a nonpartisan organization that encourages Black women to vote and then harness their collective power in concrete ways. That year, more than 300 people were killed in Baltimore, mostly Black men. “There are a lot of Black women that are hurting,” she says. “Those are our fathers and our husbands and sons.” Black women are the most consistent voting block for the Democratic party, she explains. But they rarely ask for anything in return. “It’s okay to be unapologetic about what we want,” Robinson says. Through Black Girls Vote, she “engages, educates, and empowers” Black women across the country about the voting process, in any way possible. (“We go where the voters are,” she says, including a “From the Poles to the Polls” campaign that registered exotic dancers.) But she also teaches them to wield that power, making demands about access, policy, and personnel. “We want a return on our investment,” she says. Speaking of personnel, Vice President Kamala Harris is a great first step. Next, says Robinson, they’re looking for a Black woman on the Supreme Court.
“I CARE SO MUCH ABOUT THIS CITY. I CARE SO MUCH ABOUT US BEING A PART OF THIS HISTORY.”
You may not know artist, activist, and educator SHAN Wallace’s face, but you’ve probably had the good fortune to see the world the way she sees it. Her work—vivid photographs and collages that showcase the Black experience in all its vibrancy, humanity, and beauty—has been seen in the Sun, Washington Post, The New York Times, Vanity Fair, The Atavist, and, on occasion, this magazine. And her installations exploring the nature of archives, how they develop and what exactly they preserve and perpetuate, not only documents Black life and stories, but ensures they persist for the future. “I care so much about the city,” Wallace told Black Is magazine. “I care so much about us being a part of this history and having our lives and experiences, our voices, our narratives solidified in a larger archive but also in a Baltimore archive as well.”
“I WOULD LOVE TO HAVE A BIRD-FRIENDLY GARDEN AT CITY HALL. WOULDN’T THAT BE AWESOME?”
When it comes to protecting the environment, Baltimore has a fearless champion in Susie Creamer. The Patterson Park Audubon Center director has helped Birdland maintain its reputation, with her organization’s inventive programming—from the first Baltimore Birding Weekend to a “green pipeline” for public school students—engaging the local community to protect wildlife, including orioles and ravens. Slowly but surely, Creamer is turning Baltimore into an urban oasis, promoting additional greenspace, and thus habitat, around the city. And now she even has a partnership with the Department of Housing & Community Development to educate inspectors on native plants. “I would love to have a bird-friendly garden at City Hall,” she says. “Wouldn’t that be awesome?”
“WE SHOULD ALL HAVE THE SAME GOALS OF FIXING THE PROBLEMS THAT CITIZENS FACE.”
Born in Cowdensville, a historic African-American community in Southwest Baltimore County, Adrienne Jones is the first Black woman to serve as a presiding officer in Maryland’s General Assembly. Serving as former Speaker Michael Busch’s secondin- command for 17 years until his death in 2019, Jones emerged as the Democrats’ compromise—and surprise—replacement. She quickly put civil rights at the top of the state’s agenda. In last year’s abbreviated session, she successfully advocated for the removal of a Confederate plaque at the State House and shepherded a bill that ended the decade-plus court battle between the state and Maryland’s historically Black universities. This summer, following the death of George Floyd, Jones charged a legislative working group with addressing the way police are trained, and how they are investigated and disciplined. She has said she will push for the repeal of Maryland’s powerful Law Enforcement Officers’ Bill of Rights this session. “My leadership style—I just want you to be honest,” Jones told Maryland Matters last year. “We should all have the same goals of fixing the problems that citizens face.”
“THIS IS AN INCREDIBLE OPPORTUNITY TO HELP DRIVE WHAT HAS LONG BEEN A SIGNATURE PRIORITY FOR JOHNS HOPKINS AND ITS LEADERSHIP AND TAKE IT EVEN FURTHER.”
When she was appointed vice president for economic development for Johns Hopkins University and Johns Hopkins Health System 18 months ago, Alicia Wilson referred to the university and health system as “the most significant institution in our city and region dedicated to economic development.” That’s probably not an exaggeration: Hopkins has reshaped once-blighted parts of the city, especially in East Baltimore, but is also extending its redevelopment reach into places like Charles Village, near the Homewood campus. A Baltimore native, attorney, and long-time civic leader, she leads Hopkins’ recently created Office of Economic Development, expanding the institution’s commitment to the city through investments in economic and neighborhood development, health care, and education. Says Wilson, “This is an incredible opportunity to help drive what has long been a signature priority for Johns Hopkins and its leadership and take it even further.”