The Baltimore Banner is pleased to partner with the nonprofit organizer, Baltimore Homecoming, to help voters choose the 2023 class of Homecoming Heroes.
Nominations were accepted on this page from March 29 through May 15. From the nominees, Baltimore Homecoming’s Selection Committee has chosen 10 semifinalists. Members of the public will determine five winners via the online vote below, which runs through July 31st. The five winners will be invited to share their stories at the signature Baltimore Homecoming event in October.
Kevin Beasley, Program Director, Beats not Bullets
Kevin Beasley has been the Director of Dream Bigger Community Institute and Beats Not Bullets since 2016. The Beats Not Bullets (BNB) program which aims to increase Middle & High School age students’ knowledge of the sound engineering and the recording industry. Participants will graduate with improved awareness, attitude and practice of using instruments, computer software and audio equipment to create music and audio production. Beats Not Bullets Program is officially inside Baltimore City Correctional Facilities. The first BNB Behind The Fence initiative was launched at The Metropolitan Transitional Center (MTC) as of November 2022.
Charita Cole Brown - Author & Mental Health Advocate
Charita Cole Brown was diagnosed with a severe form of bipolar disorder while finishing her final semester as an English major at Wesleyan University. Doctors predicted she would never lead a “normal” life. Despite that pessimistic prognosis and because she sought treatment, Charita went on to marry, raise a family, earn a masters degree in teaching and enjoy a fulfilling career in education. Her powerful story is chronicled in her award-winning debut book, Defying the Verdict: My Bipolar Life (Curbside Splendor Publishing 2018).
Charita Cole Brown earned a BA in English from Wesleyan University and an MAT in Early Childhood Education from Towson University in Maryland. A retired educator, she is now a member of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Maryland Board of Directors and is also active in the local affiliate, NAMI Metropolitan Baltimore.
Iya Dammons - Executive Director, Baltimore Safe Haven
Ms. Iya Dammons is the founding Executive Director of Baltimore Safe Haven and visionary activist for the TLGBQIA+ community.
As a proud trans woman of color, Ms. Dammons suffered the direct impacts of race- and gender-based discrimination through her experiences of homelessness, substance use, violence, and survival sex work in the very streets where she now works to provide help to TLGBQIA+ folks living in survival mode. In 2018, she founded Baltimore Safe Haven, a nonprofit organization based on the civil rights model of “each one, teach one,” and “for us, by us.” Today, BSH provides dedicated TLGBQIA+ housing, workforce development, HIV testing, healthcare, legal services, and more – all from the perspective of oneness and solidarity with the community. In her passion for investing in emerging trans leaders, BSH is now the largest employer of TLGBQIA+ lived-experience staff in the state and the only trans-led nonprofit in Baltimore City.
Vanessa Geffard - Vice President of Education and Outreach, Planned Parenthood of Maryland
Vanessa has been a health educator since she was four years old, starting her career rallying to get her dad to quit smoking. From lunchtime anatomy lessons at her all girls high school to bringing cookies and condoms to people at bars- Vanessa has never shied away from taboo discussions. At Planned Parenthood of Maryland, she serves as the Vice President of Education and Outreach. In that role she leads an incredible team of educators who implement sex ed programming across the lifespan from ages 9 to 99! Her specialty areas include creating a new generation of life affirming sex educators, consent, pop culture and sexuality, body confidence, teen pregnancy and abortion stigma, and healthy relationships.
Vanessa is the founder of VagEsteem™. Created in 2014, VagEsteem was founded as a platform for sex education for folks looking to understand and build up the “esteem” of and in their vulvas. In 2016, VagEsteem launched a podcast to encourage folks to engage in courageous conversations about sex, love, relationships, and everything in between.
Katie Kilby - Founder and President, Reveille Grounds
Katie never set out to “start” anything. In fact, when she’s not trying to convince you that Reveille “just” kinda happened, she’ll probably argue with you that she’s NOT a social entrepreneur and doesn’t have a business inclined bone in her body.
She’s proud to be a nonprofit grunt and individual contributor with her boots firmly planted on the ground, but Katie is also tired of careening towards the thus-far unavoidable brick wall impeding the clear model of collaboration she envisions for Baltimore, the military-connected community, social impact initiatives, and beyond. As a military brat, Returned Peace Corps Volunteer, career nonprofit professional, spouse of a combat-wounded Marine, and mom of 2, we’re confidently optimistic that we’ve done the work, asked the right questions, sought input and perspective, and are the right people to scale The Baltimore Military Muster and breathe life into Reveille Grounds… Baltimore’s ONLY Veteran & Community Impact Hub.
Elijah Miles - Founder and Chairman, Tendea Family
Chairman Elijah Miles is a non-profit leader, dedicated community organizer, and acclaimed public speaker in Baltimore City. Elijah was born and raised in east Baltimore in the neighborhood called down the Hill. He is a proud graduate of Morgan State University and has made two TedX talks about issues relating to Baltimore’s Black community. Elijah works full time as chairman of the popular grassroots organization called Tendea Family.
Tendea advances Baltimore’s Black community by operating transformative programs focused on identity, self improvement, community service & development. Tendea hosts Black manhood and womanhood classes for young people, paid weekly community cleanups and serves our people the best way they know how. With the goal of building the Black community into a solid family, true community and noble nation.
Brian Pham - CEO and Co-Founder, Break a Difference
Brian Pham grew up in both West and East Baltimore and proudly graduated from a city high school repped by a muscly blue and orange parrot. A decade ago, he co-founded a Baltimore-based nonprofit, Break A Difference, that helps other nonprofits coordinate large-scale volunteer projects all over the world.
During the pandemic, Brian reflected on his experiences in volunteerism and service trips and dreamt up a program he wished he had when he was younger. In 2022, he launched ‘From: Baltimore’, a program of Break A Difference, that empowers Black and Brown youth and cultivates their engagement in social impact through volunteerism. For many, volunteering is a privilege, an activity that could even seem impractical when weighed against other obligations. Furthermore, Black and Brown communities are often the communities volunteer efforts are aimed to support, yet these efforts tend to lack Black & Brown representation. Through From: Baltimore, Brian aims to address those barriers by making volunteerism more accessible and by providing culturally meaningful pathways to be more civically engaged in Baltimore.
Nyki Robinson - Founder, Black Girls Vote
Nykidra “Nyki” Robinson is a values-driven leader, entrepreneur, visionary, and motivator with a heart for people and a passion for changing the world.
Nyki was born in Baltimore, Maryland, and is a graduate of Randallstown High School; this first-generation college student attended Frostburg State University on a senatorial scholarship. Nyki graduated with a degree in business administration and a minor in leadership studies. Upon graduation, Nyki studied Mandarin and international business in Beijing, China. In 2018, Nyki was admitted into the 50th Anniversary class of the National Urban Fellows program, where she earned her Masters of Public Administration from Baruch College.
Nyki is an outreach specialist with over 14 years of project management, community engagement, and organizing experience. Often labeled as a “millennial on the move,” Nyki’s life and work experience combined with her interest in politics was birthing ground for the delivery of her biggest project yet, Black Girls Vote, Inc. This non-partisan, grassroots organization focuses on encouraging and mobilizing African American women to use their collective voting power to advocate for issues that impact African American women and families.
Nyki enjoys cooking, event planning, traveling, working out, listening to music, and connecting great people. Nyki is also the proud mother of her son, Nyle.
Rashad Staton - Executive Director, Community Law in Action
Highly motivated, mission oriented, community focused, driven and change agent are a few things that come to mind when you hear, think, and see Rashad Staton. Rashad Staton is a proud native of Baltimore, MD. As former student athlete at Paul Laurence Dunbar High Schools, Rashad earned multiple championships in football, basketball, and lacrosse. During his senior year at Dunbar HS, Rashad proudly served as a U.S. Congressional Page and intern under Congressman Elijah Cumming. Although being a multiple letterman athlete, Rashad tapped into academic astute to receive over 12 academic scholarships to afford him a free college education at Morgan State University.
Following his tenure at City Schools, Rashad was offered the opportunity to serve as the current Executive Director of Community Law In Action, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that further develops and positions youth and youth adults to be stakeholders in decision-making opportunities and policies that directly impact youth populations across the State of Maryland.
Fred Watkins - Executive Director, Lil Laughs
Fred “Big Fred” Watkins, is a Comedian/Actor, and youth advocate. A Baltimore City native, Fred has performed throughout the country. Opening for some of your favorite comedians as he’s becoming one of them himself! Fred has starred on Oxygen TV’s hit reality competition show “Last Squad Standing” and even took home the Grand Prize for team Baltimore! Fred is the founder of both Big Laughs Company and Lil’ Laughs anti-bullying program. Working to counteract self-esteem issues that plague students everyday, and build confidence; through laughter, mentorship, and restorative programs. Fred is a 20th Anniversary Fellow of Open Society Institute - Baltimore.
Now is your time to choose Baltimore Homecoming Heroes of 2023!
You must be at least 13 years old at the time of Ballot submission to vote. All voters must be located in the United States at the time they cast their vote. Limit one Ballot per person and per day. All Ballots from any person in excess of the limit, if detected by Sponsor, will be void, and Sponsor reserves the right to disqualify that voter and all votes submitted by that voter.
Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions or concerns!