Some of the area’s most influential community organizers and leaders were honored as The Baltimore Banner’s second class of Emerging Leaders on Wednesday night, which was presented by CFG Bank.

The 13 honorees shared their stories about how they’re making an impact in Baltimore and beyond at an event at The Center Club in downtown Baltimore. Each honoree was selected from a pool of community nominations by a committee of local leaders.

Read more about each honoree below.

Max Altmark, CFO, Concentric

Max Altmark is the CFO of Concentric Educational Solutions. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Education will always be at the heart of solutions to challenges Baltimore’s young people face, said Max Altmark, the chief financial officer of Concentric Educational Solutions, which provides services to address absenteeism for school districts.

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Altmark said his family’s focus on the importance of education has stuck with him as he has pursued his own educational and career goals. He immigrated from Belarus to Baltimore with his parents and grandparents in the 1990s, and his family settled in Pikesville. Altmark is a grandson of Holocaust survivors, and his family found Baltimore and the Jewish culture around them welcoming.

“I always consider Baltimore my home,” he said.

He has found meaning in giving back to the Baltimore community since his high school and college days when he participated in community service projects. At Towson University, he was president of Beta Alpha Psi and a member of multiple national honor societies. Altmark graduated top of his class and was the winter graduation ceremony commencement speaker for the undergraduate class.

After Towson, he worked in an accounting career in audit practice at KPMG Baltimore and became a certified public accountant. While his professional training led him to a career in accounting and financial reporting, he continued to seek opportunities to serve.

He regularly came back to Towson for alumni and student group events hosted by Beta Alpha Psi and the National Association of Black Accountants. After KPMG, Altmark joined the Georgetown University Investment Office and completed an MBA from the McDonough School of Business. After Georgtown, he joined Project Lead the Way, which provides professional development to thousands of teachers.

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He then joined Concentric, the Baltimore-based, minority-owned educational services company that provides comprehensive support, including home visits, tutoring and mentoring, for kids from elementary school to high school.

“No simple, easy solution” exists for addressing student absenteeism, Altmark said, but the engagement that Concentric offers has succeeded for the students and their families.

“We’re actually there in the community, in person,” he said. “We are members of the community.”

The guidance, mentorship and tutoring components are providing a solution to the chronic absenteeism affecting schools in Baltimore and elsewhere, Altmark said.

Dr. Christina Brown, Module Leader, Kaiser Permanente

Dr. Christina Brown is a pediatrician with Kaiser Permanente. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Overseeing four medical centers and eight pediatricians, along with caring for patients, sounds like a demanding workload. But Dr. Christina Brown, a pediatrician and module leader for Kaiser Permanente, calls it inspirational work.

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A Maryland native and daughter of medical missionaries, Brown said she is driven by service. Her experience on medical missions with her parents and later as an adult expanded the scope of how she views equality of care, access to care and care experience.

“I’ve grown up in that space of servant and servant leadership,” Brown said. “I went on my first trip in high school, and just seeing the global needs helps you understand the bigger picture much beyond your own exam room.”

That perspective has shown up in her work. As a module leader, Brown manages the overall quality, experience, working conditions and day-to-day operation of centers that care for more than 11,000 pediatric patients. Brown said her goal is to make sure “we are making our greatest impact on health outcomes for patients.”

The results include Brown consistently receiving high patient satisfaction scores among Kaiser Permanente pediatricians in Baltimore. She participates in advocacy groups and uses media appearances and social media engagement to expand education and information.

She created nine child health advocacy modules to teach pediatric residents how to practice advocacy skills after witnessing the health care disparities and effects of toxic stress on the health of her patients.

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She’s continuing that advocacy with another project establishing a healthy lifestyles clinic that would provide resources, educational support and health coaching for everything from mental health to weight management. The vision is for it to be available to all Kaiser Permanente centers in the mid-Atlantic.

“Recent studies with the CDC [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] are showing adolescent groups dealing with mental health concerns and increased risky behavior that is leading to kids experiencing adult problems,” Brown said. “We have really developed our adult programs and resources, but for kids there’s a lot of work to do and, if you prevent it, it’s better for health.”

Chelsea Crawford, Partner, Brown Goldstein & Levy

Chelsea J. Crawford is a partner with the law firm Brown, Goldstein & Levy LLP. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Chelsea Crawford thought journalism would be her way to make an impact on society. Growing up in Philadelphia, she interned for her local paper, the Mount Airy Times, in Germantown. Even after graduating from college, she continued to pursue opportunities in shaping the news, but the work didn’t feel like enough.

She discovered how she could be an advocate when she started law school at the University of Maryland, Baltimore. The clinical law program under Director Michael Pinard is where Crawford finally determined she was on the right career track.

“I saw how, through that work, small things could change someone’s life,” Crawford said.

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Not long after graduating, she joined Brown, Goldstein & Levy in 2015, and continued to find ways to support the community through civil and criminal litigation, pro bono work and volunteer initiatives that help her make a difference in people’s lives.

“There are so many people in Maryland alone who need legal services and can’t afford them, and that’s people from all walks of life,” Crawford said. “There are plenty of people who are middle-income, working families who can’t afford to hire a lawyer but have real, serious legal issues that they need help navigating.”

Crawford has provided pro bono services through the Maryland Volunteer Lawyer Service, which gives her an opportunity to work on expungements and other cases, especially those tied to reentry after incarceration.

“That work feels most impactful to me because you can change someone’s life,” she said. “Someone on probation who needs a job to be able to adhere to their probation conditions may not be able to get a job if they’ve got an offense on their record.”

Crawford’s work also includes helping those who have been wrongfully convicted. She began working on wrongful conviction cases in 2016 by helping those who were exonerated but spent decades in prison get some sense of justice through civil lawsuits.

“If I could wave a magic wand, it would be to have every person who is truly innocent of a crime be released,” Crawford said. “Whenever you have innocent people who are serving time for something they did not do, that is a threat to the criminal justice system overall, because our criminal justice system shouldn’t make those kinds of grave mistakes. Mistakes like these destroy people’s families, their trust and entire communities. I’ve been fortunate to be on the side of helping those individuals get some kind of justice through civil lawsuits or through getting their innocence recognized kand compensated by the state.”

Tyde-Courtney Edwards, Founding Director, Ballet After Dark

Tyde-Courtney Edwards is the CEO of Ballet After Dark. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

In pursuing work to help survivors of stalking and sexual and intimate-partner violence, Tyde-Courtney Edwards said she was “recognizing the lack of resources that were available to me during my time of need.”

She is the founder of Ballet After Dark, which uses trauma-informed, holistic dance therapy to help survivors of stalking and sexual and intimate partner violence. She said the program aims to address the lack of prevention and recovery resources centered around minority women. She had struggled with recovery from a sexual assault and was seeking ways to work through that trauma.

“I had to become what I was seeking out,” she said.

A trained dancer, she received grant funding for the program to encourage survivors of sexual violence to heal and reclaim their lives. Annually, 200 people participate in the dance classes and receive mental health therapy. They also receive such services a advocacy training and financial literacy and self-defense workshops.

The program has helped 7,000 girls and women nationwide through its workshops, residencies and performances.

Edwards’ work involves a range of community initiatives, including her organization’s annual Caw to Action, a day of service in partnership with the Baltimore Ravens. She worked with volunteers to pack 100 menstrual health boxes for girls enrolled in Ballet After Dark, along with an additional 350 wellness kits for girls and women in need throughout Maryland.

She established the Period! program, an interactive cohort of young Black and brown girls who will teach comprehensive reproductive and menstrual health education. The program also includes therapy classes, CPR/first-aid certification and more.

Edwards said her efforts are directed toward listening to and trusting survivors when it comes to what they need to heal.

Veronica Jackson, Executive Director, PIVOT Women’s Reentry & Workforce Development Program

Veronica Jackson is the executive director with PIVOT. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Veronica Jackson said seeing what her cousin experienced after being released from incarceration made her aware that employment, training and other services have been largely nonexistent for women reentering the community after prison.

“When she came home, there was no support for her,” Jackson said.

It was up to Jackson and other family members to help her cousin, imprisoned at age 18 and released at 22, with her day-to-day responsibilities and with seeking training and employment opportunities.

Prerelease centers and halfway houses are set up exclusively for men, leaving women about to reenter the community to fend for themselves. Jackson recalls reaching out to a culinary arts program, which served formerly incarcerated men, to help her cousin gain admission. She was eventually admitted, successfully completed the training and has become an executive chef.

Jackson, who is now the executive director of the PIVOT Women’s Reentry & Workforce Development Program, grew up seeing family incarcerated and once worked as a correctional officer. What she observed was disheartening.

“It was a system that was designed to keep people coming back to jail,” she said. She knew then that she wanted to be part of helping formerly incarcerated women reclaim their lives or helping women stay out of prison in the first place.

She joined Women Accepting Responsibility, a residential program through which she helped women as they returned from incarceration and their children. She then became director of family services at the Judy Center, an early-childhood learning center under Baltimore City Public Schools.

In her work at PIVOT, Jackson advises state and local government officials on reentry issues and sits on the Maryland Statewide Alliance for Returning Citizens board, as well as the Reentry Council for the mayor’s office.

Under her leadership, PIVOT has expanded its staff and services, with the number of women helped annually growing from 40 to more than 200. It is the only organization devoted to reentry services for women in Baltimore and in Baltimore and Howard counties.

Jackson said greater awareness about what formerly incarcerated women face is vital. Women are served the least but often must confront the challenges of motherhood and other family responsibilities, she said.

More women are at risk of incarceration, “and they are going to jail much younger,” Jackson said. So she is directing her focus more and more to the preventive work that can keep them from ever being part of the correctional system.

Tonaeya Moore, Director of Policy, CASH Campaign of Maryland

Tonaeya Moore is the director of policy for CASH Campaign for Maryland. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

When she was in college at Morgan State University, Tonaeya Moore began serving the needs of people in the Baltimore community as an intern for Del. Curt Anderson. She performed constituency services, and that’s a role in which listening is all-important, she said. In the years that followed, she worked as chief of staff for the office of Del. Stephanie Smith.

Now, as director of the CASH Campaign of Maryland, she said listening is vital to “uplift the voices” of people in need when expressing their concerns. The CASH Campaign’s programs promote economic development for low- to moderate-income people and families in Baltimore and across Maryland.

She also led the planning and implementation of the Baltimore Young Families Success Fund, Mayor Brandon Scott’s guaranteed-income pilot, which has generated more than 4,000 qualified applications to fill 200 slots. Those young families have received $1,000 each month and have been connected to stable housing, as well as mental health and financial services.

Moore said she wants her work to help achieve economic justice and close the income gap that exists in this community as it does throughout the country. Helping to bring families stable housing and child care is vital to those efforts, she said. Baby bonds, which governments would set aside for children at birth, are another kind of assistance that could help close the income gap, she said. As proposed at the federal level and in some jurisdictions, money from the bonds could be used for a variety of purposes, including education, purchasing a home and starting a business.

Moore said, as she looks back on her upbringing in Paterson, New Jersey, she realizes how a range of services and resources that could’ve helped families such as hers just weren’t available. Now she’s working to help bring those resources to families in the Baltimore community.

She said she has witnessed the positive impact of efforts by her and her team to help Maryland families.

She looks for creative ways to keep program participants engaged and to help them meet their goals. Moore recently launched a book club with participants that is focused on their parenting and self-care needs, while working through the traumas of their own childhoods. She is also helping parents tell their stories and shift the narratives on poverty, race and life in Baltimore through an upcoming video project.

Loren Nelson, Founder, The Glow Forward Foundation

Loren Nelson is the founder of The Glow Forward Foundation. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

In her work to support young and single mothers, Loren Nelson said she can draw on her experience “navigating the world as a 17-year-old single mom.” She had been accepted to Clark Atlanta University, but she realized she would need to pursue a different path. It was one she cleared largely on her own, using an employment opportunity in sales to meet her financial responsibilities as a parent. She attended community college part-time for a while but, with work and parenting, her college aspirations were put on hold.

Eventually, Nelson found employment with Baltimore City government, and regular work hours meant she could resume her studies at the University of Baltimore. She made the most of that, graduating summa cum laude and going on to earn a master’s degree.

Along with her successes, she recalls the lack of services and support that were available for single mothers and the obstacles she had to overcome. Young African American women frequently have a difficult time accessing services in their communities, she said.

“It inspired me to create what I was looking for,” she said. “I wanted to be the person I was looking for.”

Last fall, the Glow Forward Foundation, which she founded, coordinated a communitywide event at the University of Baltimore for young mothers who are often unaware of available community resources. The event provided college, career and community resources for 100 young and single mothers in Baltimore.

It showcased resources to mothers pursuing higher education and career development. The event also featured a panel discussion of diverse women who shared their personal journeys as single mothers and how they found success.

Through the Glow Forward Foundation, Loren provides young and single mothers with mentors and helps them with educational and financial resources and professional development.

She said the organization will continue to use community engagement to bring Baltimore’s young and single mothers the support they need.

Danielle Nickles, Child Protection Program Coordinator, Greater Baltimore Medical Center

Danielle Nickles is the child protection program coordinator with Greater Baltimore Medical Center. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Even as a student at Baltimore’s Eastern Technical High School, Danielle Nickles had a desire to help. Whether it was talking to peers about depression or writing academic papers about suicide prevention, her interest in mental health never waned.

The spark fueled a career journey that now sees her nearly 15 years later still helping children. Nickles is a child protection program coordinator. Since joining GBMC in 2020, Nickles has been part of a team that works with forensic nurses, pediatricians, social workers and other officials to support and advocate for children who have experienced abuse or other forms of mistreatment.

When a gap in support was discovered, Nickles led a team that partnered with the Baltimore County Child Advocacy Center to form the Adolescent Sexual Abuse Support Group for female survivors ages 13-19. The team gathers monthly along with GBMC’s domestic violence coordinator to work on healing, using everything from art therapy to mindfulness skills to peer support.

“Through her calm demeanor and gentle voice, she becomes that one trusted adult in the lives of so many children who feel lost and misunderstood,” said Laura Clary, nurse director of the GBMC SAFE/DV program. “She takes the time to listen to them with undivided attention, allows them to finally tell their story without being judged, while reassuring them they are in a safe place and there is help available.”

The space to be heard and supported is not always available to children, Nickles said.

“Something that should be given to every child is just believing them and their story and believing their experience,” Nickles said. “That’s a priority in how I treat these kids and, unfortunately, it’s not something that they always get.”

Nickles credits practicums and internships while an undergrad at Wingate University in Charlotte, North Carolina, and in graduate school at Francis Marion University in Florence, South Carolina, with giving her a foundation for how to support children while monitoring her own mental health.

As she continues this work, Nickles said, she has goals of providing wider education and advocacy for adolescents.

“It’s really hard for children to get what I think is the justice that they deserve, so being part of their healing despite the challenges of the system inspires me to continue doing what I’m doing,” Nickles said.

Matthew Reeds, Co-Founder, The Reeds Fund

Matthew Reeds is the regional innovation office director for the Greater Baltimore Committee. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Matthew Reeds recalls his time in student leadership roles at Morgan State University, being exposed to highly accomplished leaders such as Elijah Cummings and Kweisi Mfume. He said being “surrounded by a lot of Black excellence” shaped his aspirations and inspired him to serve the Baltimore community.

He drew from his own family experience in finding a focus for his commitment. He has a sister with autism, and he became familiar with his mother’s efforts to overcome challenges to get his sister the support she needs. His mother’s example also inspired him.

“My mother is one of those people in the community who people can depend on,” he said. “Just do the best with what you’ve got” is one of her guiding principles, he said.

So it became his calling to help others with autism and their families navigate the challenges his family has faced.

He co-founded the Reeds Fund, a Baltimore-based organization that works to combat the social, political and financial constraints that families with individuals on the autism spectrum and sarcoidosis face. The Reeds Fund launched its first scholarship fund targeting young adults on the autism spectrum working to receive a secondary education diploma or trade certification.

Reeds said the organization recognizes that disparities exist among Baltimore-area communities when it comes to access to opportunities and services.

“Sometimes, information about services doesn’t reach the Black community,” he said.

Community advocacy and working for change at the public policy level can help correct disparities, he said. This includes working to achieve pay equity for teachers of special needs students.

After graduation from Morgan, Matthew earned his master’s from the Johns Hopkins University Carey School of Business. He is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Maryland Baltimore County.

He worked in finance and has found additional ways to serve the community. He is a member of the board of Disability Rights Maryland and formerly worked as an advocate for nonprofit leaders and startup entrepreneurs as deputy director of Baltimore Homecoming. He recently joined the Greater Baltimore Committee as its regional innovation office director.

He said helping others overcome inequities and barriers is central to all his work.

Taiisha Swinton-Buck, Instructional Leadership Executive Director, Baltimore City Public Schools

Taiisha Swinton-Buck is the instructional leadership executive director for Baltimore City Public Schools. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

If anyone understands the needs of high school principals, it’s Dr. Taiisha Swinton-Buck. The former principal of Digital Harbor High School leans into her experience each day as she engages with the 12 principals she oversees as an instructional leadership executive director for Baltimore City Public Schools.

It’s been two years since Swinton-Buck left her position as principal to take on this role that has an expansive list of duties, including supervising and supporting principals, being an advocate for schools and providing support for them to meet their academic goals.

“I’m overprotective of my principals because I know what it’s like to sit in that seat, and I know the pressure principals have to deal with,” Swinton-Buck said.

At Digital Harbor from 2019 to 2022, Swinton-Buck implemented a number of initiatives to improve the experience of students. She established a program that brought a free hair studio and barbershop to the school for students, who in some cases couldn’t afford haircuts. The school also created an area for students to get personal care and household items for no charge. The work extended into the community, with the school hosting dog parties for members of the communities in Federal Hill and Digital Habor. These efforts were part of the reason Swinton-Buck was named Maryland Principal of the Year in 2021.

It’s no surprise Swinton-Buck has a knack for creating opportunities for others. She frequently references embracing the chance to be “the voice of the people who have something to say.” As a high school student in New York, she started a school newspaper and recruited others to fill the roles of reporter, editor and photographer. In college, at Susquehanna University in Pennsylvania, in search of diverse experiences, she created her own by teaming up with her best friend to charter a chapter of the sorority Sigma Gamma Rho.

“I want to give voice, and I want representation because equity is very important to me,” Swinton-Buck said.

That theme has followed Swinton-Buck through her career. In her current role, she has spent extra time with schools that need additional support to get a sense of their needs and help close gaps.

“When I think about the 150-plus schools across Baltimore City, if all of our principals are showing up with strong vision, strong leadership and have the tools to feel empowered to do their work, then we’ll have a better future for our students,” Swinton-Buck said.

Ryan Turner, Executive Director, GreenLight Fund

Ryan Turner is the Executive Director of Greenlight Fund. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Ryan Turner, executive director of GreenLight Fund Baltimore, says he hears a lot of talk about the difficulties young people in Baltimore face.

“I don’t want to just talk about it. I want to try to do something,” he says.

The son of a social worker, he says he was determined to “walk in the same kind of trajectory” as his mother. GreenLight Fund collaborates with other people and organizations to identify gaps in social support services.

One recent example was replicating a New York direct cash transfer program in Baltimore, offering payments and case management support to young people experiencing homelessness.

In 2011, Turner founded a nonprofit focused on ensuring that students in Baltimore achieve reading proficiency at or above grade level by the end of third grade. Operating in two West Baltimore elementary schools, this initiative significantly improved the reading skills of more than 170 students.

“The foundation of all success starts with reading,” he says.

Turner has been at the forefront of grassroots nonprofits that empower Baltimore’s young people. He led Community Law in Action, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that provides policy development and advocacy training for young people, enabling them to advocate for themselves and their communities at the state and local levels.

He volunteers as a trustee for a charter school in West Baltimore, participating in the school’s equity committee. Additionally, he serves as president of the Delta Lambda chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. He uses that role to lead the organizing of fraternity efforts to advocate for policies that promote economic equity for Baltimore’s most vulnerable communities.

“Folks who are proximate to challenges are proximate to solutions,” he says.

Derrick Whiting, Healing City Coordinator, Baltimore City Health Department

Derrick Whiting is the Healing City coordinator of Baltimore City Health Department. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Derrick Whiting didn’t know how the names of his grandmother and grandfather would serve as an inspiration for him at a critical point in his life.

Whiting, a Baltimore native, was looking to name a program he created to provide support and resources to help citizens reintegrate into society with dignity and purpose after incarceration.

He took his grandmother’s maiden name, Flowers, and grandfather Sylvester Whiting’s surname, to create the Flowers Whiting Initiative, which serves as a comprehensive support system for returning citizens that includes resource fairs, turkey giveaways, toy drives and freight dispatch trainings. It’s a one-stop shop for returning citizens, no matter their walk of life.

“I wanted to pay homage to my family and take a negative situation that I was involved in and turn it into a positive,” Whiting said. “Flowers represents development, life and sustainability.”

His grandmother, Evie Flowers Whiting, died in 2019 a few months after Whiting was released from a year in prison. Since that time, he has become an advocate and leader. He graduated from the University of Baltimore with a bachelor’s degree in human services administration and is pursuing a master’s in social work. He is expanding his advocacy to the political ranks. He was appointed to the Baltimore City State Central Committee, and he hosts town halls and gets feedback from the 40th District about what’s happening in the community.

In his day-to-day work for the city, he manages strategic partnerships and facilitates trauma-informed training programs. This is in addition to the eight years of service in the Maryland Army National Guard.

“It’s all driven in my belief in the potential of individuals to overcome adversity like I did by having the right support and opportunities,” Whiting said. “It doesn’t just empower me to do what I do, but I hope that in the end I can empower other individuals to just take that initiative and recognize their resilience and persevere through whatever unfortunate type of situation they’re dealing with at the time.”

Cariema Wood, Corporate Community Impact Specialist, Baltimore Gas and Electric

Cariema Wood is the Senior Corporate Community Impact Specialist with Baltimore Gas and Electric. (Kirk McKoy/The Baltimore Banner)

Cariema Wood didn’t know she was a visionary until she arrived at BGE and was given the freedom to create. As the company’s corporate community impact specialist, Wood was asked to build focused initiatives with local universities.

In two years, Wood has established programs for BGE that a colleague described as “transformative.”

One of the investments she manages is a partnership with nine area universities that not only provides scholarships but includes career-focused opportunities. As an undergrad at Ball State University in Indiana, Wood said, she missed out on early internships that impacted her career.

“It really hit home for me because I wasn’t aware of how important internships were,” Wood said. “I didn’t learn about internships until it was too late, and so I ended up doing postgrad internships, which I feel like set me back in my career journey.”

That fueled her plans to create for the next generation. She manages the scholarships for 100 students, 45 of whom are at historically Black colleges and universities. She also created career-exposing activities, such as job shadowing, mentorship and a speaker series to introduce students to leaders through Black Excellence in Energy. All were created in one academic year.

“I’ve always said I’m not the person with vision. I can execute, but when I arrived at BGE, they gave me autonomy and freedom to do what I wanted,” Wood said.

Her other inspiration comes from her parents, Carl and Toniette Wood. Wood grew up in a military family, moving often before her father retired from the Air Force as a colonel.

“I’m very proud of him and his work ethic, which I think I take so much from my parents and the family that came before them just by picking themselves up by their bootstraps,” Wood said. “While I didn’t experience poverty, my parents did, so it’s one generation away and I think that has always been a driving factor for me.”

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