Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

Maryland Odyssey Project Brings Classic Text to Life, Inspires Creative Responses by Baltimore Students

It took almost 3,000 years for a female scholar to translate one of Western literature’s most famous stories into English, but it hasn’t taken long for Emily Wilson’s version of The Odyssey to make a big impact in a handful of local public high schools.

Wilson’s recent translation of The Odyssey is helping bring Homer’s epic to life for a new generation of readers with a perspective reviewers describe as accessible and “refreshingly modern.” Now, the Maryland Odyssey Project – a fiscally sponsored project of Strong City – has made this fresh take on a classic available to local students, who are approaching the text in innovative ways.

The force behind the Maryland Odyssey Project is Amy Bernstein, an independent consultant and self-described “socialpreneur” who specializes in discovering and developing artistic and cultural projects. Back in 2017, Bernstein was reading about Wilson’s translation in The New York Times and was inspired “to take a modern, accessible translation of an epic text that a lot of kids study anyway, and give them access to something that seemed more relevant.”

With Strong City’s backing, Bernstein began writing grants which she says “succeeded beyond expectations,” winning funding from Maryland Humanities, the Onassis Foundation USA, the Society for Classical Studies, and the Mitzvah Fund for Good Deeds (administered by the Baltimore Community Foundation). The grants have allowed the Maryland Odyssey Project to place the books in three schools so far, reaching 132 students in grades 9, 10, and 11 at Bard Early College High School and City Neighbors high schools in Baltimore City, and Carver Center for Arts and Technology in Baltimore County.

The Odyssey tells the story of the warrior-king Odysseus and his 10-year journey home to Ithaca after the Trojan War, encountering many adventures and dangers along the way. The poet Homer’s epic tale has been rendered into English about 60 times over the centuries, but this version by Wilson – a British classicist based at the University of Pennsylvania – is the first such translation by a woman.

“There’s so much that Emily Wilson brings to the text – for example, she talks more openly about enslaved people, and women’s ability to make their own decisions,” Bernstein says. “She’s still working with what’s in the original, but every translator puts it through their own lens, making choices. Also, she wrote the whole thing in iambic pentameter, which is much closer to modern-day speech.”

Although the Maryland Odyssey Project does not prescribe a specific curriculum for teaching The Odyssey, Bernstein says high school students have responded to Wilson’s translation in a variety of creative ways. Students at Bard Early College were inspired to develop a mashup up of The Odyssey with the Broadway musical sensation Hamilton, which can be seen in this video. At City Neighbors, students responded to the text by creating a series of cartoons. And at Carver, students did a rap-like performance reminiscent of the cadences of Greek chorus.

“It’s definitely the translation for our age, and the students have really found their way into the material,” Bernstein says.

The Maryland Odyssey Project was launched in October 2018 with a reading by Emily Wilson at the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Govans Branch to a packed house that included students, teachers, and a panel of classics scholars from Johns Hopkins University, Morgan State University, and McDaniel College. The project got another big boost when it was featured in the Winter 2019 edition of Humanities, the magazine of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Bernstein says the fiscal sponsorship provided by Strong City makes possible the work of cultural entrepreneurs such as herself. “Strong City really opens the door to opportunity for culture-makers like me, who couldn’t otherwise do the work we’re trying to do,” she says. “Their support has emboldened me to embark on even more ambitious work. It’s a tremendous asset.”

Bernstein would love to see the Maryland Odyssey Project expand to additional schools and school systems, but does not currently have the means to make that happen. However, she’s excited that the three schools that now have the books will be able to use them to expose new students to Emily Wilson’s translation of The Odyssey year after year.

 

 


Middle-School Students From Guilford and Walter P. Carter Get a Taste of College Life at Loyola University Maryland

Last month, students from Guilford Elementary/Middle School and Walter P. Carter Elementary/Middle School visited nearby Loyola University Maryland. Annie Weber, Strong City’s Community School Site Coordinator based at Guilford, helped to arrange the trip, which included a mock college class, interactions with Loyola students and professors, lunch in the cafeteria, and a tour of the academic buildings and dorms. (Loyola was one of Strong City’s founding institutions in 1969, and the two organizations have been strong partners ever since.)

London Bottom, 13, a seventh-grader, wants to be a doctor or lawyer. She was impressed with the Loyola campus, which she had never visited before. “It’s a nice, free space for if you ever want to go bike riding around there, or have an early morning jog,” she says. “I liked the cafeteria – the food was good. And the dorm rooms are great.”

For Reginald Qualls, 12, the visit to Loyola – including learning about chemical interactions in a science class – changed how he thinks about his future, and may even have inspired a career goal. Although the sixth-grader is still a couple of years away from high school, he is already giving serious thought to what comes after.

“I might apply there,” Reginald says of Loyola. “Before, I didn’t really think about going to college – I thought about doing a trade. But from experiencing that [visit], I think I might want to go to college.” What would he want to study there? “Science, to be a chemistry teacher,” he says.

Tashawn Walker also really enjoyed his visit to Loyola, but one thing he noticed on campus surprised him: “They have a church there. I’ve been to a couple of colleges … I never knew colleges could have churches.” Something else Tashawn came to realize, from chatting with students in Loyola’s cafeteria, was how much independence college students need to have. “In college, you’ve got to start doing stuff on your own. You have a lot of responsibility,” he says.

Community School Coordinators work to connect students and families to resources in the community, improve family engagement, and build relationships. Strong City currently employs Community School Coordinators at Guilford Elementary/Middle School, Margaret Brent Elementary/Middle School, and Govans Elementary School.

“Helping to connect our students to enrichment opportunities like this one at Loyola University is something that students will remember when it comes time for them to apply for college,” Annie Weber says. “We’ve been so lucky to have such a close partnership with Loyola to help us expose students to college and career options early-on.”

Starting in 2021, students from Guilford and Walter P. Carter are scheduled to begin attending a newly built school under the 21st Century Schools program, a $1 billion school construction plan that Strong City helped advocate for through the Baltimore Education Coalition.


Outta Sight! Good Time Is Had By All as Strong City Celebrates 50 Years, Kicks Off Capital Campaign

Strong City launched its 50th anniversary year in style on May 4th, as hundreds of guests enjoyed Get On Up!, a 1969-themed party in the unique space of the Hoen Lithograph Building, our future home in East Baltimore. Jonathan Gilmore and The Experience, top local DJs, a costume contest, a 007 martini contest, great local food and drinks, pop-up experiences, a photo booth, a silent auction and more kept visitors entertained throughout the night. The interior of the building was transformed by local artist Corynne Ostermann to resemble the inside of a giant lava lamp.

Strong City congratulates the winners of our costume contest: Abigail “Abbey” Parrish and Paris Roberts, who took the $500 top prize; and Nia Redmond, who took second place.

The winner of the 007 martini contest sponsored by the Baltimore Bartenders’ Guild was Brendan Dorr.

Get On Up! also kicked off Strong City’s $1 million Capital Campaign. You can become part of the effort to finish construction, buy furniture, and make the Hoen Building a community hub for East Baltimore by making a special 50th birthday donation at https://strongcitybaltimore.wedid.it/.

This event, the most ambitious in our history, would not have been possible without the efforts of many dozens of people and organizations.

 

     

While it would be impossible to name everyone who played a part, the following deserve special recognition:

  • Sponsors: Cross Street Partners, Baltimore City Dept. of Housing and Community Development, Carroll Motor Fuels, High’s, Telesis Corp., MedStar Health, Brown Advisory, JRS Architects Inc., U.S. Bank, H.U. Dove & Co., Kelly & Associates, SecurityPlus Federal Credit Union, Ziger/Snead Architects, MECU, M&T Bank, UPD Consulting, Urban Green Technologies, Barbara Shapiro, Karen & Ed Stokes, Aaron Meisner, Crickett Woloson, Paul Brophy & Mary Reilly, Brad Chambers, Ella Durant, Beth Felder, Randy Knepper, Norman Sensinger
  • Food & beverage vendors: Azafran, B&O American Brasserie, The Beadle Group, Blue Dog BBQ, Chef Vince Cole of The Club at Collington Square, Cypriana, Golden West Cafe, HomeSlyce Pizza, Indigma, Kislings Tavern, Mount Washington Tavern, Station North Arts Café/Nancy by SNAC, Orto, Peko Peko, Rowhouse Grill, Soups On, Taharka Brothers, THB Bagels and Deli, Verde Pizza, Woodberry Kitchen, Peabody Heights Brewery, Baltimore Bartenders’ Guild, Baltimore Spirits Co., Charm City Meadworks, Monument City Brewing Co., The Brewer’s Art, Old Line Distillery, Eddie’s Liquors, Sophomore Coffee
  • Working Committee: Dana Murphy, Jo Ann Stallings, Emma Simpson, Liz Hoey, Betti Gregus, Josh Clement, Karen D. Stokes
  • Planning Committee: Georgia Smith, Beth Felder, Randy Knepper, Bill Merritt, Kate Grubb Clark, Bill Miller, Jo-Ann Orlinsky, Sandy Sparks
  • Production, Photography/Video and Design: Conder Inc., Aiden Korotkin Productions, Farajii Muhammad, Farrah Skeiky Photography, No Wave Studios, Post Typography, Side A Photography, B.Willow
  • Costume contest judges: Saran Fossett, Councilman Bill Henry, Donna Maloney, D. Watkins
  • Others: Strong City fiscally sponsored projects AZIZA/PE&CE and Dance & Bmore; DJs Brandon Carlo, Rob Macy, and Pharaoh Haqq; keynote speaker Dr. Karsonya Wise Whitehead; city and state elected officials who supported our event; the Get On Up! Honorary Committee; the Hoen construction team; Strong City Baltimore staff and board; contributors to our mystery gift baskets and purchasers of program ads; Lynette Hodge, Markus Saelzer, Brandon Arinoldo, Dana Neal, Eva Wingren, Israel Baptist Church, and the residents of Collington Square.

Get On Up! is over, but the celebration continues! Strong City’s upcoming 50th anniversary events include our “Sneaky Social Justice” Film Fest in August at The Parkway; “Strong Voices, Strong City,” a choir concert in September; a Light City/Baltimore Book Festival panel on neighborhood change in November; our 12th annual Neighborhood Institute; and a Collington Square Block Party. More details to come, so keep an eye on future newsletters, our Facebook page, and our website.


Get On Up! With Strong City, May 4 at the Hoen Building

It’s not every day that a nonprofit turns 50, and it’s not every day that it moves from its longtime home to an exciting, new location on the other side of town. But guess what, both of those things are happening this year at Strong City Baltimore, and that means it is TIME TO PARTY!

On Saturday, May 4, Strong City is thrilled to present our 50th anniversary celebration, called Get On Up!, at the Hoen Lithograph Building in East Baltimore – an iconic industrial site that will soon be our new home. With its 1969 theme, Get On Up! will be a true feast for the sen

ses. Highlights of this “out of sight big night” will include live music and DJ sets, food tastings from dozens of top restaurants, a martini contest held by the Baltimore Bartenders’ Guild, a 1960s costume contest, pop-up experiences from some of Strong City’s fiscally sponsored projects, and a professionally designed interior space that will transport guests back to 1969.

“This will be, far and away, the biggest event in Strong City’s history, and we plan to make it a night to remember,” says Events Manager Dana Murphy.

The main event, from 6 to 9 p.m., will feature a wide variety of food tastings and drinks from local restaurants and vendors, a live performance by Jonathan Gilmore and the Experience (a Best of Baltimore nominee for “Best Party Band”), DJ Brando Carlo, the martini contest, and pop-up experiences. The afterparty, from 9 p.m. to midnight, will include Save Your Soul’s Rob Macy and Pharoah Haqq DJing and the costume contest featuring a $500 top prize and other prizes for groups and crowd favorite. And all night long there will be free beer, wine, and mead (with cocktails available for purchase), a photobooth, presents, dancing, and more!

A $125 ticket gets you in for the entire evening, while the afterparty-only option is available for just $50. VIP tables for 10 people are $2,500 and include full open bar, free valet parking, access to the martini competition and other perks. There are also “Group Rate for 8” tickets available for $800 (a savings of $200).

“This event is a fundraiser, and it’s critical to bring in some of the funds we will need to move to the Hoen Building,” says CEO Karen D. Stokes. “At the same time, we want this to be accessible to the widest possible variety of people, which reflects Strong City’s values. This is not a stuffy, $500 black-tie gala but a fun, relaxed, affordable event in an exciting space that represents our future.”

Guests will enjoy food tastings from Woodberry Kitchen, B&O American Brasserie, Golden West Café, Azafran, Home Maid, Verde, Taharka Brothers, Orto, Neopol Smokery, and many more. You can wash that delicious food down with drinks from Peabody Heights Brewery, Monument City Brewing Co., The Brewer’s Art, Charm City Meadworks, Old Line Spirits Co., and others. Guests will be greeted with a welcome cocktail from Baltimore Spirits Co., and there will be tasty non-alcoholic options too, including a full hot coffee bar from Sophomore Coffee.

We are delighted to welcome Jonathan Gilmore and the Experience as our featured live performer. Jonathan, the son of well-known activist and singer Lea Gilmore, comes from a family with deep roots in the black South and all that represents spiritually, culturally, and musically. Jonathan enjoys exploring the intersections of all kinds of black music: jazz, blues, soul, gospel, funk, and beyond. Jonathan, his band, and his backing vocalists are passionate, energetic, and soul-filled.

DJ Brandon Carlo, a Baltimore-based DJ with an encyclopedic knowledge of music, specializes in the sounds of the 1960s and 1970s and only plays vinyl. Pharoah Haqq, a D.C.-based DJ, specializes in 1950s and 1960s rock and roll, and also spins only vinyl. Rob Macy is the founder of the popular dancing party Save Your Soul in South Baltimore and has been named “Baltimore’s Best DJ” by publications including Baltimore City Paper and The Baltimore Sun.

We will be selling blind box/gift bag presents to help raise money for Strong City, featuring two tiers of gifts that guests can purchase for either $25 (with items valued at $25 to $75) or $50 (with items valued at $50 to $125). There will also be a small silent auction.

The Hoen Lithograph Building, an architectural gem that has been vacant since 1981, is being restored with support from Strong City. The Hoen Co. played an important role in Baltimore’s industrial history as one of the most prolific lithographic printing companies in the world, whose work included maps for National Geographic magazine.

Local artist and designer Corynne Ostermann is transforming the Hoen Building’s raw industrial space with a large, plexiglass ceiling installation making it appear that attendees are inside a lava lamp, and her Pop Art-themed photobooth backdrop and beautiful, handpainted wood panels will add to the overall effect. Plant design for the event will be provided by B. Willow.

Get On Up! is sure to be one of the most enjoyable and memorable events in Baltimore this spring, so get your tickets today at www.getonupbmore.com/tickets! And help us spread the word by sharing our event on Facebook and using the hashtag #getonupbmore.


New “Start Up Track” Provides More Resources, Greater Efficiency for Fiscally Sponsored Projects

Serving as a fiscal sponsor to more than 130 community-led initiatives is a primary way Strong City carries out its mission of building and strengthening neighborhoods and people. Fiscal Sponsorship is a new, burgeoning sector of the nonprofit world, so we spend a lot of time reflecting and exploring how we can better structure our operations. In 2019, we introduced a two-track intake process, meaning there are now two ways we invite in new fiscally sponsored projects. We believe this will benefit both the projects and Strong City as a whole.

The track one takes depends on which one will best support them. The Start Up Track will better serve fiscally sponsored projects that are newer and have less experience with fundraising and nonprofit operations. Under this new Start Up Track, these projects will be brought into Strong City as a group, twice a year, in spring and fall. Applications are now open (through April 22) for the first Start Up Track.

We sat down with Samantha Solomon, Strong City’s Business Development Associate, to get a better understanding of this very important aspect of Strong City’s work and why these changes were necessary.

Q: Strong City’s fiscal sponsorship program has been growing very rapidly in recent years. Why have you decided to change how new projects become part of the Strong City family?

Strong City Business Development Associate Samantha Solomon (bottom right) held a workshop in February on “Fiscal Sponsorship for Aspiring Nonprofits.”

A: We used to have this sense of urgency, that when we had a potential new project we had to get them in the door right now so the project could start their work. But we’ve discovered something about many of the projects that are brand new ideas, led by founders that are new to the nonprofit world or don’t have any committed funding when they first come to Strong City. These projects tend to spend the first six months planning, piloting programming, or getting other foundational things in place before they raise their first dollar. (Managing funds under a charitable status is the main benefit of being fiscally sponsored.) Meanwhile, during those six months, our staff were working very inefficiently, training new project leaders, one at a time, in the basics of working with us.

Q: How does inviting in new projects twice a year, in larger groups, address that concern?

A: We were getting feedback from all projects that they wanted more support – things like fundraising workshops, financial sustainability planning, information about how to apply for specific grants. We don’t have the staff capacity to do that on an individual basis with new projects rolling in all the time. So Grants and Development Manager Josh Clement and I developed a business plan that broke the intake process into two tracks. If you are starting out with no funding, have never done your programming before, and expect you will raise less than $50,000 to do your project over one year, then you can access fiscal sponsorship as part of the  Start Up Track, twice a year. For the other projects, with leaders that are more experienced and have some committed funding, we still have the Propel Track, through which they can join us at any time.

Q: How many projects will be included in a Start Up Track?

A: We anticipate 10 to 15, which is based on how many we can realistically accept at one time.

Q: Is there a significance to the time of year when these groups will be formed?

A: Yes, the timing is pretty intentional. We bring on projects in spring and winter, and those two time periods were picked so the spring Track will be on board in time for them to apply to the Baltimore Children and Youth Fund, and the winter Track will be able to apply for the Summer Funding Collaborative. Historically, these two grants have been very popular among our projects.

Q: What specific supports or benefits will Start Up Track projects receive?

A: We are going to provide the nonprofit management education that projects have been asking for. How do you think about financial sustainability and fundraising? What’s the difference between being funded by donors versus grants, the plusses and minuses – things like that. Every incoming Cohort Track project will receive a six-month curriculum including in-person sessions, workshops, and webinars. (Projects in the Propel Track are welcome to take part in these too.) Another benefit of coming in together as a group is that project leaders get to meet other people who are being fiscally sponsored, and maybe some of them are doing complementary work and they can form partnerships. Also, the application process is not quite as strenuous – we’re not necessarily asking you to complete a draft budget, because that’s something we’re going to teach you how to do.

Q: How will this affect how Strong City staff who work with projects do their jobs?

A: For one thing, it streamlines training. These projects are all going to need to learn many of the same things: how to be trained on our accounts payable system, reading monthly statements, setting up contracts, etc. Now, we can train all of them on those things all at once. Currently, if you’re a Portfolio Manager and you get two new projects a month, you have to do individual trainings on everything for those projects, which also takes your time away from serving projects already in your portfolio. This structure also improves efficiency for the Finance Office staff.

Q: You just used the phrase “Portfolio Manager.” What’s that?

A: Every fiscally sponsored project at Strong City is assigned to one of our four Portfolio Managers. They are every project’s first point of contact inside Strong City – the No. 1 go-to person to help manage your project, and also there to help you think about strategy around fundraising and partnership. They make sure things are properly submitted, help handle grant reporting, help set up contracts with vendors, and help project leaders think strategically if they want to expand.

Q: There’s a lot of talk these days about increasing equity in the nonprofit sector, and Strong City has given quite a bit of thought to this issue. Can you explain the equity implications of having a Cohort Track?

A: Being an expert in what your community needs doesn’t mean you know how to run a nonprofit – nor should it mean that. The basics of being a fiscal sponsor are fairly cut and dry: access to our 501(c)3 status, accounting and insurance support, donor acknowledgement. But not everyone has access to the ins and outs of fundraising and sustainability, and that’s unfair. So, it’s important to us to provide that nonprofit management education. If we’re going to properly support the projects, we need to provide access to these things to empower community leaders with all the information they need so they can lead their projects with wisdom and understanding of the sector in which they’re working.

Click here to learn more and apply to the Start Up Track!