Building and Strengthening Neighborhoods and People

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

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! 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!

Govans Elementary Team Wins Regional LEGO Robotics Competition

The Govans Elementary School Robotics Team won top honors in the FIRST LEGO League regional competition on January 26, taking both First Place in Robot Performance and the Champions Award – the highest award at the competition, recognizing the team’s commitment to core values, excellence, and innovation. The team of 10 students defeated teams from 14 other city schools, earning its way into the state competition on February 23.

“I am so proud of our kids, I could pop,” said Sandi McFadden, Strong City’s Community School Site Coordinator for the Govans school.

Last fall, 10 students from the Govans afterschool program were selected to be on the FIRST LEGO League team, based on their love of STEM and robotics. They practiced weekly to prepare for the regional competition, even giving up their half-days to stay at school and work. The students designed, built and programmed a robot, researched the challenges astronauts face in space,  interviewed an engineer, shared their research with local medical professionals, and learned how to work together as a team and improve their communication skills.

On February 23, the Govans “Dragon Designers” joined 80 teams of students ages 9-14 from all over Maryland in the state competition at UMBC. The teams faced this year’s challenge theme of “Into Orbit” head-on: designing, building, and programming a robot to complete a series of tasks during the Robot Game. They identified a physical or social problem faced by humans during long duration space exploration and proposed an innovative solution. The Govans team created “Medic 2.0,” a pharmaceutical machine, to compound and dispense medications aboard space ships.

Although the Govans team didn’t bring home a trophy from UMBC, it was a fun and amazing experience for young engineers Aniyah, Kaylin, Talia, Khamryn, Journey, Amir, Jaden, Serigne, James and Antwain.

“On the days leading up to the State Championship, you could feel the tension and nerves in each of the Govans team members, but by the morning of the competition all that faded,” said Devon Ritchie, Program Director for LET’S GO Boys and Girls, a nonprofit that developed the Govans Robotics team and also provides STEM curriculum, teacher training, and ongoing support for the afterschool program. “They were enjoying their robotic practice time, meeting students from other teams and celebrating each of the day’s accomplishments with grace. There was a new and deeper level of confidence in each team member by the end of this day.”

The Govans Elementary afterschool program is an initiative of the Baltimore Curriculum Project’s 21st Century Community Learning Center at Govans Elementary.

Progress Report on Strong City’s Anti-Racism Collective Work With the Rev. Eric P. Lee

Strong City Baltimore is engaged in a long-term process toward becoming an organization that is not only non-discriminatory but is actively anti-racist. The Strong City Anti-Racist Collective (ARC) was formed in 2015 with the following Mission Statement: “Strong City Baltimore aspires to operate  as an explicit  anti-racist organization in Baltimore City. This means we are committed to the work of dismantling systemic racism and supporting community-led efforts to build healthy, restorative, and sustainable communities in Baltimore.”

At Strong City, we recognize that the work of becoming an anti-racist organization can never be considered “complete,” because there will always be things to learn and ways to improve.

The Rev. Eric P. Lee, Senior Portfolio Manager and Director of Neighborhood Programs, has a long history working for civil rights and social justice and is one of the leaders of ARC. With the recent observation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday still fresh, and just a few days into Black History Month, we sat down with Reverend Lee to get his perspective on Strong City’s engagement with issues of racism, equity, and justice.

Q: How and why did the ARC process get started?

A: After the Freddie Gray Uprising, staff at Strong City recognized the lack of engagement, internally, about the underlying causes for the unrest. The concern was, for an organization that characterizes its work, its identity, as community-based and sensitive to the institutional barriers that prevented entire communities from achieving a certain quality of life – it was probably a warning bell that we needed to do something different. And so a committee formed to identify opportunities for Strong City to address the issues of racial inequity and social injustice from within a white-privileged organization.

The Rev. Eric P. Lee, Strong City Senior Portfolio Manager and Director of Neighborhood Programs, has been active in the civil rights struggle for decades.

Q: What were seen as the biggest concerns from an internal, institutional point of view?

A: When you looked at the profile of Strong City at that time, the Board was probably 90 percent white, the executive management was probably 85-95 percent white, the staffing was probably close to 75 percent white. So it’s understandable why the underlying issues that led to the Uprising were not at the core of people’s thoughts or discussions or work, as they should be.

Q: What priorities did ARC identify?

A: The committee developed six primary goals for Strong City (see list below). We started doing an internal assessment of who we are: looking at hiring, personnel practices, the Board composition and how it did not represent the people we were serving, and also the work that we were doing – whether it was done through a racial equity lens, which includes our messaging, policies and procedures.

Q: What special challenges have you encountered or discovered in this work?

A: There’s a challenge with our partnerships. As a nonprofit, we depend upon funding opportunities from various philanthropic organizations that may not, quite possibly did not, operate with a racial equity lens. Even worse, they may have operated through a very privileged lens in how they disbursed funds. We can change how we operate as an organization and how we look to better reflect the communities we serve, but then the real challenge becomes: How do we impact our partners externally without compromising the funds that are needed to continue our work?

Q: It sounds like you’re talking about something that goes beyond Strong City – a deep problem with the larger philanthropic/charitable sector.

A: Yes. The philanthropic industry is not sensitive to racial equity. How do you set the policies to deal with issues of structural racism when your board is not impacted by it and may be silent about it? That silence can be more dangerous and harmful to our work than anything.

Q: Are we making progress?

A: To some extent. ARC has been meeting for years as committees, to refine our anti-racist work when it comes to the five goals. My challenge is, for five years we’ve been talking about it, but we haven’t put much teeth into it. The great thing is, at least we’ve been having these conversations, and we’re making some progress. For example, if you look at who’s joining the Board now, we have six members coming on and five are black. So we’ve moved the needle considerably – but we cannot rest on that.

Q: You’re a seasoned veteran of the fight for civil rights, including having served as past President/CEO of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference’s Los Angeles Chapter. How has the struggle against racism changed over the years, in your view?

A: One of the challenges here is age demographics. You have people, like me, who were actively participating in civil rights and remember the protests, Dr. King’s assassination, Malcolm X, the passage of Civil Rights legislation. For those of us who grew up in that, the perspective is different. A lot of the staff here really don’t have type of understanding because they didn’t go through the overt racism and discrimination the country operated in. But in a way, it’s even more dangerous now because a lot of what we’re fighting is more covert. The challenge going forward is being able to put some measure of accountability to address the microaggressions, the institutional/structural racism that’s not overt but subliminal.

Strong City’s ARC goals

Goal: Provide educational opportunities and experiences to staff and board to ensure a) an office culture that values and celebrates diversity and b) an authentic understanding of anti-racism and its impact on organizational mission of strengthening neighborhoods and people. 
Results: Brought in expert speakers at staff meetings such as Elizabeth Nix, Katrina Bell-McDonald, and Keith Merkey; held quarterly “Diversi-Teas” to expose Strong City staff to colleagues who are different; sponsored staff to attend relevant events such screenings of “I Am Not Your Negro” and “Charm City”; circulate monthly announcement of holidays and celebrations relevant to different identity groups; schedule ARC Brown Bag lunches.

Goal: Implement hiring strategies that results in a workforce reflective of the communities Strong City serves. 
Results: Close to half of Operations staff and Program staff now are people of color.

Goal: A Strong City Board of Directors that reflects and understands the community we serve through race, age, gender, religion, ethnicity, status, sexual orientation, and cultural diversity of its membership. 
Results: When the newest group of board members are in place, close to half the board will be African-American – a significant change from a year or two ago. Efforts to diversify the board in other ways are continuing.

Goal: Implement culturally responsive talent management practices to provide career development opportunities for all staff members.
Results: Expanded our job postings to include HBCU’s and other venues that serve a predominantly African-America clientele. Include language that clearly communicates a desire for people of color to apply.

Goal: Develop Strong City internal policy with a racial equity lens.
Results: Updated Strong City mission statement to include language promote racial equity and anti-racism.

Goal: Publicly support external partner organizations policies which explicitly work towards eliminating systemic racism and the negative impacts it has on communities served by Strong City. 
Results: Working closely with Baltimore City Youth Fund in promoting socially and racially equitable grantmaking in Baltimore.