While we always look up to famous personalities for inspiration, some of them are but countless of common folks whose stories are equally inspirational. And some even become famous not because of doing nothing, but because of their dedication, hard work, and the will to make a difference no matter what the situation and state in life is.
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DESIGNING A SANCTUARY FOR IMMIGRANT AND REFUGEE ARTISTS
Maria Gabriela Aldana, 37
Education director, Creative Alliance
In 1986, Aldana’s family left Nicaragua for Miami. At 18, she became an American citizen. Then a chance to study at MICA brought her to Baltimore. This city has become her home, and it has become her mission to make it better through the arts. “I have an incredible debt to pay off,” she says. “I just have to do my best to provide what I’ve been given to other kids.” Her best includes service trips with students, empowering local artisans, giving children access to the arts, and spending her few free hours supporting immigrants–—all projects that feed her vision for a city of blended cultures where youth have a path.
EDUCATING CHILDREN THROUGH THE POWER OF MUSIC
Kenyatta Hardison, 44
Choir director, Cardinal Shehan School
After a video of her school’s choir singing a rendition of Andra Day’s “Rise Up” went viral, Kenyatta Hardison and her kids became the talk of the town, appearing everywhere from Good Morning America to The View. As a 20-year teaching veteran, she demonstrates to her students through her own experiences that life is about more than becoming famous—it’s about using your gifts to better yourself and your environment. “What makes me feel complete is being able to share what cultivated me,” she says. “Every day I walk through those doors and the kids inspire me through their growth.”
ACCOMMODATING DISABILITIES THROUGH HOME DESIGN
Cathy Purple Cherry, 58
Principal, Purple Cherry Architects
Cathy Purple Cherry’s high-end clients know her as the owner of the eponymous Annapolis-based architectural firm. (And the name? Cathy Purple married Mike Cherry.) But to families across the country, she’s something quite different: an advocate for kids with disabilities helping parents navigate the maze of government assistance programs, as well as a consultant on ways home design can accommodate disabilities. It’s all from the heart—her adult son has autism and a sibling has Down Syndrome. “I’m paving the way for parents to obtain successful services for their children,” she says. “I also believe I’ve influenced project designs across the country to be as supportive as possible for those with disabilities.”
GIVING A VOICE TO “THE OTHER”
Sean Elias, 32
Artistic director and CEO, Iron Crow Theatre
“My favorite thing ever written about me is that I’m unrelenting in my vision,” Sean Elias says. That vision? To use the power of theater to help lead Baltimore into a renaissance in socioeconomic development. As the head of Iron Crow Theatre, Elias aims to fill the gap between the city’s large theater companies and its community theaters. He’s shaping a professional theater that’s financially solvent and rewarding to the artist by using open calls, which pull talent from here and other cities, diversify our scene, and put dollars back into the local economy. Iron Crow is also the only professional queer theater in the city, producing avant-garde works and igniting dialogues. “We use queer in the broadest sense as ‘the other,’” he says. “Iron Crow is a home for these stories that don’t get told.”
REGENERATING AND REINVESTING IN BLACK NEIGHBORHOODS
Aisha Pew, 38
Owner, Dovecote Cafe
Dovecote Cafe’s Aisha Pew never set out to own an eatery when moving with her partner, Cole, from Oakland, CA. She did want to create a gathering spot for community engagement, a sort of salon for the 21st century. But in 2015, after seeing a “for rent” sign in the predominantly black Reservoir Hill, she and Cole decided to open a cafe whose cri de coeur is “community first, cafe second.” “What better way to bring people together than coffee, food, good music, and art?” asks Pew. At Dovecote, civic support comes in many forms, from the walls lined with art for sale to monthly dinners with black chefs, and a produce pop-up in partnership with Baltimore Free Farm—all served alongside the cafe’s famous peach upside-down cake, made using a family recipe. “My vision is for Baltimore to be a mecca for black people,” says Pew. “My dream is that Dovecote enhances neighborhood pride—that the legacy residents of Reservoir Hill see the beauty and potential in once vapid spaces.”
ENCOURAGING YOUNG AND ASPIRING PROGRAMMERS
Bella Palumbi, 16
Student, Park School
While other kids play games on their cell phones, Bella Palumbi designs them. In fact, at age 15, the Park School sophomore was nominated for a Technologist of the Year award by Technical.ly Baltimore, which recognizes outstanding work in the area’s burgeoning tech sector. “I didn’t win,” says Palumbi, who went up against coders twice her age, “but I still got to go to the party.” Palumbi has been a maker since attending a program five years ago at Digital Harbor Foundation, where she created Monkey Mayhem, a game in which users fight off petulant primates to collect bananas. Hoping to share her passion, Palumbi has since founded a number of hackathons, including one at Digital Harbor Foundation’s youth tech center in Baltimore, and recently hosted Park School’s first tech fest. “I really like the experience of thinking of an idea, planning out what structure you need to build that idea, and then seeing it work,” says Palumbi. “That cycle is really rewarding to me.” Photos courtesy of Christopher Myers. Full list of these visionaries here.
What make a city thrive and succeed is not purely on its economy, but also because of its people visionary people.
—Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Herb Caen
There are always the unsung heroes around us. Wanting to share your vision for everyone in the Charm City? Have enough worldly materials and the idea of sharing stuck you? Let us help you with your vision!
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