The first in a series: Through Our Eyes: A Blog Series Centering Community Voice
By Rose Sall
As a 21-year-old college senior, I rely on the narratives of others to put together the story of the world. Of course, most narratives come with bias, especially when told by an outsider. Therefore, before interning with GreenLight Baltimore, the narrative I heard of Baltimore was one of despair – a city of people struggling to get by. Yet, my understanding of Baltimore’s narrative has completely changed in the two months I’ve worked with GreenLight Baltimore. I’ve met two Baltimore natives whose experiences radiate the passion and strength within the city. They strive to uplift this through helping to rewrite the unrealistic narrative given to Baltimore by those foreign to its culture.
The GreenLight Baltimore team is composed of two Baltimore natives with admirable stories. Our Executive Director, Ryan Turner, has a story full of awareness. He grew up in Edmondson Village, raised by a single mother with his older brother. His mother is a social worker who witnesses a lot of the hardships within Baltimore, which led her to shelter her sons from the experiences of being Black boys living in the city. Ryan’s perception of Baltimore consisted of Church, school, and home, limiting his understanding of the world around him. It wasn’t until Ryan moved away from home to attend Hampton University, a Historically Black College in Virginia, that he opened his eyes to the realities of Baltimore beyond the sheltered life his mother created. When Ryan returned home, he took the new meaning of the world Hampton was able to provide him and explored Baltimore in many ways. This new view of Baltimore prompted him to find ways of connecting and uplifting the community.
Ugochi Chinemere, our Program Associate, has a story founded on inspiration. After immigrating to Baltimore from Nigeria, Ugochi’s father found ways to grow within the restaurant business until he established his family-owned restaurant as a self-taught cook. As Ugochi grew up, she worked alongside her family to serve her community, allowing her to hear people’s experiences in the city. Throughout listening to the experiences of lawyers, co-workers, accountants, regular customers, and others, she discovered the struggles and beauty that encompassed Baltimore. These meaningful connections taught her the value of income, owning her skills, confidence, and communication.
Although their stories are different, it led them both here to the GreenLight Fund organization. As I work alongside them, they tell me about the spirit of Baltimore and the internal power fueled by love. Put nicely into words, Ryan says, “part of our strength is that we have family, but we also create family.” The polychronic culture of Baltimore creates an interconnected community focused on uplifting and supporting those around them. Ugochi finds her support, power, and voice within her identity as a Black woman. She speaks passionately about the Baltimore women who are showing up in spaces where Black people are typically not included and finding ways to connect with other Black women. Through this, she recognizes the way she shows up in spaces and is mindful of the power she can hold in them. She’s not a token Black woman. She’s a Black woman focused on Black liberation because that is the future she envisions for her city, her people, and herself. Ryan has witnessed the creation of this future through the adaptation people in Baltimore hold. Through the turmoil and challenges, Ryan describes the Baltimore community’s ability to create. They create safe spaces, havens, and new routes to a future where the narrative of Baltimore moves beyond their struggle and into their perseverance.
When I asked Ryan where his desire to create an impact in his community comes from, he recalled a small moment from when he was five years old. As they were waiting at the bus stop, Ryan’s older brother turned to their mother and said, “Ma, we’re gonna make it.” At the time, he was too young to understand the meaning of that small moment. Now, he looks back and resonates with it. That statement encompasses Baltimore’s strong will to overcome and break barriers down to make space for themselves and the community they’ve created with their courage, authenticity, and faith in each other.
GreenLight Fund focuses on identifying needs in underdeveloped communities and highlighting the resources needed to create significant and efficient change. GreenLight Baltimore is here to do exactly that but in the Baltimore way. As Ugochi said, “We are kind, but we don’t do it nicely. We are raw, real, and authentic.” Ryan and Ugochi are here to help uplift their community and create opportunities for the people of Baltimore to use their voice and power to transform the narrative. They see the endless possibilities of Black people and strive to help create a city where the essence of Baltimore is no longer restrained by the system put in place to hinder its growth. Baltimore has a culture, a vision, and a way of being, which Ryan and Ugochi hope to envision and represent for GreenLight Baltimore.