Open Society Institute Announces Nearly $500,000 in Fellowships to City Residents

Ten new “Fellows” will be working with disadvantaged groups in Baltimore.
On November 12 during its Conference on Social Justice and Activism, held at the Peabody Court Hotel, the Open Society Institute (OSI) announced recipients of 10 fellowships.

The grants will make it possible for Fellows to design and undertake projects to improve life for Baltimore’s underserved and disadvantaged. Each Fellow will receive $48,750 for 18 months of full-time work.

Three hundred city residents applied for the fellowships. The final ten where chosen after an extensive process, including site visits and personal interviews.

The Class of 2003 fellows will tackle issues ranging from supporting formerly incarcerated city residents as they re-enter society to helping torture victims heal and move on. Projects vary from training social justice workers in organizing techniques to using art to educate people about mental illness.

“We look for entrepreneurs,” said OSI-Baltimore Director Diana Morris. “These are people who not only have a good idea, but the tenacity and know-how to develop a sustainable project and bring about significant social change to help marginalized communities in Baltimore.”

Fellow Dale Reid, an attorney who uses a wheelchair, will work with disabled volunteers and the Baltimore City Board of Elections to help make the city’s polling places handicap-accessible. According to Reid, at least 38 voting sites in Baltimore are not handicap-accessible. He plans to work with the city to make sure funds from the Help America Vote Act of 2000 are put to use improving these locations.

Fellow Ameriga Strache is working with Centro de la Comunidad, an outreach center in greater Baltimore, and with area employers to provide English as a Second Language instruction to Latino construction workers at various work sites around the city. The classes take place in trailers on construction sites during lunch or before or after work, are free, and are accessible to Spanish-speakers who often do not have funds or transportation to take community classes elsewhere.

Other fellows include:

Samuel Epps, a political management consultant, will work in partnership with the Maryland Justice Coalition and the Justice Policy Institute to organize a campaign to reduce the number of Baltimoreans in prison by expanding prison aftercare and promoting treatment instead of incarceration.

Leon Faruq, a consultant/counselor for the ex-offender population, will partner with community-based service providers to assist ex-prisoners to navigate a successful re-entry into the community.

Shawn James, an artist and teacher, will establish the “Mural Masters” art program to provide youth with the opportunity to develop business management skills using interior and exterior mural painting as the business model.

Bridget Muller, a professor and bartender, will partner with the Learning Bank of Communities Organized to Improve Life (C.O.I.L.) to organize holistic literacy programming for incarcerated and at-risk adults and their children.

Betty Robinson, a community organizer, will create a network for organizers working on a variety of social justice issues so that they can share resources and organizing techniques. She will also research, document and popularize the history of social justice organizing.

Steven Rubin, a photojournalist, will partner with Advocates for Survivors of Torture and Trauma to provide a program of photographic instruction and art therapy to help heal and empower the victims of torture.

Mellissa Rudder, an artist, will partner with the National Alliance for the Mentally ill to de-stigmatize mental illness. Her primary project will be to develop a mask competition and traveling exhibit to empower people affected by mental illness and to educate the general public.

Joseph Williams, an attorney and social worker, will establish “Staying Connected,” a program to maintain and strengthen relationships between incarcerated women and their children. The program will identify the barriers to family reunification and make appropriate referrals to support the whole family.

The Open Society Institute, a private operating and grantmaking foundation, seeks to strengthen democracy in the US by addressing barriers to opportunity and justice, broadening public discussion about such barriers, and assisting marginalized groups to participate equally in civil society and to make their voices heard. OSI is part of a network of foundations created and funded by George Soros. These foundations are active in more than 50 countries.

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This story was published on December 2, 2003.