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Turnaround Tuesday, a program that helps formerly incarcerated individuals and others looking for a fresh start to reenter the workforce, was awarded the 2017 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award on Oct. 7 in Baltimore.

The program, part of the nonprofit Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development, is so named because staff members and volunteers meet Tuesday mornings with unemployed and returning citizens to provide job readiness training and connect them with employers. To date, Turnaround Tuesday, which was founded in 2014, has helped over 300 people gain employment in the Baltimore area.

The annual award was established by the Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute (UHI), to honor the late Henrietta Lacks, the Johns Hopkins cancer patient and resident of Baltimore’s Turner Station neighborhood, whose cells helped advance groundbreaking medical research.

Each year, the award selection committee chooses a Baltimore-based community organization that is working in collaboration with Johns Hopkins University to improve the health and well-being of city residents to receive a $15,000 award. 

UHI director Bob Blum, MD, PhD, MPH, explained the significance of the award before presenting it to Turnaround Tuesday co-directors Terrell Williams and Melvin Wilson at the annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture held at the John Hopkins Medical Campus.

“This award is about recognizing excellence,” said Blum. “It is about recognizing efforts in the community that help sustain and advance not just the community but the people who live here.”

Said Williams: “We represent many people in Baltimore city who believe people deserve a second chance. We listened to people on Baltimore corners who told us over and over again that all they wanted was a chance to re-connect to true employment.”

Latish Walker, a Turnaround Tuesday program participant and now a Johns Hopkins employee, discussed her experience in a video about the program that was shown at the lecture. “I went through the six-week session and now I am able to be employed through Johns Hopkins Hospital. I’ve gone from being homeless to owning my own home and taking care of my children, and that is because of this movement.”

The $15,000 award will help Turnaround Tuesday continue to help Baltimore residents get back on their feet and enhance their well-being.


You can view Turn Around Tuesday's Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award video here

Media contact: Imani West at 410-502-0440 or


SquashWise provides academic support, college and career prep along with coaching in the sport of squash

The Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute, which is based at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Health, announced Saturday, Oct. 1 that the winner of the sixth annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award is SquashWise. The program uses squash to develop scholar-athletes and also provides college and career preparation to Baltimore City youth.

The Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award was established in honor of former Turner Station resident and Johns Hopkins cancer patient Henrietta Lacks, whose cells helped make groundbreaking advances in medical research and serves as an enduring reminder of her contribution to medical science and to her community.

The $15,000 award recognizes a Baltimore community-based organization that is collaborating with Johns Hopkins University to improve the health and well-being of Baltimore residents.

Robert Blum, MD, PhD, MPH, director of the Urban Health Institute, presented the award on Saturday at the 2016 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture. Abby Markoe, MA, executive director of SquashWise, accepted the award. She was joined by board member, William Durden, PhD, and three current SquashWise students.

“SquashWise is a perfect example of how you can direct your passion—in this case, the sport of squash—to making a sustained, long-term impact on the lives of young people in Baltimore City,” says Blum, who is also chair of the Department of Population, Family and Reproductive Health at the Bloomberg School.

SquashWise has deep roots with Johns Hopkins University, beginning when Markoe co-founded the organization in 2007 when she was a graduate student in History of Medicine program at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Since then, SquashWise has developed ties with Hopkins’ Ralph S. O’Connor Recreation Center, where SquashWise students practice squash and study, along with volunteer and internship partnerships with SOURCE, the community engagement and service-learning center for the Bloomberg School of Public Health, the School of Nursing and the School of Medicine at Johns Hopkins University. SquashWise also works with the Center for Social Concern at Hopkins, the Johns Hopkins School of Education, the community-service co-ed fraternity Alpha Phi Omega and the Johns Hopkins squash teams.

SquashWise will use the $15,000 award to add a new class of 20 “rookies” this academic year and continue to support SquashWise students in middle school, high school and college.

You can view Squash Wise Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award Video here


UHI Presents the Fifth Annual Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award to the Pythias A. and Virginia I. Jones African-American Community Forum on Memory Loss

Former State Senator Verna Jones-Rodwell was only 9 years old when her mother began displaying symptoms of memory loss. At first they were subtle: hot dogs left on the stove too long, a missed birthday, a wrong turn. Nothing that couldn’t be explained.

Over time, though, the symptoms grew more noticeable. Her older sister, Ernestine Jones Jolivet, was a school teacher with two young children. She became alarmed when the mother she depended on for help with her own children became distant and unreliable.

“We thought she was depressed. We had no idea she had Alzheimer’s disease,” Jolivet said. She was one of five siblings; Jones-Rodwell was the baby of the family. One of their brothers was a medical student, however. It fell on his shoulders to try to explain the diagnosis to the family. Their initial reaction was shock and confusion. They didn’t know where to turn.

“To be very honest, after we first got the diagnosis, we didn’t share it immediately. We were ashamed. When you hear about someone losing their memory, someone not as sharp as they used to be, there’s a stigma,” Rodwell-Jones said.

Years later, when their father was diagnosed with dementia, they faced the same trials a second time. After his death, “We thought no one should have to go through what we went through as a family,” Jolivet said. Together, the two sisters asked that donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association and earmarked for African American outreach and education. From their contributions was born the Pythias A. and Virginia I. Jones African-American Community Forum on Memory Loss, winner of the 2015 Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award.

 A university-community partnership led to the development of the Forum, an annual, day-long event for families of individuals with Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other illnesses that create memory loss. The Forum is the product of a collaboration between the Johns Hopkins Memory and Alzheimer’s Treatment Center, the Alzheimer’s Association, Greater Maryland Chapter, Coppin State University and the Baltimore City Health Department Division of Aging and Care Services.

Now in its 11th year, the Forum provides information on research and clinical trials, support services and other resources to hundreds of Baltimore families.

The Jones family struggled for years on their own. Their first attempt to seek help from a support group left them stunned, because they were the only African-Americans in the room. Eventually, desperate for information and help, they decided to return to the support group even though they didn’t know anyone.

That was a huge leap of faith, according to Crystal Day-Black, assistant professor at Coppin State University and one of the Forum’s organizers. “There’s a distrust with agencies, with doctors, with hospitals. We don’t go and seek out services. We don’t go to support groups,” she said. Day-Black explained that African American families have a tradition of caring for their elders at home, so they don’t tend to reach out for help. “So if they don’t come to us, we have to go to them.”

By presenting the Forum at Coppin State, families have a familiar, comfortable space to ask questions, network and find support, Day-Black said. “It’s important to develop a trusting relationship with those who can tell us about the disorder, about treatment, about care. That’s been the biggest (success) that has happened with the Forum—we’re developing trust in the community. Coppin, as a historically black college and institution, is trusted in the neighborhood.”

For the Alzheimer’s Association, the Forum represented an opportunity to reach an underserved population in the community. “We recognized that our organization did not reflect the community we were serving,” says Cass Naugle, executive director. “This Forum has had a wonderful impact on the community, as well as on our organization. We have seen increases in African American participation in just about every aspect of our organization—in our services, care consultation, our helpline, our support groups—and now we actually have people who look like the community we’re serving delivering those services. “

The event also gives student nurses a chance to interact with the community and learn from families. Day-Black told the story of a woman who attended the Forum for the first time several years ago. “She sat in the hallway and cried, for two or three hours. Different students kept going up to her and saying ‘Are you okay? Can I sit with you?’ It was literally the first time that she had been able to get out of the house. She had five brothers and sisters and no one would help her with Mama. The students rallied around her, gave her love and support, gave her some references.”

Because of her experience with the students, the woman came back the next year, and the year after that. She kept coming back, even after her mother passed away.  Last year, she said, “I’m working in my church. I’m volunteering. I’m mentoring other families who are going through the same experiences.”

The kinds of connections forged between participants help families go from feeling like victims to victors, Rodwell-Jones said. Families are empowered by realizing they have access to information and sources of support.

 “The Forum is an inspiring example of what is possible when Johns Hopkins and the community work together,” says Robert Blum, director of the Urban Health Institute. “This collaboration has created a model for engagement with the Baltimore community that transforms lives.”

All of the partners expressed their gratitude for the award, and the hope that it will allow them to expand their work.

“Winning this award is so humbling. I am honored just by the fact that this award is in place,” Jones-Rodwell said, adding that each year new families attend the Forum, demonstrating that there is still a need for their program.

As the 2015 winner of the Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award, the Forum received $15,000 in support and was honored at the Henrietta Lacks Memorial Lecture on Oct. 10.

The Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award was established in 2009 in honor of former Turner Station resident and Johns Hopkins cancer patient Henrietta Lacks, whose cells helped scientists make ground-breaking advances in medical research. The award is intended to be an enduring reminder of her contribution to medical science and to her community. 

You can view The Pythias A. and Virginia I. Jones African American Community Forum on Memory Loss' Henrietta Lacks Memorial Award Video here


“It’s never been better for the working poor than it is now. But it’s never been worse for those at the ragged end of the poverty line,” said Kathryn Edin, speaking at a recent Baltimore Dialogue at Amazing Grace Lutheran Church.

Edin, a professor at Johns Hopkins University and author of the newly published $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, is one of the nation’s leading poverty experts. Her new book describes the results of two decades’ research on American poverty.  Although the research for her book took place in Chicago, Cleveland, eastern Tennessee and the Mississippi delta, Edin told the gathering, “This book is very much a Baltimore story.”

“Many of our states have no safety nets left. Tax credits only work if you’re working. You can’t actually live on $2 a day.” That reality, Edin said, is as true in Baltimore as it is in other parts of the country.

She described a major change in the last two decades in how the poorest of the poor survive. Welfare, once a safety net, has plummeted as many people no longer qualify for those benefits. In 2011, 1.5 million households with roughly 3 million children were surviving on cash incomes of no more than $2 per person, per day in any given month.

Many poor working families do receive tax credits and many more receive food stamps. But as Fidel Desir, a PhD student at Johns Hopkins and a Brown Scholar, noted, “With food stamps, you can’t pay the light bill. You can’t pay the rent. You can’t buy your kids underwear. You can’t buy the smart phone you need to apply for jobs.”

Edin told the story of a woman named Ashley, who received $50 in exchange for participating in the research study. She did not use the money for food or rent. She spent her money on a pantsuit and a perm, in order to polish her appearance for job interviews. Without money, Edin said, those kinds of purchases aren’t possible. “What does it mean to live with virtually no cash?”

Among those Edin documented as living on $2 a day, half were white; one quarter were black, and one quarter Latino. And while the focus is often on families headed by single mothers, one third of the households living in extreme poverty were headed by a married couple.

“These are people who want to work and who can’t get a job,” Edin said. “Unprecedented numbers of single mothers on welfare want to work. They are trying to work. They are saying, ‘If you have a job, I’m there.’ There aren’t even enough bad jobs to go around. We need a radical expansion of employment.”

Edin said she thinks the private sector can only do so much. “There’s an incredible catch-22. Americans are averse to welfare but we are also averse to taxation. If we’re going to create employment for all, then government is going to have to play a larger role.”

Another issue faced by the poorest families is lack of affordable housing, she said. “We have to address the affordable housing crisis. Every parent ought to be able to raise her children in a place of her own.”

Lack of jobs and lack of housing lead to myriad problems for families, ranging from wage theft (maids expected to clean additional rooms before or after their shifts) to poor nutrition (families in which everyone is scrambling for work and living in shared quarters are places where cooking “fades away,” Edin said).

When people participating in the Dialogue asked Edin how she thought they could help, she made two suggestions: obsessively tip anyone in the service industry and know how the businesses they deal with treat their employees.

UHI and Amazing Grace Lutheran Church present a new Baltimore Dialogue several times a year as a way to engage community members in discussions about living in Baltimore.

 “This is not a lecture. This is not a book club. We use books that are relevant to Baltimore to talk about race, racism, power and privilege,” Robert Blum, UHI director.

Gary Dittman, pastor of Amazing Grace, was pleased by the turnout for the discussion on poverty. “We’re looking for ways to connect our worlds, ways to make our community healthier,” he said.

When: 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. September 21, 2015
Where: Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, 2424 McElderry Street - Baltimore, MD  21205

The Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute presents a new Baltimore Dialogue twice quarterly as a way to engage community members in discussions about living in Baltimore. This intimate forum is based on a book club format, in which everyone is welcome to join in the conversation. To be added to our mailing list, which includes announcements for upcoming programs as well as other UHI and community news, subscribe here.


“I feel like every kid in Baltimore City is an at risk kid,” said Kevin Shird, Baltimore native and co-founder and President of the Mario Do Right Foundation, an organization dedicated to mentoring and supporting the children of substance abusing parents. Shird is also the author of Lessons of Redemption, a powerful new memoir that was the focus of the Urban Health Institute’s December “Baltimore Dialogue” series on Dec. 11.

At the final program in the 2014 series, Shird talked about becoming a drug dealer at 16, a major kingpin by 21, and then a prison inmate for 12 years. He credits the education he gained while in prison, along with a profound amount of soul searching, for helping him turn his life around. Now he works full-time to keep other young people from following in his footsteps.
“I had just been sentenced and I said ‘One day you’re gonna be back on the street. One day you’re gonna be free. What are you gonna do with it?” His answer was to educate others. “No kid is born saying ‘I can’t wait to be a drug dealer!’ It’s a process. It’s also a process to get him out.”

In his book, Shird describes a childhood in which the dual realities of poverty and an alcoholic father led him to seek respect, money, and a mentor on the streets. Once he became accustomed to life as a player—Shird refers to a drug dealer’s life as “the game”—he was afraid to consider any other course. It wasn’t until after several near-death experiences, the birth of his daughter, and time in prison that he decided the only way his future was going to change was if he took steps towards changing it.
He attended community college while in prison and eventually began to teach other inmates. Now he speaks openly with anyone who will listen about his experiences.

“I want to help people really understand the mind of the guy standing on the corner, the kid with one pocket full of drugs and a handgun in the other, who is scared to death.  I was that kid. When we talk about policies, when talk about laws, we need to understand that kid,” he said, adding, “We’re not going to arrest our way out of this situation.”

In 2010, Shird organized focus groups to examine the issue of substance abuse. He also consulted with the Center for Learning and Health at Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Drug Treatment Center. Those efforts led him to launch the Live Right-Do Right program—a school-based substance abuse program for adolescents and teens in 2011. The program takes a holistic approach to educating and empowering youth.

When: December 11, 2014 - 9:30am-11:00am 
Where: Amazing Grace Lutheran Church 2424 McElderry Street - Baltimore, MD  21205

The Johns Hopkins Urban Health Institute presents a new Baltimore Dialogue twice quarterly as a way to engage community members in discussions about living in Baltimore. This intimate forum is based on a book club format, in which everyone is welcome to join in the conversation. To be added to our mailing list, which includes announcements for upcoming programs as well as other UHI and community news, subscribe here.

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