Recently I had the absolute privilege to hear the First Lady of the United States of America—Michelle Obama—deliver the address for Bowie State University’s 2013 Commencement. It was a moment I soaked up; one I will have for the rest of my life. Sitting there with my friends, who like me are alums of the university, as well as two of our mothers our eyes filled with tears. As we watched…heard…listened to a woman who exemplifies that things we did not believe were possible—are.
All the better that what she said struck such a cord. As she spoke, she invoked the legacy of which we once were proud, but now too few seem to recognize at all. One where, as Bowie State University was founded in 1865, blacks were provided one of the rights of freedom that can never be taken away—an education. Of course, there are many who value it, who earn multiple degrees, and go into debt for it. But, there are also far too many of us that take this opportunity for granted.
And this has been my concern with respect to how to improve the Prince George’s County Public School System. I matriculated through the public schools in the county. Attended the University of Maryland and earned a degree from Bowie State University. I remember being appalled when a student at Bowie State asked me “why would you transfer from Maryland to Bowie?” Because my answer was one of audacity that had not occurred to her: “I can go to school anywhere.” I was prepared. And I would do the work—no matter where I went to college—to be whatever my dream dictated.
I learned this audacity at home. Where education was a core part of our value system. My Mother, when I once later thought I would travel the world instead of going to college quoted to me the United Negro College Fund slogan “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.” And she was right. So I pushed on. Where would I be today if I had not? And if not for my Father and for my Grandparents. The people I saw whose deep roots in a very racist south taught them and me that they were doing what they hoped I would not later have to. That their tireless work would open a door of opportunity for me to do and to be more.
So when Mrs. Obama got a little emotional speaking about her Dad and how he soldiered daily to get up for work to pay what he could towards her college tuition despite his illness, I knew of the sacrifice of which she spoke. As well as the imprint it left on her mind of what was truly important. I sometimes wonder how many of my fellow Prince Georgians feel the same.
There was a time, as Mrs. Obama said, that we were “hungry to learn.” Where it was against the law for black Americans to learn to read. Yet many, right here in our county, sought their freedom through the power of knowledge. Where has this gone? Have we gotten to the middle-class and moved so far up that we have lost much of what got us here? In a county that so many look to as a beacon of success, I’ve been disappointed to hear from my friends with kids in the school system the things that are happening there. Not everywhere of course, but in enough classrooms. But when I’ve had the opportunity to interact with young people, as I often do in my work, I’m even more disappointed when too many of them tell me what they experience; not only in the classroom and community, but in their homes. From a village and a generation before them that seems to have provided much material wealth yet has fallen short in offering some basic guidance.
I’m not sure where I net out in this discussion of changes to the school board, but what I do know is this—it’s not so much about who is in power—but who is empowered. There are people from all across the globe that come to the United States from some of the poorest communities in the world and succeed in college and in life. Not because they came from the school system that spent the most money—but because they want it.
Prince George’s County has the highest obesity rate in the state of Maryland. We’re hungry for something…but just what is it?
The city of Bowie is actively considering the addition of an indoor sports facility for residents in the coming years, and it couldn’t come at a better time. With the recent publication of the 2013 County Health Rankings by The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, health data indicates that we still have a long way to go towards improving the physical health of Prince George’s County residents.
The adult obesity rate within the county is one of the highest in the state, with 34% of all county residents having a bit more meat on their bones then necessary. Perhaps it’s because we have every fast food option imaginable? Seventy-two percent of all food establishments within the county belong to a fast-food chain, making that a whopping 681 fast food restaurants in total, the most of any Maryland county.
Yet, our fate may not be as grim after all. The premature death rate of all county residents has been reduced from 8,258 years of potential life lost before the age of seventy-five to 7,720 years of life lost. The county’s physical environment rating increased by two and was also given the number two position for creating open access to its many parks. Given this information, the health of the county is improving incrementally, but could benefit from increased physical activity and better nutrition options. Residents can become more acquainted with local parks as well as keep active by creating walking or fitness groups. Residents should also push for policy changes to increase nutritional options. For instance, legislation could mandate grocery stores or farmers markets for a specified number of fast food restaurants within any one area. How else can we better utilize available resources, such as parks, recreational facilities, and even our neighborhoods and homes to improve our health? What are some secrets and suggestions for maintaining health and wellness within Prince George’s County?
Rashida M. Weathers is the laboratory director of the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Mid-Atlantic Laboratory, where she oversees a staff of forensic chemists and fingerprint specialists that provide forensic drug analysis and fingerprint examinations for federal law enforcement agencies in the District of Columbia, Maryland, Virginia, and West Virginia. Ms. Weathers has been employed by the DEA for over 15 years and has testified as an expert witness in forensic chemistry in Arizona, California, and the Northern Mariana Islands. She actively mentors and encourages youth, particularly those underrepresented in sciences programs, to pursue careers in science through her work with organizations such as the American Chemical Society, the National Organization for the Professional Advancement of Black Chemists and Chemical Engineers, and the Committee on the Advancement of Women Chemists.
Ms. Weathers often speaks with youth and young adults at career fairs and job fairs to provide guidance on pursuing federal employment or careers in forensic science. A native of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Ms. Weathers has resided in Prince George’s County for eight years, where she is a member of the First Baptist Church of Glenarden. She received a Bachelor of Science degree in biochemistry from Chestnut Hill College in 1995 and a Master of Science in Chemistry from Miami University in 1997.
Using the Forty UNDER 40 themes – Arts and Humanities, Business, Education, Health & Fitness, Public Service, Science & Engineering – the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund is ‘Building Momentum’ by developing an advocacy agenda that aligns various segments of our community toward very specific goals and outcomes.
Our work is based on a fundamental belief that through innovative solutions, sector alignment, and a keen focus on results, Prince George’s County can quickly shift course on a broad number of issues facing its most vulnerable populations and improve overall quality of life. We recognize the pockets of opportunity in the County, and an enormous number of projects that fall outside of impactful strategy. Our expectation is to create a strategy that supports the local infrastructure and aligns our individual contributions toward measurable outcomes.
How We Advocate:
PGCSIF positions itself as a ‘think and do’ tank .We support issues, initiatives, and causes on behalf of County residents and the County’s’ forward-looking interest based on needs, data, and good practice.
STEP 1: Establish Common Goals (specific and measurable) across each of the 6 Forty UNDER 40 Themes (timeline – June 2013).
On Thursday, January 31, 2013 , the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund held the second annual Forty UNDER 40 Awards Ceremony honoring 40 of Prince George’s County residents that are doing wonderful things in the community in the areas of Public Service, Arts & Humanities, Science, Health & Fitness, Business , and Education. If you missed it, Take a moment to check out a video montage of the event.
With more than 60% of County residents commuting outside of Prince George’s for employment; and nearly 50% of families headed by single parents, the notion of ‘vulnerable children’ in the Prince George’s County context can be expanded beyond traditional indicators of income, access, and zip code. When it comes to childcare services – namely aftercare – in the County, the need spans a diverse socio-economic spectrum, as the vast majority of k-6 public school children are in some form of after school education, sports, or extra-curriculum activity between the hours of 2 PM and 6 PM. These children typically spend more than 40% of their day in aftercare (in a 10 hour day, 6 are spent in school and 4 in aftercare).
The aftercare ‘premium’ for parents is many-fold, the first of which is the extensive decision-making process in choosing an appropriate afterschool care option. The range of decision points include price, quality of care, safety, distance to school, transportation offerings, and hours of operation. The second key premium is quality of instruction, which typically does not factor high into choice, because there is no established standard.
For aftercare providers there are also premiums, as stretched families are heavily rely on them for a broad range of services, many of which fall outside of their core competencies. Based on demand, they are typically required to offer transportation, sports training, some instruction, and there is a high premium on homework help. The State of Maryland licenses providers and establishes safety standards and training that is affordable, accessible, and largely adhered to. But providers are left to their own resources when it comes to establishing quality standards of instruction and there is no direct or organized link to public school standards or best practice approaches.
We believe that a well networked aftercare system in Prince George’s County has the greatest potential to positively impact public school academic performance quickly. This system would equip aftercare providers with best practice tools and competencies in aftercare education in a way that supports and complements public school performance. This approach expands options for parents and equalizes a system where price is often an indication of quality, rather than quality performance standards directly.
The expectation is that children K-6 will demonstrate improved public school performance quickly when aftercare programs (public, private, religious, and non-profit) are equipped with common ‘best practice’ quality standards, trained on useful teaching techniques, have access to common tools, and shared performance outcomes.
In the spring of 2013, PGCSIF along with The Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce will engage countywide network organizations, out-of-school time providers, and the philanthropic community in order to effectively launch the ‘2 to 6’ initiative in Prince George’s County. For more information, contact us at email@example.com.
The Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund works as a catalyst for social impact. Its mission is to build social capital and invest in new approaches to solving challenges in Prince George’s County.
In 2011, PGCSIF launched the Forty UNDR 40 Prince George’s initiative and has since established a strong reputation in the community across sectors. Over the next several months, PGCSIF expects to expand its partnerships, programs, and offerings in support of its ambitious mission. We will expand the Forty UNDER 40 initiative to include a civic engagement component; launch the ‘2 to 6 Initiative’ focusing on strengthening out-of-school initiatives in the county; accelerate opportunities for social entrepreneurship; and engage cross-sector players in conversations and activities that improve human service coordination and improve quality of life for vulnerable populations.
In order to implement the work described above, PGCSIF is seeking two Social Innovation Fellows to support its vision, strategy, and work program. Fellows will provide research, administrative support, fund-raising assistance, plan meetings, workshops, facilitate discussions, develop and administer surveys, along with other tasks as needed. We are looking for results-driven, impact-oriented, highly motivated individuals who recognize the potential of social change and collective impact.
Two fellows are sought for a four-month assignment. Fellows will work approximately 25 hours per week and should have his/her own computer (with internet access), telephone, and access to transportation. Fellows will be paid a bi-monthly stipend at an estimated rate of $10 per hour ($500 every two weeks) and will be hired as contractors, receiving a 1099 form for employment at the end of the calendar year. Fellows will be reimbursed for discreet expenses that have been preapproved.
Candidates should send a cover letter and resume to firstname.lastname@example.org. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. All applications should be submitted by February 4, 2013.
This past September, the Prince George’s County Social Innovation Fund (PGCSIF) launched the Small but Powerful Funding contest. Our aim was to identify ‘big ideas’ for social/economic development in Prince George’s County and offered a start-up prize of $1,000 to either launch or expand a locally-focused, community-oriented initiative. Well, here’s what happened…
We received nearly 18 entries for the contest. Admittedly, most of the entries were incomplete, so we were able to quickly short-list the applicants to four viable proposals. The proposals largely focused on youth development through coaching, mentoring, and reading/comprehension improvements. Each proposal touched on important issues impacting Prince George’s County youth. The review panel – consisting of a Prince George’s County resident/artist-entrepreneur (Tamara Wellons), a PGCPS teacher (Mbahlia Colson), and a nationally recognized teaching artist and trainer (Gayle Danley) – felt that each proposal would have benefited from a more developed concept, a more focused implementation plan, a target audience, and identification of success indicators (or evaluation criteria). After some deliberation and with a bit reservation, the panel agreed on a winner.
Then, PGCSIF staff called each of the short-listed organizations and shared the reflections from the review panel – - both the optimism about the proposed work; and along with the reservations about the proposals as they were presented. We first spoke with the proposed ‘winner’ and floated the idea of rather than funding a single organization with the $1,000 prize, redirecting the prize money to support a group session on concept development and fundraising for start-ups for all of the applicants. In essence, PGCSIF was abandoning its original commitment. But after speaking with each of the four short-listed organizations, sharing our concern, and listening to their needs and feedback; we all very quickly agreed with that the suggested alternative.
As such, PGCSIF will use the resources intended for this prize to organize a session for the four short-listed organizations – One by 1, Inc., The NM Project, Beyond the Surface, Inc., and Put it in Perspective and other interested organizations – on effective proposal development and fund-raising strategies for start-up initiatives. To quote Eddie Ellis of One by 1, Inc., “I would rather you teach me to fish, than give me a fish”. All four of those short-listed recognized the need for capacity development and are excited about the opportunity to learn, grow, and make a sustainable local contribution.
PGCSIF also learned quite a bit from this experience. We recognized that 1. Real innovation sometimes means abandoning your original idea and moving to something that is even more effective; 2. A conversation between funder and potential grantee can often lead to better outcomes (hiding behind the brick wall of donor/recipient relationship is less effective and far less powerful); and 3. We need a fishing school. There are people with great ideas about how to address local needs and many have taken on small-scale initiatives with little to no external support. We should be more intentional about finding these individuals and supporting their capacity development needs in order to more sustainably address local issues.
We appreciate the time, interests, and commitment of the review panel and the applicants. Please look for details a workshop for the ‘Small but Powerful’ on proposal development and fund-raising strategies for start-ups/locally oriented initiatives in early 2013.
I always tell women they can be like me—stronger by saving, investing, and doing business with technology,” said Admire Bio, the single mother who has opened a handful of Internet cafes in Freetown, Sierra Leone.
But for many women, particularly for rural women in lower- and middle-income countries, that’s easier said than done—they are often on the outside, looking in, when it comes to technology.
We can change that. Let’s innovate for the benefit of girls and women—and for all of us, really. The reality is that when women are given a chance to pursue their dreams, everybody wins.
The tough news: Women face a gender and technology divide. Less than a quarter of the women in Africa are Internet users. In Asia, that figure dips to 22 percent, and in the Middle East, just six percent of women have access to the web. Women also find it difficult to gain access to other technologies like radios and mobile phones.
The good news: The global economy—and the emergence of affordable technological innovations—has the potential to empower women by bridging that gap.
To help more women take charge of their lives as Admire Bio did, Intel Corporation and Ashoka Changemakers have launched the She Will Innovate: Technology Solutions Enriching the Lives of Girls competition. This challenge is designed to promote information and communication technology (ICT) solutions that improve the lives of girls and women by erasing barriers to access—exclusion from education and design, financial constraints, social norms favoring men, and the lack of free time—and accelerating digital literacy and economic resilience.
If you’re helping to bridge the gender and technology divide through ICT training programs, mobile phone services for rural villages, or other means, we want to hear from you!
There is more than US $30,000 in unrestricted cash funding up for grabs, including the special US $5,000 “She Will Innovate Idea Award” for the best early-stage initiative in the competition.
The entry deadline is August 15, 2012.
She will innovate if given half a chance … what are you waiting for?