Baltimore BOOM! Academy

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Baltimore BOOM! Academy

Baltimore, United StatesBaltimore, United States
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
nonprofit/ngo/citizen sector
Project Stage:
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Baltimore BOOM! Academy is a civic engagement academy focusing on underserved demographics in disadvantaged neighborhoods in East Baltimore. We utilize design thinking processes to engage citizens in generating social enterprises and other community wealth building strategies.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

people in low resource communities were fully engaged in the information revolution?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

The McElderry Park neighborhood we work in has about 25% of families and 48% of children living under conditions of poverty. Only 1% of all business in Baltimore City are located within walking distance of the neighborhood. Many young people ages 15-35 have little or no programming or empowering opportunities to make solutions that will impact their own lives. 38 non-profits operate in the area, with little communication and don't work together.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

We facilitate design workshops to empower residents to drive their own initiatives. We connect neighborhood initiatives and residents to regional efforts, mentorship and funding sources. We've hosted workshops in the neighborhood that focus and concentrate resident efforts and teach information economy skills. We've helped grow a neighborhood movement called #Reconstruct #Rebuild by collaborating to develop organizational structure, and hosted a series of workshops on digital fabrication, selling creations online and in physical storefronts. We also publish a 16-page newspaper that is a bi-monthly publication and the first ever newsletter for the neighborhood--bridging 38 nonprofits, community organizations and residents.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

In our community, the data indicate most of the crimes in the neighborhood are property theft and petty assault. Two weeks into 2014, Baltimore City already had 14 homocides. Neighborhood residents know the source is drug trade and gang violence among young men between 15-30, for whom there is little opportunity in the neighborhood. Our partners, in a movement called #Reconstruct #Rebuild want to divert the stream of children into gang-members and drug dealers in their neighborhood. By working with this group and others to develop programming specific to this demographic and providing opportunities outside of violence, we are transforming the community.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Transportation in the city of Baltimore is difficult, and many programs that offer a reprieve and training to youth in the city are impractical to attend. BOOM! philosophy is that residents in disadvantaged communities should be supported to take control of their own situations and develop and design solutions that are specifically relevant to them. We've impacted dozens of young people in the neighborhood already through targeted programming and a dynamic approach. We are working on bringing entrepreneurship education and mentorship out of the traditionally white regions of the city to support endeavors in disinvested areas of Baltimore. The neighborhood newspaper we publish, which is the first-ever all-inclusive resource guide of the neighborhood, is hand delivered by residents to 2000+ residents every other month.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We ultimately hope to build and economically and socially stable community from the grassroots level. In Baltimore, we have plenty of examples of failed top-down approaches to community development. In the 1990's, our community was known as one of the most dangerous places in America. In the 2000's, much of the drugs and crime subsided, but we are still at an inflection point for change. We want to connect our community and others like it across the country into the information economy. We want a sense of community and pride for all our neighbors to start building a strong sense of purpose.

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Currently, our project is running on a set of community development grants given to the neighborhood this year. Two team members are supported by MICA MA Social Design program. We are currently working on building out a plan for a design consultancy to market our process to businesses around the region. We also plan on developing an incubator that relies on cuts of funding from launched businesses, as well as recruitment kickbacks from STEM firms

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The City of Baltimore is very silo-ed, with many institutions and groups doing their own programming without communicating with similar endeavors. Instead of compete, we choose to collaborate and bring diverse groups from the region together. Perhaps the largest marker of what makes BOOM! different is that we facilitate a design process that is conducted by residents. Instead of presenting solutions to communities, we provide a platform to support residents to develop and execute their own solutions specific to them, then connect, network, and find funding to support that development.

Founding Story

When we arrived to Baltimore, we learned what conditions people live in here in the USA. Rather than focus our efforts on international development and what poverty looks like elsewhere, we decided to work here in our backyard. In the summer of 2013, we attended a community association meeting in the McElderry Park neighborhood in East Baltimore. Locked out of the church in which we were supposed to meet, the neighborhood residents held the meeting in the shadow of the building, on sandstone steps in the 100+ degree summer heat. The dedication of these residents made us fall in love with the neighborhood we live in, and we've been focusing our work here ever since.
About You
Baltimore BOOM! Academy
About You
About Your Organization
Organization Name

Baltimore BOOM! Academy

Organization Country

, MD, Baltimore

Country where this project is creating social impact

, MD, Baltimore

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Full Impact Potential: What are the main spread strategies moving forward? (Please consider geographic spread, policy reform, and independent replication/adoption of the idea or other mechanisms.)

We want to get people of color involved in business incubation, the booming technology sector, and in government. Currently the situation in Baltimore is a lot of "whites in shining armor" mentality. People of color and people experiencing poverty are vastly under-represented in living wage employment and positions of leadership. We want to help tip that balance. By doing so, we are providing an opportunity out of poverty and empower residents to design, develop, launch and live in healthier, innovation and more productive society. Ultimately, we want this model scalable and open source.

Barriers: What barriers might hinder the success of your project and how do you plan to overcome them?

Our biggest challenge is institutional racism and slow movement in the City of Baltimore, competition with organizations and voices that are louder and dominate the community design narrative, and funding to launch and incubate businesses. Right now we are reaching out to the growing social enterprise community in the city, and networking with other regional efforts, as well as applying for grants to help kickstart the academy. Other efforts don't empower community residents to design and develop their own enterprises; we intend to lead by example, and sell our product to the larger community.

Partnerships: Tell us about your partnerships.

We work with several neighborhood organizations: the McElderry Park Community Association; the Amazing Grace Lutheran Church, a cornerstone community institution; the Men & Families Center, a free public health center staffed by residents; MICA Social Design MA, where I study and my partner is a fellow; Baltimore Social Enterprise Alliance, which is a city org that provides business advice; and other city and neighborhood organizations.

Closing the Loop
How does your project primarily ensure that feedback delivers results?

Facilitate a conversation that combines wisdom of the crowds with the perspective of experts.

Please elaborate on your answer to the above question.

We connect residents:

1: with each other. The newsletter is the first-ever publication in the 120-year history of the neighborhood that is an open platform for residents to write and submit content relevant to their community that is then distributed within the community. All the content is generated by residents, and then hand-delivered by residents to 2000+ homes in the community. We no of no other effort like this in the country.

2: with businesses and employers who otherwise wouldn't connect with the community workforce. BOOM! allows us to showcase talent and skills of residents.

Languages: In what languages are you able to read and write fluently?


2nd Round Questions
Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?

Our goal is to connect people in historically disadvantaged communities into the information revolution. We use our physical newspaper to create a sense of community throughout McElderry Park by getting neighbors talking with each other. The paper is also a tool to show positive, resident-led programming within our community to the outside world, which knows our neighborhood most commonly as "the place The Wire was filmed". We provide a feedback loop within the community for residents and local service organizations to communicate with each other. We've recently begun to reach out to former residents of our community who are currently incarcerated, providing a way for them to access information about their home communities, as well as connect with and share experiences from inside the prisons.

Part of BOOM! is to also network with employers and non-profits from the Baltimore region to do information-economy employment training. We teach graphic design, digital fabrication, web design, and application programming through periodic workshops. Our ultimate goal is to bring together neighborhood initiatives to create a more connected, resilient and economically stable community.

What is the purpose of your feedback loop?


If other, please specify

Community Wealthbuilding

What mediums or mechanisms do you use to collect feedback? (check all that apply)

Paper, Phone or voice, Website, Physical gathering.

If other, please specify
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?

The newspaper we use is physically distributed to community residents every 8 weeks. We deliver the paper in person to nearly 2000 homes in our community. We encourage our delivery team (usually 20-25 people) to strike up conversations with their neighbors as they distribute. We accept in-person contributions to the newsletter, as well as online. Our BOOM! Academy workshops are held in person, and the curriculum develops as interests and needs of our participants change. Because much of the neighborhood is poorly connected with the Internet, most of our communications are in-person meetings and phone calls through a well developed network of organizers, block leaders and neighborhood navigators.

What mechanisms are in place to protect people from retribution?

Option to provide feedback anonymously

If other, please specify
What are the immediate benefits or incentives for people to provide feedback?


If other, please specify

Feeling of being listened to

How do you ensure new and marginalized voices are heard?

Specific targeted outreach efforts

If other, please specify
What are the incentives for the intended recipient to act on the feedback?

They understand that feedback is necessary

If other, please specify
How does the feedback mechanism close the loop with those who provided feedback in the first place?


If other, please specify

Meetings and Published newspapers

How is feedback published/transparent?

Printed in media

If other, please specify
Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.

The community recently received a grant through the US Department of Justice for crime reduction programming. Before our newspaper began publishing this past November, planning meetings for gathering community feedbacks had 4 or 5 neighborhood residents in attendance. Since we've begun our circulation, meetings are regularly 20 to 30 people, ensuring many more community voices are heard.

Our BOOM! Academy workshops are beginning to provide economic incentives to our community. For example, many of the stores in our residential district, East Monument Street (which is part of the Main Streets USA program), are not owned by local residents, and provide little service to us. However, now we have local residents beginning to sell "designer" goods from our digital fabrication training--providing both desirable information economy skills and economic benefits to residents in our community.

If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?

We need scale and to be noticed. Currently, our initiative is but one of many things vying for attention in Baltimore. One of our most well-respected newspapers, the City Paper, was recently bought-out, and print media is thought of as a dying medium. We are slowly growing and gaining support from local politicians and social enterprises, but it is still not fully sustainable. We need to find out our niche and build out a sustainable business model that can fund staff and our programming full-time.

What are your biggest challenges or barriers in “closing the feedback loop”?

Lack of funding for feedback data collection

If other, please specify
Are you aware of The Feedback Store?

No, but I can see myself using it as a resource

What are the main uses you can envision for the Feedback Store?

It looks like an interesting way of getting different models of operating. We are mostly ad-hoc'ing our organizational structure, and it would be valuable to see how others work.

What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?

Navigation around the Changemakers site is a little challenging. I really liked the peer review/feedback part of the competition, however.

What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?

We have targeted programming to reach out to various demographics in the community that otherwise wouldn't communicate with each other (particularly tensions among White, Latino, and Black populations). We publish as much as possible in Spanish and English, and distribute and publicize our paper widely. We have an open editorial board, and anyone is able to join in. We find that keeping our platforms open sourced and allowing anyone who is interested to come to any meeting helps us keep relevant and answer the need of our community.