By Renee Foose, Special to the AFRO
Burning the candle at both ends as a young mother, working full time and studying for her degree part time, LaShawna Wright was stretched even further when she found herself in a battle with the Baltimore City court system. Wright was fighting for custody of her sister following the death of her mother. The battle lasted more than two and half years before Wright finally was awarded custody last October.
Armed with only a little knowledge and experience of how courts work, Wright said her experience was exhausting. “The courts deal in black and white and our situation was gray,” she said. “What lasted more than two years could have been done in a year if I knew how things worked. No one explains things to you,” she said.
Her experience has become her call to action and she is now working toward a Bachelor’s degree in nonprofit leadership at Coppin State University where she intends to start a business that focuses on reuniting foster children with their parents and educating others on how to navigate the legal process. “I want to help others in ways I was not helped,” she said.
Makia Jalloh, 21, is also a Coppin student working towards a degree in nonprofit leadership with the goal of starting a foundation. “My family is from Sierra Leone and I’ve seen how people there receive medical care. Nurses often treat sick and injured patients and have to wash the blood off their gloves because they only have one pair. I want to start a foundation that provides basic medical supplies to hospitals and health clinics in my country,” she said.
Coppin is the only school in the University System of Maryland to offer an undergraduate degree in nonprofit leadership; curious since according to the Johns Hopkins Center for Civil Society, Maryland is home to more than 30,000 not-for-profit organizations.
Tenyo Pearl is the program director and actively recruits potential students into the thriving world of nonprofit leadership studies. “My role as the campus director is to work with students who are passionate about making a difference in the lives of others,” she said.
“Daily, students enter my office with a glimmer in their eyes. Many say to me ‘one day, I would like to open my own nonprofit organization,’ or ‘I feel like I am called to help people.’ Having been on their side of the desk, I understand whole-heartedly what they are experiencing,” Pearl said.
The program allows students to select nonprofit leadership as either a major or minor and prepares them with high impact practices to mobilize social change.
Shawn Burnett, 32, of Baltimore is a graduate of the program and has used what he learned to create several businesses in Baltimore. “Much of what I was doing, working with youth, helping with the education and mentoring of Black males, required money. To get organizations to donate money and resources, I needed to create a nonprofit business so donors could benefit with taxes. The program at Coppin helped me learn this along with how to network effectively to grow my business,” Burnett told the AFRO.
“Not only did I learn how to set up a business, I learned how to fundraise, the power of networks, context and the history of nonprofits and how they were intended to help with societal ills,” Burnett said.
Coppin alum Kenneth Clemons earned a minor in non-profit leadership. “Since graduating from the program, opportunities get bigger and bigger,” Clemons said. A trained urban artist, Clemons’ career went from working with local community groups to creating art seen throughout Baltimore. Murals on Fulton and Greenmount avenues, and in Waverly Village are a few of the urban scenes Clemons was commissioned to create. He also created the street art for The Road to AFRAM Festival last summer in Druid Hill Park.
“Many people think you can’t make good money working in the nonprofit arena,” said Pearl. “You can be very successful, create a successful business and earn plenty of money, while at the same time, help people,” she said. “I have observed students flourish into prominent nonprofit leaders in the sector.”