Top Ten Newsmakers of 2016

1. Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen

We at City Paper knew we wanted—no, needed—to cover Dr. Wen this year because she is so forward-thinking, tireless, and committed to the city. She packs her schedule from sunrise to sunset, because her ability to do the job well is related to her ability to go without sleep, she told me when I spoke to her this fall. She’s been single-minded in her drive to reduce the number of overdose deaths in Baltimore. She’s set up a website so that virtually anyone can learn how to administer Naloxone, a medicine that can reverse an opioid overdose, and get a prescription for it. And that is just one of the many public health issues she is tackling here. Together with former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, she’s also reduced the number of infant deaths in the city from 128 in 2009 to an all-time low of 72 in 2015. There’s a reason we called her “Baltimore’s doctor.” (Lisa Snowden-McCray)

2. Green Party mayoral candidate Joshua Harris

This Chicago community organizer and relatively new-to-Baltimore activist ran an exciting mayoral campaign representing the Green Party. Harris was seen everywhere—shaking hands in Hampden, riding along with the “Stop The Killing” drive, at the Crown, at the Boundary Block Party with his dog, outside the DNC with Jill Stein, organizing for Poe Homes. His approach is no-nonsense, progressive, and inclusive—and it had an effect: He received nearly 10 percent of the vote in the general election. What Harris does next is unclear—Mayor Pugh, hook him up with a position—but he offered a sincere, seriously involved alternative to Baltimore same ol’ and was one of the few who really internalized the lessons of the Baltimore Uprising. (Brandon Soderberg)

3. FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture

The Monument Quilt, a project of Baltimore-based art activist group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, has been brewing for a few years now with quilt-making workshops and displays by and for survivors of rape and abuse across the country, but 2016 was a landmark year. Not only did the group receive the top $25,000 Janet & Walter Sondheim Artscape Prize with an exhibition of the quilt at the Baltimore Museum of Art and score a grant from Art Matters to fund a quilt display at the US/Mexico border in collaboration with Latinx survivors, but in April FORCE presented its largest display yet with a thousand quilt squares blanketing two blocks of North Avenue and the Ynot Lot in Station North. We expect to see FORCE on this list again in 2018, when the activists plan to spell out “Not Alone” with 6,000 quilt squares on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.—a tremendous act of solidarity and healing that now seems even more necessary, considering a misogynist with multiple sexual assault allegations lodged against him will helm the country just blocks away. (Maura Callahan)

4. Activist Makayla Gilliam-Price

Makayla Gilliam-Price, who just graduated from Baltimore City College High School this summer, has been making waves—and headlines—for two years running now as a strident, organized, and articulate civil rights activist. Along with the student-run political group City Bloc, Gilliam-Price helped organize Formation Week at City College this year as a sort of counter-narrative to the school’s traditional Spirit Week. The week-long series of events was inspired by Beyoncé, and Gilliam-Price encouraged students to protest the status quo and be self-reflective and affirming. “What we still need to work on is having conversations that embrace the fluidity and the large spectrum of our ethnicities and of our cultures,” she said. We honored her in our Best of Baltimore awards and the Baltimore Sun put her on its “25 women to watch” list. Baltimore is lucky to have her. (LS)

5. Artist Joyce J. Scott

We saw and heard from Baltimore-born-and-raised artist Joyce J. Scott quite a bit this year. After an incredible show of some of her recent Murano glass sculptures at Goya Contemporary, Scott won the inaugural $50,000 Mary Sawyers Imboden prize, showcasing more of those glass and beaded works—which often evoke difficult themes and stories about racism and sexism and their attendant abuse and violence—at the Baltimore Museum of Art along with the other Baker Award winners. We gave her “Best Artist” in this year’s Best of Baltimore issue (which comes with much prestige and honor, but, well, no cash), which was shortly followed with a MacArthur “Genius” Fellowship (in the amount of $625,000), part of which she told The Sun she’d like to invest in her Sandtown-Winchester community. All of this in addition to her work being included in shows across the U.S., one of her pieces being acquired by the National Museum of African American History and Culture, and a celebration of her 68th birthday. (Rebekah Kirkman)

6.  Orioles center fielder Adam Jones

Adam Jones is typically in the news for his on-field play, and that was true again this year as he launched his 200th career home run. For the sixth straight year, Jones had at least 25 homers and 80 RBI, stellar production for his position. But what brought him national attention in 2016 was some real talk about race and baseball. “Baseball is a white man’s sport,” he said when asked why there were no protests during the national anthem like the ones in the NFL led by Colin Kaepernick. The stats back that up: Only 8 percent of baseball players are African-American. He went on to say this about the protests over Kaepernick taking a knee during the anthem: “At the end of the day, if you don’t respect his freedoms, then why the hell are we Americans? It’s supposed to be the Land of the Free, right?” Jones is known as being outspoken, but as he showed immediately after the uprising, his comments on race are thoughtful and impactful. Since this is a conversation that won’t be ending any time soon, we look forward to Jones’ insight and leadership in the new year. (Brandon Weigel)

7.  America’s librarian Carla Hayden

It’s (usually) a good thing when somebody local makes it big. Carla Hayden, the former CEO of Enoch Pratt Free Library, was sworn in as the country’s 14th Librarian of Congress this past September. Hayden is the first African-American woman to hold the position. She’s known for her love of learning and her appreciation of the role technology plays in education. After she was sworn in, Hayden said she wanted to make information like Rosa Parks’ letters and Abraham Lincoln’s personal papers available online so that all Americans could learn from them. With all the scary people headed for D.C., it’s nice to have someone with a love for education and an appreciation for diversity already there. (LS)

8.  Baltimore’s new city council

Residents elected eight new City Council members this year, a majority of the 15-member body and the biggest turnover in recent memory. Most came in as incumbents retired, but two—Shannon Sneed and John T. Bullock—beat incumbents for the privilege of representing impoverished communities on the east and west sides, respectively. The average age of the departing members is 60, while the newcomers average 37. (Leon Pinkett III, who replaces Nick Mosby in District 7, is the only incoming council member who is older than the one he is replacing). The young blood promises renewed vigor on the council, and wasted no time in denouncing President-elect Donald Trump’s rhetoric as soon as they were sworn in. With activists like Kristerfer Burnett in the 8th district and Zeke Cohen in the 1st; neighborhood fixtures like Ryan Dorsey in the 3rd, Leon Pinkett in the 7th, Robert Stokes (no relation to Carl) in the 12th, and Sneed in the 13th; a young businessman (Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer) in the 5th; and a political scholar (Towson University professor Bullock) taking over the 9th, City Council doings are sure to get more interesting in the coming term. (Edward Ericson Jr.)

9.  The Bell Foundry

When the city condemned the Bell Foundry in early December and evicted its tenants with little notice, Baltimore lost not only another DIY arts venue where artists held intimate shows and created their work, but also what was seen by many as a refuge for queer people and people of color in Station North’s sea of predominantly white artist-run spaces. The tragic Ghost Ship fire that took 36 lives in Oakland—likely the event that spurred the Bell’s almost immediate closure—should have been a call to cities plagued by housing crises, including Baltimore, to provide accessible resources and affordable spaces for artists, not to leave them out in the cold. But—call it cheesy—this slap in the face couldn’t kill the spirit of the Bell tenants nor the community members who helped tenants move out, let them crash on their couches, hosted fundraising events, or donated to the GoFundMe page (which so far has raked in over $21,000 and counting). The artistry, camaraderie, and collaboration that made the Bell great remains strong in the people lucky enough to pass through its doors. This isn’t over. (MC)

10.  Schools CEO Sonja Santelises

Sonja Santelises announced in mid-December that Baltimore City Schools face a massive $129 million deficit. Just a few weeks before that, school officials had to respond to two separate incidents of educators acting inappropriately with students. (In one case, a teacher at Harlem Park Elementary/Middle School was caught on tape calling her students “niggers.” In another, a City Springs Elementary/Middle School tutor allegedly slammed a 7-year-old boy into a wall, injuring his face and mouth.) In each case, Santelises got ahead of the situation early, shared information in a way that looks promising for a new regime of transparency, and took a proactive approach. Being City Schools CEO isn’t easy, but we like the common-sense, ego-less way Santelises approaches the job. (LS)

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