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What do Baltimore County youth need most?
How one woman plans to take hundreds of young girls under her wing by introducing her mentoring programs into schools across the Baltimore County area for Baltimore County youth.
As Franklin High School prepares for its 200-year anniversary, former and current students start flocking to the area. The massive all-class reunion commemorates over 15 decades of education in the small Maryland town. From the outside looking in, Baltimore County is a peaceful area opposite to the bustling city just a half-hour drive away. Yet, when some educational demographics of the area are examined, it’s revealed things aren’t so bright.
Angela Coleman enters the call with a big smile and a warm laugh. Behind all the grandiose achievements and massive success is a kind, inviting woman with a clear vision for her organization. “Sisterhood Agenda’s mission is to educate and empower women and girls around the globe and we do that in a number of different ways.” She spoke.
“We have programs, services, trainings. Coordination, collaboration, and partnership is above all a hallmark of our success. We believe sisterhood is the way to do that.” Angela D. Coleman, Founder and President, Sisterhood Agenda
This nonprofit serves as a holistic/wellness hub specifically targeted toward young Black women. With a combination of mentoring and a system of peer support, Sisterhood Agenda aims to push girls in a positive direction. This organization has a variety of ongoing events including housing and community development projects, counseling, summer camps, retreats, and online courses. They also offer internship and scholarship opportunities.
Sisterhood Agenda was founded by an ambitious Coleman directly following her graduation from Princeton in 1994. What started as a small start-up has now branched out to 36 countries with over 6,000 global partners. Their headquarters was initially founded in the Virgin Islands until Hurricane Irma forced the team to relocate in 2020. Now, they reside in the humble suburb of Owings Mills, Maryland. “It’s wonderful to be able to do community projects in areas like Owings Mills…and we chose the location very carefully.” Coleman confirmed when asked about the headquarters.
Some may think there are areas more in need of youth programs such as the neighboring Baltimore City. However, Baltimore County hides a struggling teen population behind a standard suburban exterior.
According to USNews.com and Maryland.news.gov only 39% of Baltimore County public high school students tested at or above the proficient level for reading, and only 5% tested at or above the proficient level for math. Only 27.8% of students were determined to have “sufficient college readiness” (12th graders scoring 3 or higher on AP test). Furthermore, The high school graduation rate of Baltimore County is 77.9%, much lower than the 87.2% overall rate for the state of Maryland. Even more illuminating, Owings Mills High Schools’ graduation rate is 76%. This is “well below the county average.”
Aside from some dismal stats on education, Owings Mills High School has a surprisingly large population of economically disadvantaged students who clearly need an extra push. 60% of students attending Owings Mills High are from low-income families. Out of this group, only 77% graduate on average. Baltimore County youth need more.
It’s worth noting that Owings Mills has a majority Black population, 54% according to datausa.io. This lends itself towards a sizable Black female youth that Coleman believes lacks a center designated for mentorship, mental health, and development as young women.
Aside from being the founder and president of the Sisterhood Agenda, Angela Coleman is a decorated author, activist, and holistic health expert. Upon graduating cum laude from Princeton University, she attended Howard for clinical psychology. Following this, Coleman earned her master’s in business administration at the University of Phoenix and a nonprofit management certification from Duke University. During her time at Princeton, Coleman won the Student Achievement Award in Feminist Scholarship as well as the American Psychological Association Minority Undergraduate Student of Excellence Award.
To say that education is a passion for Angela Coleman is a gross understatement. The Sisterhood Agenda understands the key role education plays in adolescent development. Their strategy is to foster a cycle of mentorship by inspiring girls to continue extracurricular programs beyond school. “A Journey to Womanhood, Sistercamp, those are things that help to develop girls, their self-esteem, positive self-concept, culture, self-acceptance, and get peer support.” Coleman explained.
Young women that come up in the program grow to become mentors themselves and teach mentees that repeat the process. Coleman believes this is why the Sister Circle group therapy program is so popular in particular. “That support network, which we found out with the COVID pandemic, is critical.”
This strategy has been proven effective by one advisor Blanche A. Williams, MS:
“During challenging times when young girls need encouragement, inspiration, and valuable information, the Sisterhood Agenda is answering the call, front, and center. The Sisterhood Agenda serves as a bridge that binds; drives ideas that inspire; and delivers change one girl, around the world, at a time.”
Perhaps this is exactly what Baltimore County youth could use now that motivation seems to be at an all-time low at public schools. While Sisterhood Agenda only recently relocated its headquarters to the Owings Mills area, the impact is already being seen. Coleman is personally collaborating with the Baltimore County Public School administration to implement their programs across the local map for Baltimore County youth.
Soon, we may be seeing a Sister Circle session or Sistercamp being offered at local schools. This is music to Marie Walters ears, who has lived in Owings Mills for over 30 years and has raised 2 daughters in the area. “I would find places by luck or chance.” She said about her past searches for girl-friendly centers. “My first went to a Catholic school so we had her in church-related things. My younger daughter was in the Girl Scouts for a while. I was lucky to have connections to those groups but not everyone has the luxury. The [Baltimore] county could benefit from more mentorship opportunities, especially these days.”
“Its kinda nothing out here.” Walters’ daughter echoes over the phone. “There’s stuff for little kids mostly. But not teens.”
The project is still in its initial stages here in the County, but there is strong evidence of support. Since relocating headquarters, an adverse childhood experience survey was released to gauge the needs of the area. So far, over 30,000 responses have been sent back.
While the interest is certainly there, the method of implementing these programs is still in the works. County executive offices have began working with Coleman on a strategy, but it hasn’t been easy. Debates between parents and teachers on in-person vs virtual sessions and other COVID-19 related setbacks have slowed progress. “Even the overnight camps that used to be three or four weeks now they’re only one week.” Coleman said. Like any nonprofit, funding is also an issue. Relying on donations can be difficult for any organization, but that’s where community support plays a big role.
With the genuine good intentions of Sisterhood Agenda, paired with a community of teachers and parents begging for outlets, Angela Coleman may just be the solution to a struggling Baltimore County youth.
High schools in Baltimore County public schools district. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://www.usnews.com/education/best-high-schools/maryland/districts/baltimore-county-public-schools-108287
State high school graduation rate remains consistent. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://news.maryland.gov/msde/state-high-school-graduation-rate-remains-consistent/
Owings Mills, MD. Data USA. (n.d.). Retrieved May 13, 2022, from https://datausa.io/profile/geo/owings-mills-md/#demographics
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