There is something very special about those Baltimore natives. There is a resilience like no other that swings through like the bat of Chris Davis when adversity strikes. There is an infectious love of the city that shines bright, clearly evident in the way that their eyes light up when asked if they were born and raised here. They will staunchly defend their beloved city from the negative press. They will also read you your rights if you are a transplant that has the audacity to complain about the potholes and crime, while you take advantage of their city’s potential and provide unsolicited advice on how it can be improved. They see you – sipping overpriced cups of coffee on gentrified blocks, making plans to help them. They appreciate the concern, the ideas, and the assistance. However, they also understand that their success is contingent upon their own ingenuity. President Barack Obama said it best, “change will not come if we wait for some other person, or if we wait for some other time. We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.”
Ateira Griffin is a Baltimore Corps Fellow, nearing the end of her one year fellowship at City Hall. In just this year, she has accomplished many of the goals that she set for herself, all aimed at helping others in the name of social justice. Ateira is a proud Baltimore native, a Poly alumni to be exact, and she is kneading the dough of change by creating and executing innovative ideas for the community that she holds dear. She loves the fact that Baltimore is so diverse and she welcomes everyone to the picnic with the hospitality and open arms that one would expect from any resident from any southern city, even one that sits in the state of Maryland, just below the Mason-Dixon line on the border. However, Ateira is frustrated with the well-meaning programs that people come to Baltimore and start, and she believes that what is needed to fix her city must come from within. She states with great poise and a glimpse of her strength, “Often Baltimore residents miss out on opportunity because they are not always able to effectively articulate even though they might be the most capable at driving change and creating solutions. We need to develop our people who are natives, each and every person in the city. There is also a lack of a culture of collaboration. We need to pair-down the multitude of organizations doing the same work, bring them together and see how they can work collectively by working together with each organization focusing on their strengths. Baltimore is small enough so everyone can know you and big enough so you can be a big deal. So, we all need to check our egos because privilege makes you blind and you forget where you came from.”
Fortunately, Ateira never forgets where she came from. She admits that she recognizes her own privilege. However, it must be noted that this privilege was granted through the educational opportunities that she earned. This, along with the opportunities that she has been afforded as a result of her participation and proactive nature in various Fellowship programs, like Teach for America, and including her current program with Baltimore Corps. Ateira shared that she has always been serious and contemplative and that she always had a sense of self and her own mind. At a very young age she was exposed to and influenced by the work of Nikki Giovanni and Lauren Hill. Fortunately, she also had great teachers that told her that being this way was cool and that she was brilliant and beautiful. Her mother and brother did not have the same path, so she understands first hand both sides of the coin. Coming from a single parent home in an environment that was far from privileged, Ateira channeled her frustration and perceived disadvantage into hard work and tenacity and this opened the doors to opportunity. Having a keen perspective of both worlds has given her a unique ability to understand and operate to her fullest potential in any environment. Her background and her circle of close friends and family is what keeps her grounded and gives her the insight and understanding to lend her voice and execute her ideas through action to provide and create real solutions.
The Fellowship that Ateira currently participates in Baltimore Corps’ flagship program. Each year, Baltimore Corps recruit professionals from around the city, region, and country to work directly with the leaders at the forefront of Baltimore's most impactful work. Fellows are placed with Visionary Cause Leaders in the nonprofit, public and private sectors to effect population-level change across focus areas including education, public health, and workforce development. They build capacity in individual organizations and the Fellows come together often during the intensive yearlong program for professional development, and to support one another in their own social justice related initiatives. The goal is for them to increase their understanding of equity and racial justice, and to get the resources, training, and tools to better combat inequity and disrupt structural racism so that they can create a lasting collaborative network that drives change. Ateira learned about the Baltimore Corps fellowship through Councilman Mike Cohen. Coincidentally, she was looking for a way to continue the work that she had already started and wanted to go through a cohort experience with people that cared about Baltimore City. She plans to stay engaged with Baltimore Corps after the fellowship ends and to continue to contribute the knowledge that she has gained. Ateira also mirrors the Baltimore Corps faith in human capital and she sees its great potential for the city.
As often is the case with visionary service oriented selfless people, especially women, and even more especially woman of color, when asked how she manages to incorporate self-care into her busy schedule Ateira admits that she needs to put more effort into making sure that she makes time for it. She gets the importance of staying healthy so that she can be her best self. Thankfully she has a great support system of close friends and family that check her and checks on her. They remind her to take time for self. The reason that Ateira has trouble finding time for self-care is because of her devotion to her many activities and initiatives related to social justice and equity and her dedication to bringing the new ideas that grow in her mind daily to fruition. To name just a few of her endeavors, Ateira, runs the BOND program and has executed many successful community outreach services, including a food drive for single mothers with an income of $50K per year or less. This distinction in salary is important because it is an example of Ateira’s keen ability to consider every angle. Single mothers are often turned away from services that they need due to an income that is more than the government issued poverty level guidelines. However, in real life the single mother making $50K often faces financial struggle to provide for her family and it is very helpful when organizations take note of that and provide them with assistance too. Ateira is also affiliated with a program called, Empowering Young Women. She was a keynote speaker at PBYInc’s The Girl Conference which was an event dedicated to “building our nation’s daughters”. Ateira was also a speaker at the Baltimore Women’s March. She is a leader in Baltimore Rising, a program dedicated to increasing voter turnout and she is very proud of her podcast, A Point of Hue that she broadcasts along with her friend and co-host Salima. In the season finale of her podcast, the subject was friendship. Exposing her vulnerability, Ateira candidly discussed her obligation to her best friend and she said it was honesty and making sure that self-value is not forgotten. She also discussed moments of fear like having a police officer driving behind her and the fear of the unknown that this evoked as well as her middle school experience, navigating a challenging and tough environment but staying focused on her goals. This openness, honesty, strength, and realness is what draws people to Ateira like a moth to a flame. She is no-nonsense, but caring and approachable. They can relate to her and they can see their own future greatness through hers.
When asked what inspired her today, Ateira replied, “I came from a meeting with Councilman Cohen and I looked around the table at the people that came from different spaces of money and privilege and a very different background than the one that I came from. We went around the table and shared why we were there and I was happy to share that I was there representing women of color and all Baltimoreans.”
This is Ateira’s modus operandi. She makes it a point to have a seat at the table where there is typically a lack of representation of women of color. This time, Ateira had been invited to be at this table and she did not have to do much fighting to get there. Knowing that her seat might pave the way for other young women, especially for young black women to be able to guide the process of growth and development of the city in a way that fits the resident’s needs is what brought her the greatest joy and inspiration. In addition, the opportunity to be able to speak candidly in that gathering with authenticity felt like a huge success. Ateira summed it all up with a final quote, one of her favorites from Shirley Chisolm, “If they don’t make a space for you at the table, bring a folding chair.”
Finally, Ateira did not have to bring her own folding chair. She had a reserved seat at the table where the main course being carved out was Baltimore’s bright future.
Cue Solange singing in the background….
Simply because every she-ro needs a theme song and that album title is just so fitting.