By: Grace Krauser & Max Harleman
The Johnson Institute recently honored Fagan Harris, the founder and CEO of Baltimore Corps, with its Emerging Leader Award. The Emerging Leader Award is granted annually and recognizes the accomplishments of people who, relatively early in their professional careers, have demonstrated exceptional leadership qualities and high promise of future accomplishments. This year’s recipient Fagan Harris is an incredibly compassionate, innovative emerging leader who seeks to address the multifaceted challenges that faced his home town.
After receiving degrees from Stanford University and Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar, Harris returned to his hometown, Baltimore, MD. In his remarks, Harris noted that Baltimore has the external perception of being marred by trauma, economic strife, and racial injustice:
“Baltimore, the most heavily incarcerated city in America. Baltimore, the most heavily addicted city in America. Baltimore, the most dangerous city in America. Baltimore, the black city. Baltimore, not my city. The problems with these labels is they give us permission to each of us to fail to acknowledge our shared humanity, and the common aspirations that we all have: to be of use, to see our children better off, and to simply enjoy our time here on earth.”
In the face of these labels, Harris insists that Baltimore’s story is a story of opportunity, and that it's imperative that we apply human ingenuity to solve the most difficult challenges facing our world today. Harris passionately believes that those closest to the problem are closest to the solution, and that our salvation is bound up in one another. Harris built Baltimore Corps to act urgently on these beliefs. Instead of running away from the problems facing Baltimore, Harris charges that we must fight fervently to bridge the opportunity divide in Baltimore and in our country. Through Baltimore Corps, Harris hopes to engage with hidden figures scattered across the city and nation, who have the capacity to create social change and just need access to the resources to make it possible.
“Too often, aspiring people – by virture or race, religion, or origins to this country - are locked out of opportunity because of systemic bias. To replace these structures, it is imperative that we cultivate new habits and behaviors, new capabilities and frameworks, new systems and new infrastructure…”
Baltimore Corps and Harris work to address Baltimore’s struggles to attract and retain talent in the city’s government and social sector – both of which are critical to designing, developing, and implementing effective solutions. Through his organization, Harris works tenaciously to recruit a diverse array of young professionals to complete yearlong fellowships with public, private, and non-profit organizations. The primary objective is to mobilize, train, and retrain a new generation of changemakers to nurture the city’s most promising social innovations. Harris re-imagines the social sector by using large data systems, research, and funneling talent towards this sector to solve the greatest challenges.
“Baltimore Corps represents a movement for renewal and building a model of post-industrial renewal across this country…”
Harris is optimistic that in partnership with his staff, fellows, and city leaders these obstacles will be overcome. His model seeks to empower people to work hard and persist in the face of adversity to transform the lives of Baltimore’s residents, and in doing so revive a city that, in his eyes, is the greatest in the world. According to Harris, Baltimore is and will continue to be a model for change; a hub for social innovation. Though the issues facing Baltimore are deeply concentrated, they are in no way unique. Harris is a pioneer who believes that his organization can design a model to meet the needs of Baltimore’s residents, which can chart a path forward for cities across the country.
“Perhaps Baltimore is the best place in the world to change the world.”
To watch the acceptance speech, click here.