Prince George’s County is a vibrant community with a bright future. According to current Census data, Prince George’s County is younger than the rest of Maryland, with an estimated 10.3 percent of the population over 65, as opposed to 13 percent state-wide. Prince George’s Countians are slightly more affluent than Marylanders as a whole, with 8.7 percent of the county living below poverty, while 9.4 percent of Marylanders do so. And the community is more ethnically diverse: Approximately 20.4 percent of Prince George’s County residents speak a second language at home, while only 16.5 percent of Marylanders do. The growth of our large, diverse, urban community is evident in the development of new public transit options, expanded business and residential development and increased shopping and health care options for all. But growth can come with growing pains, too.
Individuals, private and public organizations and political leaders each have their own distinct perspectives on the Prince George’s County we know, and are working together to create a place where all of us can feel safe, optimistic, nurtured, free and ready to impact the region and the world at large. Whether a lifelong resident or just here for a single tour, everyone on Joint Base Andrews has reason to look outside the base gates; to be involved in this exciting era of progress; to reach back and help young people find their way; to turn our community into a beacon for prosperity, diversity, learning and growth. Here are some of the people who are pushing our county forward, in 2014:
Gwen S. McCall President and CEO of Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation
After serving as Operations Manager for the Washington, D.C. Office of Planning, Gwen McCall was tapped by Rushern Baker III (D) to become his Chief of Staff. The County Executive later appointed McCall as president and Chief Executive Officer of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, a nonprofit that serves as the economic development arm of county government while remaining more flexible than the County Executive’s side of the house.
“County Executive Baker wanted leadership he knew and trusted, and said, ‘I can’t do any of the things I want to do without revenue,’” recounted McCall.
What started as a small team of business development specialists became, within a year and a half, the force to restructure economic development and chart the course for Prince George’s County’s efforts to attract, expand and retain businesses, provide workforce development services and job training and ensure that the county can provide the amenities and human capital innovators look for as they seek a place to establish their businesses. The key to the county’s growth is a focus on the opportunities our county has beyond its proximity to the center of the federal government---although the FBI would be a welcome addition.
“The Port of Baltimore and the Panama Canal are expanding, so that Baltimore can now accept larger ships. We need industrial and warehouse space here to take advantage of that expansion of the port, and the same is true of trucking and shipping,” said McCall, who is working on re-certifying the foreign trade zone here so that manufacturing companies can store good here duty-free.
A technology incubator set up around the University of Maryland, College Park through the EDC provides short-term subsidies, networking and other services to information, communications and electronics companies just starting out, in hopes that they will remain in the county once they have established themselves and outgrown those external supports.
Though each new or expanded business is a boon to the county’s economy, McCall is pushing for broader projects with lasting impact. Some of those projects include luring state and federal organizations to place their headquarters here, including the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, slated to bring 300 jobs to New Carrolton and solidify that area as a vibrant business community centered on a transit hub built on the Metro, MARC, Amtrak and Acela rail systems. The focus on public transportation helps the county grow its economic base without harming its natural environment.
“With new green initiatives, you want more people and cars off the highway. No other jurisdiction has 15 Metro stations,” said McCall.
“We have a lot of medical offices, but no state-of-the-art hospital system. We’re going to brand the Central Avenue corridor as a health care corridor,” said McCall. From health care to retail, mixed-use developments to revitalization projects in areas with stalled development. “We need some game changers. Once you have a major win (like a regional teaching hospital, federal office headquarters or large entertainment venue), you have the indirect impact of that, as well.”
“To be competitive, we can’t just think locally. We’ve got to take it global,” said McCall, who has worked with trade offices in Africa, South America and elsewhere to build partnerships that can bring international business to our county. There’s a lot of big things happening in Prince George’s County.”
Lorenzo Creighton President, MGM Resorts National Harbor
“I’ve been in the gaming industry for about 25 years, and had the opportunity to work in several jurisdictions around the country and run casinos around the U.S. and Canada, and on the Vegas Strip, and ultimately ended up in Prince George’s County,” said Lorenzo Creighton, President, MGM Resorts National Harbor. “It’s a very refined process, here in Maryland. I think the sates draw from each other but the one thing that impressed me about the Maryland process is that it is very thorough about the background investment, and how they put through the request for proposals and how the process was handled.”
Creighton knows that process from both sides of the desk: Before he became involved in developing and running casinos, he worked as an attorney for the State of Iowa, as an Iowa Magistrate State Judge, as the Deputy Director for the Iowa Racing and Gaming Commission and Executive Director for the Mississippi Gaming Commission. His background in casino regulation, “gave me some insight, obviously, in how regulators view looking at these projects. I would like to think it had some impact,” Creighton said.
Unlike some projects in less buttoned-down parts of the country, Creighton said, “we won’t have a bunch of neon and gaudiness (at National Harbor).” The goal is to “draw from the region and the look and feel of the capital, as well as Maryland, and also have some sense of what’s happening in Vegas as well.”
Creighton said that local architects and designers have provided input on the MGM project from its initial concept, and continue to cooperate with the Texas-based construction firm tasked with establishing much of the exterior of the facility. The $925 million project is slated to be open for business by July 2016.
“It’s in a great location that focuses on drawing tourists in. Clearly this is a gateway into Maryland,” Creighton said. “We are planning on, and on track, if all things go according to Hoyle, to start construction in late summer.”
Ann Marie Binsner Executive Director, Court Appointed Special Advocates/Prince George’s County
Since 2001, Ann Marie Binsner has served as executive director of Court Appointed Special Advocates/Prince George’s County, a Hyattsville-based nonprofit organization which matches adult advocates with children and youth in the foster care system. Some volunteer/child pairings last for as long as the child is in foster care. But with the average time in foster care before permanent placement hovering at around 44 months, that is not always possible. CASA volunteers commit to serve for at least one year, and longer if they are able, offering to speak for the child and provide the mentoring, advice and adult encouragement that can be lacking for youth in foster care. Out of the more than 600 children in foster care in Prince George’s County, CASA/Prince George’s volunteers work with approximately 140 children. There’s a waiting list, always, of about 40 more. Lack of volunteers, coupled with a budget of only about $400,000 per year, makes helping all the children in Prince George’s County’s foster care system impossible. This past November, CASA/Prince George’s County was one of five small nonprofits in the county to be selected for inclusion in the Greater Washington Catalogue for Philanthropy. It’s an honor which may turn out to be a game-changer for the foster children Binsner and her army of volunteers seek to serve.
“After looking at the financials, the committee chooses the top small nonprofits in the area. This year they chose 74, only five of which are in Prince George’s County. We were thrilled to be included among this elite group,” Binsner said.
The Catalogue for Philanthropy evaluates each nominated nonprofit on its ability to fulfill its vision on a tight budget. It then presents the most fiscally sound, results-heavy organizations to donors who might not have heard of them before, but who want to ensure that their donations go to an organization they can get to know beyond just sending a check.
“It’s a different kind of donor. They’re not anonymous, and they’re not saying, ‘I lived it, so I volunteer,’” said Binsner. “They’re interested in knowing where their dollars are going, and making an impact in the community.”
Once selected, the organizations are included in the Catalogue for Philanthropy for three years, or until their annual budget grows beyond $3 million. That’s a number Binsner keeps on her mind.
“To get closer to that is our goal. To serve every foster child in Prince George’s County would require about $3 million,” said Binsner. A fellow nonprofit director told her that although the amount seems unattainable, “to put it in my head. I keep reminding myself of that magic number, and try not to get too overwhelmed by it.”
Joseph Fisher Founder and CEO, First Generation College Bound
Growing up in the East Capitol National Housing Project in Southeast Washington, D.C., Joseph Fisher didn’t know many people who went on to college, or had solid, full-time work. Moving out of the projects was a fantasy few could afford. Thanks to a dedicated track coach, Fisher did.
“I was the stereotype of being an outstanding athlete. My track coach, Mr. Gates, provided me the support and encouragement to attend college,” Fisher said. He was sought out by the Partnership Program at Catholic University, an initiative designed to help poor youth escape poverty through college education. It wasn’t all a hand-out. Fisher sought opportunities and made the most of them.
“I have to say I wanted better. There were challenges in the community, and I didn’t want that. Grades were not as important as dealing with the challenges of those who did not want to succeed. The peer influence of wanting to be an adult at a young age, and the challenges of juvenile behavior were dominant in the community,” said Fisher. “That makes it very tough.”
Fisher’s parents explained to him what “better” was, and did not shelter him or his siblings from the reality of worry about when the electricity might be turned off.
“It was a major celebration in our community for someone to graduate high school The next step was to work for the government or the military, like my two older brothers,” but Fisher soon found that he was, “so glad to be on a college campus, I didn’t return home. I had three square meals a day for the first tie in my life, and travel with the track team, and a community where everybody wanted to achieve. For the first time, I was in a community where I was not worried about being threatened or bullied.”
While a student at Catholic University, Fisher also learned about the many opportunities for need-based scholarships. Once he lined up a need-based scholarship for himself, he returned his track scholarship money to his coach, so that another student could get the help needed to enter college. He earned his bachelor’s degree in elementary education, and later a master’s degree in urban education at Morgan State University, expecting to return to the community where he’d been raised, when an internship at the Baltimore City Jail changed the direction of his life and work.
“I’ll never forget ti. I remember talking to the students--nice kids, nice young men, not 16--many of them had been in the wrong place at the wrong time, with somebody they shouldn’t have been with. That bothered me. In adolescence, everybody wants to belong. Whoever will take them, that’s where they go,” Fisher said.
Fisher decided to create a place where young people could belong, while pursuing educational opportunities their family had not known. He founded First Generation College Bound 24 years ago, while teaching in Howard County Public Schools. “I saw middle school kids with all this potential, possibly going down the wrong direction,” Fisher said.
He started out knocking on doors around the school, telling parents that their children could go to college, if they would only enroll in his program.
“That first year, I sent kids to college. People don’t realize there are many students who want to better themselves. They graduate high school and don’t know they can go to college,” Fisher said. He looks at SAT scores, grades and attitude, and encourages students to find a combination of need-based scholarships and affordable educational programs to get them the most bang for their educational buck. This year, 150 students entered college because of their participation in First Generation College Bound’s programs including tutoring, financial aid awareness classes, seminars on how to navigate the college admissions process, College Access programs in five county high schools and the services of case managers who help students and parents find the right school and the best financial aid package to be able to graduate with minimal debt and a degree which will enable them to go on to a successful career. Together, last year’s students took advantage of $1.1 million in scholarships.
Laurel-based First Generation College Bound was one of five Prince George’s County nonprofits selected for inclusion in the Catalogue for Philanthropy, which identifies low-budget, high-community impact nonprofits for potential donors.
“We meet them where they are, and get them where they want to go. That is the challenge,” Fisher said. “With humility, discipline, staying on task and doing what we tell them to do, they will experience success.”
Pastor Delman Coates Mt. Ennon Baptist Church
Growing up the grandchild of sharecroppers, and son of a public school teacher and a nurse, Delman Coates said that his parents taught him, “faith, family, and commitment to the common good.” The connection between faith, public policy and social activism was part of his upbringing, and led him to pursue both a doctoral degree from Columbia University and a career in faith-based community organizations in New York and Philadelphia before becoming pastor of a then 500-member Mt. Ennon Baptist Church in Clinton, Md. Attendance at Mt. Ennon has skyrocketed since Coates’ arrival in 2004. Mt. Ennon now counts more than 8,000 people as members, and was listed by Outreach Magazine as one of the 100 Fastest Growing Congregations in the United States in 2009. It’s not because Coates tells his congregation what he thinks they are used to hearing on a Sunday morning.
“I preached in support of marriage equality, not by taking the temperature of the congregation, not by taking a poll. It was an extension of my preaching over the past 10 years,” Coates said. “It is an attempt to protect personal religious beliefs while at the same time protecting the public square. People in the pews are much more progressive than us in the pulpit. People have been looking for a progressive, religious left; a progressive, evangelical left in the areas of social justice and eliminating poverty.”
Coates said he was “very content and satisfied, serving the public at Mt. Ennon, and as part of national civil rights organizations,” but recently he signed on to run for Lieutenant Governor of Maryland. “It’s not something that I sought. It sought me.” He is well aware that his background as a pastor is not always seen as the stepping stone to a position in politics.
“Who said that you have to be an elected official, to run for public office? I have devoted my life, really, it’s a calling, to the common good.”
Dr. Kevin Maxwell CEO, Prince George’s County Public Schools
“My father was in the Army, so I was born at DeWitt Hospital on Fort Belvoir, and moved to Prince George’s County, graduated school here,” said Dr. Kevin Maxwell. After a stint as a Navy medical corpsman, he used the G.I. Bill to go to college. He taught in public schools, and went on to serve as an assistant principal and principal in middle and high schools in Montgomery and Prince George’s Counties, and as Superintendent of Anne Arundel County Public Schools for seven years before returning to Prince George’s County, where he is building a new role as Chief Executive Officer of Prince George’s County Public Schools since he took on that position Aug. 1, 2013.
“In Anne Arundel County, we had the Naval Academy and Fort Meade, had some interaction with the military,” Maxwell said. He returned to Prince George’s County, he said, “partly because it’s home. I hate to see the struggles, and I believe I can make a difference. I believe the new legislation County Executive Baker pushed through gave me a bit of an opportunity that did not exist under the old system. That made it attractive to me. I have lived here my entire life since I was seven years old. I know the community well, and the people in leadership.”
Optimistic though he may be, Maxwell is not blind to the challenges students and teachers face.
“We all share the responsibility. Academic performance has to improve. Business and the community have a vested interest, and students have a responsibility to study, to work hard for a successful future. Teachers need to be prepared for their lessons, to meet students at their place, and help them succeed.”
So far, Maxwell has visited more than 100 of the county’s public schools to investigate the condition of each facility, the level of instruction and the engagement of students and parents. Though his role is an administrative one, as a parent of four adult children he sees parental involvement as key to school success.
“Parents need to read to children, and encourage them to become good readers before children enter preschool. The cloth books that babies drool on and chew on--giving them that background is a tremendous help,” Maxwell said. “Working with kids when they are infants so that they learn to appreciate books, taking them places to give them world exposure, taking them to museums, giving them a structure (to their days) because school and the world of work rely on those internal mechanisms of self-control.”
That “world exposure” is something Maxwell says military families often have, much more than their civilian counterparts, in large part because of overseas tours of duty and deployments. The down side, of course, is that all those moves can be disruptive to both educational continuity and the development of relationships young people need to feel welcome and engaged in the life of a school.
“Our school system wants to be a good partner, and wants to be supportive of children who live on Andrews,” said Maxwell. “I know the charter school there; parents seem very happy with it. I’ve met with command leaders from the base and plan to be on the base in the not-too-distant future to further those conversations.”
As he visits schools and speaks with parents, Maxwell said that he hopes to raise the overall level of achievement in the district and plans to expand popular programs to eliminate waiting lists, and to add additional programs families want for their children.
“From French immersion and Montessori, to STEM, and art education is very much not as robust and vibrant as we should have. Foreign languages? We are not meeting hte demands of the global society we have, and to meet the needs of students who speak other languages. We need Chinese, Spanish immersion and more French. Environmental literacy--we’re not meeting the needs we have there,” Maxwell said. He hopes that enhanced partnerships with the University System of Maryland and with businesses will enhance academic and career education.
“We’re gong to see the results in educational outcomes. The drop in enrollment is already turning around, which is an indicator that people have confidence in our schools,” said Maxwell.
Councilwoman Karen Toles D-Dist. 7
“I grew up in Suitland, and used to go to the movies on Joint Base Andrews, at the theater that is closed now,” said Karen Toles. Sticking close to home, she attended the University of Maryland, College Park, and pledged the traditionally African American sorority Alpha Kappa Alpha. It was a choice which helped her through unexpected grief, as a young student, and has helped form her career and involvement in the community ever since. As a new “line sister,” Toles was shaken by her father’s sickness and death.
“Pledging a sorority helped me focus and stay in school. I’m like a Daddy’s girl, so it was hard,” Toles said. “Twelve other wonderful women just came around me and told me it would be OK. They kept me focused on academics. That’s a service we probably didn’t know, at the time, that we provided for each other.”
After graduating with a degree in public health, she worked for the United Mine Workers of America for seven years, before deciding that a K Street career was not her destiny.
“I felt closed in, like something greater was waiting for me. All I had was faith in God, courage and a pension, when I decided to figure out how to fulfill my life’s destiny. Faith drove me,” Toles said. She found a position working for the Democratic National Committee, and later for the Maryland Democratic Party in Annapolis.
“I worked in Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore. I still have some of those friends around the state, now,” said Toles, who focused on legislation aimed at protecting working families, ensuring fair employee rights and pay and living wages for home health care workers.
“Being an organizer, like President Obama, talking to people around the Eastern Shore who didn’t look like me, but who had some of the same concerns as people from my home in Prince George’s County, and as a lobbyist for AFSCME in Annapolis, I didn’t know where God was taking me. You don’t know the gifts you have; other people see them.”
When a seat opened in the Prince George’s County Council, friends encouraged Toles to run. Nearing the end of her first term representing District 7, Toles said she sees it as “only a starting point for greater things to come for me politically and the people of the county.”
Some of those, “greater things to come,” she said, can be found in other parts of the region as metropolitan Washington recovers from the extended economic hard times.
“The region was suffering, but now we’re coming out of that, and here we need to focus on the opportunities D.C. has to revitalize older communities. Older communities are the hardest to develop. We need to make sure the money is coming back to the community, that we’re not seeing another chicken spot, another fast food place.”
Businesses approach the County Council, she says, wanting to be convinced that Prince George’s County, and Suitland in particular, are safe areas in which business owners can invest.
“There are bad perceptions about the county, from previous years. It could have been 20 years ago, it sticks with them,” Toles said. She credits new public safety laws and the cohesive efforts set out under County Executive Rushern Baker III (D)’s Transforming Neighborhoods Initiative program with creating change in the county to make people feel more safe. “People better watch out. The barriers (to economic growth) are gone, now. As you go around and see the trash is picked up, the test scores are going up, there are mentors and tutors in schools, the culture is changing. It’s making the community viable for the development we want.”
Toles said that the prosperity growing in District 7, in Northern Virginia and in Washington, D.C., “feeds off each other. It’s going from my border, to your border,” eliminating blighted businesses, creating infrastructure and bolstering confidence among residents and investors.