No Ordinary Journey


on-looking-9781439191262_hrThe cover of Alexandra Hurwitz’s book, On Looking: A Walker’s Guide to the Art of Observation, could have been the only book on the shelf at the New York Public Library Store. It had me from the beginning. Before I knew it, I was reaching instinctively for its captivating gold and sepia-toned cover and wondering where the author’s forays into the familiar – her “eleven walks with expert eyes” around the ordinary city blocks of her own neighborhood – would take me.

Why do we often miss what is in plain sight? Why does so much of what we see go unremembered? How could having a walking companion serve to open our eyes? Or, maybe, as Ms. Hurwitz suggests, do more than just open our eyes by opening our hearts and minds as well.

ebfb663fc9520689b626049638c069c3Ms. Hurwitz’s walking companions, her “expert eyes,” ranged from her inquisitive, tuned-in 19-month-old to the fabulously talented illustrator, writer, artist, and designer Maira Kalman. With each walk on roughly the same familiar streets with 11 different companions, Ms. Hurwitz  reveals the rewards of paying attention, of being mindful, and of truly being with the companion of your journey.

Each day, at Caroline Center, we walk on roughly the same familiar streets with our trainees as our companions. And, we take this walk with the benefit of their “expert eyes.”

I hadn’t thought of it quite this way until I read On Looking and then, more recently, I spoke with our counselors and social workers about their specific gifts, the roles in which they serve, and the many ways they contribute each and every day to educating the “whole woman” at Caroline Center.


Here’s what I learned. This education is all about the journey. It’s about the walk we have each promised to make alongside every woman who commits to doing her career training here. It’s about the risk we have all pledged to take to be more attentive, more mindful, and more open-hearted to one another.

It’s about the transformation that education and being able to see with another’s eyes make possible. It’s about real change that is bone deep as well as deeply personal – change that is so powerful that it radiates outward to families, neighborhoods, entire communities, and the world.

FOOTPRINTSCaroline Center’s Director of Social Work Services Vicki Cofield-Aber, LCSW-C, shared this amazing insight: “At Caroline Center, I walk with the women. I listen deeply to them because I know that within their personal narratives they will find healing and hope.”  Here’s a sage observation from Director of Counseling and Social Work Holly Knipp, LCSW-C: “I hope that I am helping the women make meaning of their lives by showing them that while you cannot change what may have happened to you in the past – you can change the meaning of those experiences, even how you think about those experiences – and, you most certainly can change your future.” Director of Counseling Nicole Robertson, MS, NCC, LGPC, had this wonderful reflection on the journey: “At Caroline Center, I accompany the women on their journeys so that, ultimately, they will be able to see all the potential they hold. As they journey, I want to help them to be able to recover their emotional availability for others – to be open, compassionate, and strong.”

It’s almost summer. So, go outside and take a walk. Then, take the same walk with a companion – your favorite “expert eyes.” And, if you find that you like doing this so much that you could do it over and over again, you might want to consider walking with Caroline Center. We hope you do. It’s bound to change the way you see the world.

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Posted in Alexandra Horowitz, Caroline Center, Holistic Approach to Learning, Journey, Mindfulness, On Looking, Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Right Reverence



The forgotten virtue of reverence, as classicist and writer Professor Paul Woodruff suggests, may very well be the mother of all virtues – the virtue that makes all of the other virtues possible. The virtue that ensures that the center will hold and that civil society will, indeed, be possible.

But, as long as there is gravity, won’t the center still hold? And, what’s the purpose of having laws if not to ensure an orderly and civil society? Isn’t respect more important than reverence? What’s the difference between the two anyway?

So many questions. The most important of which may be: Why should we spend time thinking about virtues at all when there is so much else to worry about these days in Baltimore? Will virtues help us eradicate poverty? Will virtues help us reduce violence and crime? Will they create better, more equitable educational opportunities? Help us address addiction and other serious health issues? Will virtues stimulate economic growth in Baltimore? Will they help strengthen our most vulnerable neighborhoods?

As much of a “lost art” as virtues are today, their sagacity and power were not lost to the ancients. In Plato’s Pythagoras, we find this bit of wisdom:    wisdom99

Whenever they gathered into groups [early human beings] would do wrong to each other, because they did not yet have the knowledge of how to form society. As a result they would scatter again and perish. And so Zeus, fearing that our whole species would be wiped out, sent Hermes to bring Reverence and Justice to human beings, in order                                                                                                that these two would  adorn society and                                                                                            bind people together in friendship.

This week at Caroline Center, we welcomed our 64th class of nursing assistant and pharmacy technician trainees at Somerset Street and Gibbons Commons/St. Agnes Hospital – seventy-six courageous and dedicated women who have committed to preparing for new, sustainable careers. Within the first week of their arriving, I experienced firsthand one of the chief reasons our program is so consistently successful. We haven’t forgotten the wisdom and practical power of virtues – or “values” as we call them at Caroline Center.

Values are woven into the fabric of our teaching and career skills training at Caroline Center; but, they really shine, as individual stars in a constellation, in the “Values Curriculum,” with which our trainees begin each day. In their first week, Caroline Center trainees learn about the value of respect – seeking to properly define it; to fully understand its meaning; and, to know how to apply it.

Respect pinned on noticeboard

Paul Woodruff’s book, Reverence: Renewing a Forgotten Virtue, and Ta-Nehisi Coates’ Between the World and Me provided excellent teaching and critical thinking support for my trainees’ discussion. We learned that respect has reverence as its guide star. Paul Woodruff says, “.  .  . without reverence, things fall apart. People do not know how to respect each other and themselves. Without reverence, we cannot explain why we should treat the natural world with respect.” (p. 13) We explored how reverence creates the capacity for respect – how it guides us in giving proper respect and permits us to withhold respect when it is warranted.

We discussed the lessons that Ta-Nehisi Coates’ grandmother imparted to him – lessons that seemed, on the face of it, solely about respecting his teachers at school, but they were really his grandmother’s way of teaching him “how to ruthlessly interrogate the subject that elicited the most sympathy and rationalizing – [himself].” The discovery that he was not “an innocent;” that his motives were not always “filled with unfailing virtue” meant that he was fully a part of the human condition that pertains to us all. (pp. 29-30)

As Lansing-CNA-courses-photo-of-CNA-and-elderly-patienthuman beings, we are not perfect; but, as one trainee reminded us this morning: “Respect begins with you. How you express respect is a reflection of yourself – of who you are and who you want to be.”

In the coming weeks, Caroline Center trainees will delve more deeply into the virtues and values beyond respect that will help to ensure their success in both work and life. We will explore the contemporary meanings and applications of the values of: integrity, empowerment, determination, responsibility, compassion, loyalty, community, diversity, and personal growth.

And, we will, I am certain, allow each of the values to shine as individual stars under the celestial canopy of reverence.


Posted in Caroline Center, Paul Woodruff, Reverence, Ta-Nehisi Coates, Uncategorized, Values Curriculum, Virtues | Leave a comment

Bringing Light to Baltimore



We are walking on a thin thread of hope, which is really a narrow beam of light, which arced from a small spark in a street lamp 200 years ago.

We were a premiere light city in 1816, with the first gas street lamps in America; and, we are a premiere light city today as we host the first ever large-scale international light festival in the country.

“Light City” Baltimore is an ambitious and bold undertaking as we move forward in our commitment to become a more responsible and equitable society.

“Light City” reminds us that brilliant imagination and unabashed creativity have long 2012-10-16-brooklynstreetartgaiaThearabbersbaltimore1012web10found unique expression in every Baltimore neighborhood. And, “Light City” reaffirms for Baltimore that much of the illumination we need to foster innovation and transformation will originate in our city’s own neighborhoods.

“Light City U” has gathered an impressive faculty of thought leaders and change makers. Bold innovators, who are working locally and internationally to promote social justice through novel approaches that explore the potential in the myriad ways we create and foster healthy, sustainable, and vibrant communities. Let’s hope that their brilliance shines a light bright enough to illuminate the potential in all of our neighborhoods and strong enough to inspire the free and welcome expression of great ideas from so many voices that often go unheard.

Kiari, age 11, was diagnosed with Hogdkin’s lymphoma when she was 8. Don believes her illness was caused by the chemicals emitted by the Murphy Oil site.

Dayvon Love, co-founder of  “Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle,” gets it right, I think, when he says that we have to stop thinking of ways to fix Baltimore and to start thinking about the ways that we can “invest in our ability to help ourselves.” Nothing could be more disempowering than thinking of our city, our communities, as broken and in need of repair – mostly because there are precious few of us, with the exception of young children and visionary artists, who are able to see potential and possibility in what others simply see as broken.


Caroline Center also gets it right by investing all that we have, every day, in women whose lives others may see as more in need of repair than worthy of investment. We choose to invest – through education, opportunities for advancement, career skills training, and meaningful work. And, for the past 20 years, our investment consistently has yielded returns that are exponentially greater than the total number of our graduates. Yes, individual women benefit from Caroline Center’s program; but, their families, communities, and the city as a whole benefit from their successes as well.

Rebecca Solnit, in her recent book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, has this sage observation about hope and its fine thread:

432a0878959f3e1e4ac0c37950190bc1It’s important to say what hope is not. It is not the belief that everything was, is, or will be fine. The evidence is all around us of tremendous suffering and tremendous destruction. The hope I’m interested in is about broad perspectives with specific possibilities, ones that invite or demand that we act. It’s also not a sunny everything-is-getting-better narrative, though it may be a counter to the everything-is-getting-worse narrative. You could call it an account of complexities and uncertainties, with openings.

The originators and conveners of “Light City” – something wild and unexpected in and of itself – deserve our gratitude for seeing the “wild possibilities” in Baltimore.  If we put our hearts and minds to it, we will not disappoint. Amidst our city’s “account of complexities and uncertainties,” let’s encourage each other to look in unfamiliar places, to see the “openings,” and to work toward the “specific possibilities” that will grow the seeds of real and lasting change.


“Bringing Light to Baltimore” was published in The Baltimore Sun, “Light City brings hope,” Readers Respond, April 2, 2016.

Image of figure in a light bulb with arc of light, Marcel Caram; “The Arabbers” by Gaia, Sandtown, Baltimore (2012); Image from “What It Takes,” Ryan Stevenson, RaRah Photo; Street art from Open Walls Baltimore, 12ozProphet, organized by Gaia and Nanook (2012)

Posted in "Light City", 12ozProphet, Caroline Center, Gaia, Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle, Light City Baltimore, Light City Baltimore 2016, Light City U, Nanook, Open Walls Baltimore, RaRah Photo, Rebecca Solnit, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

And The Only Prescription Is More Grace


Short_1, 8/21/03, 10:52 AM, 8C, 4848x7684 (792+959), 112%, Repro 1.8_150, 1/15 s, R79.8, G57.9, B65.6

The forecast is for blustery and unseasonably warm days ahead –especially if we don’t learn how to weather the winds of change and to keep our cool in the midst of inevitable partisanship.  

In fact, the only cure for this particular election-year fever, if not more cowbell, might just be a little more grace.  


A Caroline Center trainee once shared these insightful words of advice with her fellow trainees – and, I am paraphrasing her–“Each of us has a little of Mother Caroline* inside of us. When we graduate, we will take her work and her vision out into the world. Whatever we do–as nursing assistants, pharmacy technicians, and in life–we need to do her and Caroline Center proud.”

Now, that’s grace. Well, at least in the active-verb-kind-of-way that I am thinking about.

grace/grās/v. To honor or credit someone or something by one’s presence.

We believe that grace is a quality that all Caroline Center graduates have in good measure. It’s the virtue that allows our alumnae to move with confidence into their new careers and through life.

You may recognize these familiar words – “Know Before Whom You Stand”– in Hebrew, Da Lifnei Mi Atah Ohmed. Inscribed above the Ark in synagogue, these words offer a rich and timely reminder that as members of the human race we need to practice humility, learn from everyone, and recognize the divine within all.

Living with grace. It’s not so terribly difficult. And, we can learn by recent example.

635592745451133235-AP-Supreme-Court-BobbleheadsThe unlikely friendship that so beautifully bridged partisan lines and that so many are celebrating between U.S. Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia (of blessed memory) and Ruth Bader Ginsburg is worthy of our attention.  Scalia and Ginsburg, both brilliant scholars, the revered “intellectual lions of the right and left,”** somehow found immeasurable value and great joy in nurturing a deep friendship. They were able to build bridges and to forge a strong bond based on mutual respect that was rooted in the courage of conviction, love of the arts,  humor, and genuine laughter that fully embraced a shared and finite humanity.

The justices found nothing “disgraceful” in their differing opinions. Dissonance was not a reason to go on attack, but rather a welcomed grace note that embellished the intricate melody line of their enlightened conversations. Their friendship rose above opposing ideologies and brought down walls. They were able to overcome selfishness and self-centered thinking for the sake of moving the important work of living in a free society forward – and, moving that work forward gracefully, in an active-verb-kind-of-way, by bestowing honor on the work and on others around them simply with their presence.  

Knowing before whom you stand and living with grace.

I, for one, am humbled and grateful that I will continue to learn in equal measure from all whom I come to know. Whether that learning comes from the women of Caroline Center or the justices of the Supreme Court or someone I may meet once and not see again. Each day, I am more convinced that our teachers, good teachers, are all around us and close at hand. And, that the real prescription for this election-year fever and for weathering the winds of change truly might be just a little more grace. 

*Mother Caroline Friess (1824-1892) founded the congregation of the School Sisters of Notre Dame in North America. In its mission and work, Caroline Center honors her pioneering spirit and commitment to educating women; and, we are inspired by her courage to reach out to people whom society may have left behind. 

**from “BFFs Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Antonin Scalia agree to disagree,” LA Times David G. Savage, February 22, 2016



Posted in Antonin Scalia, Caroline Center, Grace, Know Before Whom You Stand, More Cowbell, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Litany for a Better Baltimore


Litany for a Better Baltimore

You are the Angel on every corner

the last choir

life’s deliverer and death’s powdery hand

You are the Man in the Mirror

the jittery birds calling on the fence

You are the breeze that blows in every season

catching up what’s left

startling the school boys


whistling at nothing

You are for better or worse, more or less home

but you are not the sum of this earthly calculus

You are not the welcome mat on the stoop

or even the raven come back to roost

And you are certainly not the hard shells

and claws of the summer’s feast

picked clean and put out

with yesterday’s news

It is possible that you are the gun and the knife

most days you are the gun and the knife

Some days you are also the needle

Other days you are the wild clump of black-eyed susans

the yellow-topped coddie on crackers

the unexpected cornflowers

in bloom

on the vacant lot

But even on the best days you are not the faded slogan

on the bus stop bench – there is no way you are the faded slogan

on the bus stop bench

And a quick look in the rearview will show

you are neither the empty shoes dangling from the wire

nor the fraying teddy bear at the base of the street lamp

It might interest you to know

since we’re trying to keep it real

that I am what makes this city tick

I also happen to be what’s growing in the green space

the single point of light shining in the dark alley

and the check you can take all the way to the bank

I am also the hope that faces forward

the sure thing

the safe bet

the sound investment

But don’t worry, I am not the wild clump of black-eyed susans

You are still the wild clump of black-eyed susans –

I need you to be the wild clump of black-eyed susans,

not to mention the unexpected cornflowers – heads up, electric blue,

fearless in the white sun


Poet Laureate of the U.S.(2001- 2003) Billy Collins inspired this take on his poem entitled Litany, where “you” is Baltimore and “I” is a Caroline Center graduate. Additional inspiration came from Michael Jackson’s amazing “Man in the Mirror” and from Claire Hartman’s poems in What It Takespoetry that resonates the collective voice of Caroline Center women and their stories of positive change.

Caroline Center starts this New Year in a remarkable state of grace – by being able to offer its tuition-free program to women at a second site in West Baltimore. In making this commitment to Baltimore, we remain confident that the best way to build a better city begins with women, with access to excellent education and career training, and with sustainable work with opportunities for advancement.


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A Passion for Work

All too often, we feel that we are not living the fullness of our lives because we are not expressing the fullness of our gifts. Elle Luna

live your calling

All you folks think you own my life, but you never made any sacrifice. All you folks think I got my price, at which I’ll sell all that is mine. I’m trying to protect what I keep inside, all the reasons why I live my life. Tracey Chapman

Caroline Center is a workforce development organization. So, it’s not a surprise that we think a lot about work. In fact, we’re a little obsessed with work. We think about work even when we’re not working. But, it’s not our jobs that we’re thinking about; it’s the work that our graduates will be doing when they complete the program and begin their new careers.

Late at NightWe think about what our trainees need to know and what they need to be able to do in order to be successful in their careers and lives. We think about whether we have given our graduates most, if not all, of what they will need to be able to confidently take the next big steps in their life’s journeys when the time comes. Sometimes, late at night, we think about whether we’re getting it all right.

Then, the morning comes, and we get up and go to work.

Well, not exactly. Going to work implies that work is someplace different than where we are, something apart from who we are – a place we can arrive at, rather than the space we are in. I like what Elle Luna says on this topic in her new book, The Crossroads of Should and Must. She asks, “What ifJulyRailroadImage who we are and what we do become one and the same? What if our work is so thoroughly autobiographical that we can’t parse the product from the person? What if .  .  . our job = our career = our calling?”

Now, I’m not suggesting that everyone at Caroline Center has reached the highest tier on Maslow’s pyramid to self-actualization or sees this work as “so thoroughly autobiographical that [he/she] can’t parse the product from the person,” but we are all somewhere on the continuum. We’re letting go of the Shoulds in life and getting to the Musts in life that Elle Luna talks about. And, we’re giving our trainees the confidence to do the same. Shoulds are how other people
colleen-wallace-nungari-dreamtime-sisters-image1-jpgwant us to live our lives. The Musts are who we really are, what we believe, and the parts of life that call to us most deeply. The Musts are our passions – the ideas and ideals that we not only live for, but that truly make us feel alive.

At Caroline Center, if we only prepared women for sustainable careers that allowed them to leave low-wage jobs and the cruel limits that poverty imposes – and, we did this well – a lot of people would say, “you’re doing really good work.”

But, late at night, when we’re thinking about whether we really are getting it all right – whether we are truly and authentically answering our calling – somewhere inside, we want people to know that the work we do is not separate from who we are. african-american-woman-professional-188_REzxwVqAnd, we want employers to see a Caroline Center graduate and say to themselves – “Here’s a woman who’s learned to let go of all the Shoulds that were standing in her way; here’s a professional who is ready to live out the fullness of her gifts.”

Layout 1Credits: July Railroad, Kate Hagerty & Dreamtime Sisters, Colleen Wallace Nungari

Posted in Abraham Maslow, Caroline Center, Crossroads, Elle Luna, Live Your Calling, Maslow's Hierarchy, Self-Actualization, The Crossroads of Should And Must, Tracey Chapman, Uncategorized | 1 Comment

A Tough and Present Truth


You can’t get around it.

You can’t talk around it. You can’t write around it. And, you certainly can’t walk around it. In fact, on any given day, on any given street in Baltimore, you may run right smack into it.

It’s nearly Thanksgiving as I’m writing this post, and the sobering reality is that Baltimore City has recorded 309 killings. It’s a fact too big to ignore. It’s a situation too shameful to speak about. It’s a reality we can’t pretend doesn’t exist. Like the elephant in the room or the emperor’s new clothes, it’s obvious and discomforting.

Lest we get too focused on a big number – “309” and most probably growing before the year is out – let’s be clear that we’re not talking about numbers. We’re talking about people – lives lost – and, the terrible realization that we got to this place so senselessly – one person, one brother, one son, one cousin, one parent – at a time. The other terrible realization is that having gotten to this place, there are no do-overs; no corrections; nothing we can take back or wish it were not so.

No matter how cramped or cornered we feel or how hard we try to cover or, even worse, emperor harpieignore our nakedness – the elephant is showing no signs of leaving the room and the emperor, as any child can see, hasn’t a stitch on.

This Thanksgiving, as we gather with family and friends to feast according to our own customs and traditions, I hope that in addition to the standard recitations of “what we are most grateful for,” we also will take time to struggle with the tough and present truths in our city. I also hope that we will continue to wrestle until we can glimpse a little light – until we can begin to see the promise our city and all the people who live in it hold. Whatever wrestling we do, however we choose to engage in the struggle, there’s one thing we know for sure – in Baltimore, starting now, we need to listen to each other and we need to listen better.

urbanite coverIf you haven’t seen this month’s special edition of the Baltimore Urbanite (100th issue, November 2015) – “Truth, Reconciliation, and Baltimore” – I highly recommend it. These words from an interview with Marie Wilson, who is a member of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, are particularly resonant –

 I don’t want to be presumptuous about your situation in the States. I don’t live there. It’s not my truth. All I know is when you create safe space where firsthand accounts with real, lived experiences can be shared—when you bring good people into new rooms and allow each other to hear each other, perhaps for the first time—things can start to shift. 

The most commonly used word at our events was “transformative.”

If you create mechanisms for people to take forward what they have learned, people will do good things.

These are all good places from which Baltimore can begin. Safe spaces where people can
share their lived experiences and be heard. listeningPeople of good will and right intention gathering together in new rooms instead of in War Rooms. Honest and ongoing conversations about the possibility of transformation, rather than the inevitability of degradation.  And, something positive for each of us to hold onto, to carry forward, and to use to do good for ourselves and others.

In closing, let me share with you a few words of gratitude from our current class of Caroline Center trainees. Words that come from their hearts and out of their experiences.

I want you to hear them. I need you to listen. Because if you do, maybe, just maybe, “things can start to shift.”


Thank you for taking a chance on me and sponsoring my education at Caroline Center. Because of you, I will start a new career in 2016. Because of you, I will be successful and I will continue to have many blessings and opportunities. Thank you. Tayler

 Caroline Center has been a wonderful blessing in my life, thanks to you. Now, I possess the tools and skills I need to be successful in my new profession. I plan to take this opportunity to the next level and be the best Pharmacy Technician Caroline Center has ever graduated! Thank you. Daphney

You have helped me realize that I am capable of greatness in my life. Without your kindness, my education at Caroline Center would not have been possible. For your generosity and for believing in someone you don’t even know, I am forever grateful. Desireé

Posted in #Black Lives Matter, Baltimore City, Baltimore Murder Rate, Baltimore Urbanite, Baltimore's "War Room", Caroline Center, Justice for Freddie Gray, Uncategorized | Tagged , | 1 Comment