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Baltimore’s Most Inspiring Stories

The heart of our mission is to find the amazing souls that breathe life into our communities. In the recent weeks, we’ve had the privilege to connect with some incredible artists, creatives, entrepreneurs and rabble rousers and we can’t begin to express how impressed we are with the incredible group below. Check out our favorite stories from across the Voyage family.

Jennifer Pope

I was born a raised in Baltimore city and I’m the oldest of two children and my family. I attended Baltimore City public schools and I graduated in 2001. I initially wanted to be a pediatric nurse however attending an internship through my high school Paul Londs Dumbar Senior High School with the half John Hopkins partnership I realize that that was not my calling. I remember watching an old black-and-white movie in high school called the Bad Seed and in this movie this troubled young girl was being seen by a psychologist and I was just so moved by the methodology that was used to try to help this child and I thought to myself I really want to do something like that. I always was naturally the person in my circle and my family where people were coming to talk to me about what they were going through some of their problems. I naturally was consoling and wanted to help. Read more>>

Ebonie Williams

My story starts the morning I was born, November 8th, 1988. My parents were shocked that I came out as a girl as the preparation for a little boy for 40 weeks. As my father went home to grab me some neutral-colored clothes, the Task Force kicked down the door and arrested him for drug kingpin charges. I would not see him again until I turned 7. Parental incarceration became a theme in my childhood when at 8, I watched my mom being hauled off to prison as well. During that time I found this cool game called basketball. It became everything I was missing in my life and since picking the ball up, I never looked back. Fast forward, I’m in high school at a small affluent private Catholic school in Virginia, completely opposite of the impoverished conditions I lived in back in Hagerstown, MD. My team was ranked USA Today #2 and I was individually ESPN Top 50 with over 25 Division I scholarship offers. I decided on Seton Hall University, in the Big East Conference. Read more>>

Loocie Glover

We started our business in 2018. While working at our 9-5 job, CBRE, we all knew we wanted autonomy so we thought about starting our own design agency. The original founders, Tanicia, Loocie, and Karadee met every day after work for several months to plan. We discussed our business plan, offerings, what expertise we all had to bring to the table, target audience, company name, and much more. We came up with the business name Talooka Studio; ‘Ta’ stands for Tanicia, ‘loo’ stands for Loocie and ‘ka’ stands for Karadee. With further research into this name, Talooka is also a noun (in India) and means a group of several villages organized for revenue purposes. Perfect right!? We continued to work at our 9-5 jobs while building Talooka Studio together for about a year. We worked with clients to help establish our process, to identify and utilize the strengths of each partner, and to identify the need in the market. So here comes our exit plan! Unfortunately, Karadee went back home to Thailand. Read more>>

Shelly Airey

I am a former rhythmic gymnast turned professional circus acrobat, specializing in contortion, hand-balancing, and aerial silks. For over 15 years, I have shared my passion and knowledge of flexibility, hand-balancing, and contortion with thousands of students of all ages and skill levels. In 2017, I opened the doors to ShellyFLEX Athletics Studio in Gaithersburg, Maryland where I hosted group classes, workshops, and private lessons. Then in 2020, when live performances and in-person coaching were suddenly put to a halt, I sprung into action and launched my online coaching program: FLEX-ED. What started out as a temporary, short-term solution, with just 2 live classes a week, soon exploded into a full-blown coaching program with students from all over the globe, attending classes with myself and my growing team of world-class coaches. I am constantly improving upon the program, through testing, surveying, running beta tests, and interviewing our current and prospective students in order to provide them with as many opportunities for success and growth as possible. Read more>>

Nai Turner

Nai Turner, Owner of Sideline Images, is an Artist whose humble, soft-spoken demeanor is a stark contrast to the political statements she presents to the world through her work. A self-taught painter who classifies her style as a hybrid of realism, pop, and street art, she began painting in 2016 following a stint in the army. The craft that served as a coping mechanism for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), has helped Turner connect with her thoughts on what’s happening in the world, sharing it by way of creative expression in her work. She’s also recently released a clothing line “Unconfined Collection”. Unconfined collection by Nai Turner features intricately embroidered and hand-painted clothing to spice up your personality and give you the driving force to unbox yourself. Read more>>

BenJamin Batten

Our family has owned our farm since 1948. It has passed through many generations and different endeavors. As recent as 4 years ago we were not actively farming the land but were renting it to other local farmers who farmed conventional soybeans and corn for feedstock. We decided we wanted to take the fields back under our control and transition to organic and regenerative farming practices. We started with hemp for CBD in 2019 after the 2018 Farm Bill legalized the production of hemp. We then began growing small grains such as rye and oats for malting and distilling. We are now adding heirloom wheat varieties for milling and baking. In addition, we’ve begun growing our small tribe of bore goats. Our goal as a farm is to provide clean, sustainable plant products that support our community. Read more>>

Anthony Morrison Jr.

My story starts very similarly to a lot of other creatives. A desire to wake up every day totally plugged into something you absolutely love! This is how it got started. Firstly I’m a husband and father of 3 to Anthony, Aleyah, and Cheyenne. My wonderful wife Catherine is my heart and has always been the center of my inspiration. My background is in information technology but there was always an artist inside of me waiting to break free. After working hard for years to climb the corporate ladder I soon realized, sitting at a desk and deciding between 0 and 1 just wasn’t for me. The thing is information technology is one of those fields that often bridges the gap for creatives in that space. I.T. allows us to somewhat flex that creative muscle by working through systems and working through problems in creative ways. Although it doesn’t quite fill that art itch it’s a happy medium for most. You get to pay the bills and you also get to be partially creative. Read more>>

Cecelia Davis

Truthfully, I never set out to be a hairstylist. From as early as I can remember when asked what I wanted to be, I responded with the typical answers a 5-10-year-old will give… a doctor, a nurse, a lawyer. I never knew that being a freelance hairstylist/entrepreneur, was a career option until I had already completed my first year of college and realized that something didn’t feel quite right. That whole first year, I had spent my spare time cutting, dying, and styling the hair of my dorm mates, which at the time was just something fun to do, until it hit me, that this was something fun to do, that I could also do for a living. Faced with indecision, instead of returning to my four years, I moved home and enrolled in the local community college where I had grown up, and completed an AA degree, at which point I had a decision to make. I would either continue on to a bachelor’s degree or take my AA and spend a year in hair school. I’m sure it’s clear what choice I made. Read more>>

Shanequa Waison-Rattray

I am a wife, a mother of two, and a graduate of Coppin State University in Baltimore, MD. Growing up, I’ve always loved reading. I would also have a journal and write whatever came to mind. While in middle school, my love of reading increased, as I was able to read books and see the theater plays associated with them. Since then, I wanted to write books of my own. I love watching my children read and seeing the excitement that they get from it. Because of this, I want to share my passion for reading with not only my own children but others, also. Read more>>

Jewel Guy

For most of my life, I’ve wanted to help people. I was often a person that people would confide in, find comfort, and get advice when needed. That seemed to begin in high school and has followed me throughout my life. With that knowledge, one may think that I would dive headfirst into the human services industry when I attended Morgan State University, but that’s not what happened. I studied Electrical Engineering. A decision I had made subconsciously after visiting the engineering department in sixth grade on a field trip. I had a serious curiosity for how things worked and how I could be a part of that world. Outside of the technical information that I learned while a student, the greatest lessons that I learned were to seize opportunities outside of my comfort zone and build relationships. Read more>>

Judy Weidel

My dream to become a stylist started in sixth grade. My parents wanted me to attend a private high school but I wanted to go to a trade school that offered cosmetology. I didn’t win that battle but found myself cutting my school mates hair in the bathroom! After graduating, I went to upstate New York to find myself. That lasted about six months! When returning I applied and started college. I realized that it wasn’t for me and was lucky enough to find a cosmetology apprenticeship. I then started the path that would offer me fun, success, and financial freedom! I opened my first salon with a partner that I had trained and mentored in 1982. We implemented an apprentice program where we trained over 25 stylists some of whom own their own salons today. After 23 years my partner and I decided to go in different directions. I wanted something more independent and less responsible. Read more>>

Vy Luu

I am the founder/owner of Intimate Igloo. I am a female minority small business owner and graduate student pursuing my Masters of Business Administration (MBA) at the University of Maryland. I am originally from Vietnam and migrated to the United States in 1998 with my family. My parents left everything they knew and love for the opportunity of a better life and a shot at the “American Dream.” Growing up, we didn’t have much. I saw my parents work so hard and sacrifice their life just for us to go to school and make something of ourselves. I can honestly say, my motivation and ambition for success stemmed from them. How I got to where I am today was because I wanted to make them proud. Read more>>

Tony Hilton

Brotherly Love Grooming Salon came from a conversation between me “Tony” and my brother “Caprice” on how we can go into business together. We are both 2nd generation Barbers creating our own way of bringing back the old school way of barbering with new School techniques. Our late father (Anthony “Tony” Fortune) was a phenomenal barber back in the “80’s” before his passing, the memories of him will live forever In our hearts. Brotherly Love Grooming Salon is originated in Philadelphia also known as the city of “brotherly love” I know what your thinking, ooohh so that’s how they came up with that name… Wrong. The name goes much deeper than that and has nothing to do with Philadelphia. It comes from the love and bond that my brother and I have for each other and the love we give to each and every one of our clients. Our moniker states “Come as a stranger leaves as a family” no matter your ethnicity, sexual preference, religion, etc. We will still show you the same love and respect as if they were our own family. Read more>>

Jessica “Culture Queen” Smith Hebron

Jessica “Culture Queen” Smith Hebron is a Grammy-Nominated teaching artist, children’s musician, author, and arts manager, who creates empowering entertainment for children! She is the founder of Culture Kingdom Kids, LLC, where since 2010, Culture Queen has produced innovative Black History-themed children’s performances, festivals, and professional development programs at schools, libraries, restaurants, malls, theaters, and museums across the country including the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture and the Reginald Lewis Museum of African American History and Culture. Her children’s album, I Like the Me I See!, released in 2016 along with her 2019 children’s book by the same title, hits all the right notes for families and educators bringing up confident, culturally aware, and curious children. She’s been a featured speaker on TedXRVA, and her TED-ED video entitled “Mansa Musa: One of the Wealthiest People Who Ever Lived”, has received over 6 million views. Culture Queen is also an award-winning playwright whose children’s musical, Bone Soup: A Kwanzaa Story, is published by Pioneer Drama Service and produced around the country. Read more>>

Misako Aoki

I opened Misako Ballet Studio in 2003. My mission was to teach ballet rigorously while also empowering students to feel the joy of their self-expression through dance. For me personally, ballet allowed me to stretch the limits of what I thought my body could do and gave me confidence that spread through my whole life—I wanted students to benefit from that experience too. It was tough in the beginning managing a studio, teaching classes, mothering two girls, and being an immigrant with a Japanese primary language, navigating the demands of owning a small business. But I have always been blessed with people who supported and encouraged me along the way. Plus, my resiliency as a Japanese woman helped me endure the tough times. Three years later, I went a step further and formed a professional dance company, Misako Ballet Company, as a way to share my joy and love of ballet with Marylanders, to expose the community to Japanese culture in a unique way, and to provide an avenue for my best dancers to showcase their talent to a wider audience. Read more>>

Adina Crawford

About 15 years ago, I found myself in a place where I was very unhealthy, caring for my aging parents and stepbrother. I neglected myself for many years with unhealthy habits and lifestyles. Not being aware of my own situation or frankly in denial about my weight, my husband said to me “You need to do something about your current situation. He was referring to my weight. I was clearly tipping the scale of close to 300lbs. I got to a point where life was very uncomfortable and I needed to make a drastic change. Fast forward, I found a running club in my local area (Fleet Feet) and I joined their first time 5k program. I clearly got the running bug because I have not stopped since. I have completed two full marathons, numerous half-marathons, and 5ks and 10k’s. I realized there was a greater connection with humans through races, training, and fellowship. I soon joined Black Girls Run as a member then Run Coordinator and now a full-fledge Ambassador for the DMV area. My life completely changed not only for myself but I found that I was rendering support to other runners who were on their journey to wellness. I soon realized that if I can run I can do other activities that may not have been in my preview. Read more>>

Kate Pannozzo

Like many, I started photography in high school. It was my senior year and I needed an elective. I took photography and instantly fell in love and had an amazing teacher who really challenged me (Mrs. King). I started off by taking my then-boyfriend, band photos. After finishing high school, I continued to pursue photography while studying at George Mason University, although darkroom photography was the only offerings at the time! Due to life instances, I dropped out close to my senior year at GMU, and pet photography to the side. Then about four years ago, I was gifted a digital camera and slowly started to find my love for photography all over again. I decided to go back to school, starting off at Northern Virginia Community College, where I was fortunate enough to have Aya Takishima and Page Carr as two of my photography professors, and then went back to GMU. Read more>>

Megan and Tyler Vaughan

We are Megan and Tyler Vaughan, and we are proud of our journey and grateful for those who taught us. We met at the Culinary Institute of America where we fell in love with the hospitality industry, service, and each other. There, Megan discovered her passion for artisan cheese which she carried into her ten-year career at Eleven Madison Park in New York City. Tyler traveled the world to study wine and cocktails and found his love for working with passionate people at Union Square Hospitality Group, Blue Hill, and Oceana. In the city, we began curating focused cheese tastings for enthusiastic diners to spread the word about American artisan cheeses and the good people who make them. We get to know the farmers we work with- their stories, their families, their animals- and we want you to meet them through their products. We founded Vaughan Cheese in 2018 to bring those awesome products to restaurants in Washington DC and grew into Vaughan Cheese Counter & Bar in North Beach, Maryland in 2021 as an American cheese cafe and wine bar. Read more>>

Ashley Beatriz

I have been surrounded by entrepreneurs my entire life. Starting with my grandma who owned a store in Guatemala to my parents owning three restaurants in Virginia. I know being an entrepreneur was in my blood and had to follow my family’s path. With the help of my parents and my motivation, I had the blessing to start my small business, Lobos Glam Boutique. Lobos Glam was founded in August 2019. The mission behind my business is to motivate & inspire other young women to feel beautiful & powerful in their own skin & to enhance their natural beauty. As any first-gen Latina, our accomplishment is to make our immigrant parents proud & give back everything they have given us. As much as we want to make our parents proud of our small accomplishments, we also want to help our local communities & share the love of other small businesses around the area. I always tell my supporters to always celebrate the little accomplishments made because those little accomplishments are just a level higher than their beautiful goal. Read more>>

Ciera Jones

I stumbled across the photo booth business looking for an extra income source. I did not want to do anything too strenuous, but something fun, easy, and enjoyable. Also, something that would bring smiles to others faces. Read more>>

Leslie Olabisi

I am a Nigerian American actor, host, award-winning voiceover artist, and producer. I grew up in Glenn Dale, MD located in Prince George’s County– a place I always felt I didn’t belong. So I decided to do something about it. I started in the fashion industry, as a model. I moved to NYC at 19 years old and interned at Anton Leather LLC’s showroom and bartended at Groove Jet Lounge, across from Club NV on the Soho/Tribeca borderline. I experienced the rollercoaster of fashion, shows, inexperience, ill-advised nights, youth, fun, bold marketing choices, adaptation, and adventure there for about four years. Upon returning to MD, not satisfied with my level of success as a model, I launched The LOV campaign, which included The LOV Calendar, a 13″x17″ portrait and landscape, color and black & white “work of art.” This was a calendar designed to still be hung after the month’s expiration due to its full bleed picture layout. Read more>>

John Rojas

I was eating tuna, salmon, chicken, steak, rice, etc. During my high school classes, my teachers knew of my goals so they were very understanding. I was certainly laughed at by my peers during that time, but I saw the bigger picture. I knew I was setting myself up for success in the future. My character, drive, and self-discipline started growing from that point forward. College was never enticing for me. Coming from an immigrant family, obtaining a college degree is the holy grail for the family. I went through 4 years of college feeling lost and confused as to what I wanted to do with my life. I was raised by two successful entrepreneurs, my parents. Running a business is in my blood. I was working multiple different types of jobs trying to find something that stuck. From bartending to hauling junk, to wearing a suit knocking on doors selling someone else’s product. I finally realized something. I am not an employee. I am an employer. I became certified as a personal trainer through ACE in 2015 when I was 18. My local gyms in Baltimore would not hire me because of my lack of experience. I finally found a job as a trainer in a commercial gym in Tampa, Florida in 2016. I quickly realized again, I am not an employee. I am an employee. I quit within one week because of the environment of trainers and managers in that gym. Read more>>

Alexis Young

I have always loved children and their families. From a very young age, I would take every opportunity to babysit. I loved hearing people’s stories and watching parents love their children. While I was in college, I began working as a labor and postpartum doula. At that time, I started my business, Your Journey Doula Services where I learned such an incredible amount about newborns and all things baby-related. I gradually got more certifications and exposure to a diverse range of experiences. I was working while attending school full time. I have always enjoyed connecting with people and helping them to know that their children are safe and loved. There is so much trust that goes into leaving your children in the care of someone else. I typically worked with medically needy babies as well as multiples. I would teach families how to operate their medical devices and help them adjust to all aspects of parenthood. Attending births as a labor doula had a special impact on my life as I had the opportunity to be a part of families welcoming the most important members of their households. I opened my school, Your Journey Nursery & Preschool, in March of 2018 when I was 7 months pregnant with my first child. Read more>>

Troy “DJ TNYCE” Richardson

Sheesh, it’s hard to talk about myself! I grew up between Maryland and North Carolina, splitting time between my mom and dad. I started DJing when I was 15. I lived in a small town in NC at the time, and I had the best mentor ever. From there, I traveled with him to school dances, Pow-wow parties, and eventually clubs and weddings, gradually getting better over the years. I was eventually able to afford my own gear and continued DJing for parties, weddings, and corporate events while I was in the Navy. Once I was done serving, I moved here to Maryland and pretty much continued what I was doing, just here in the DC, Maryland, Virginia areas, sprinkled in with some NC events by referral as well!. Read more>>

Lauren Bellcase

I have always loved taking pictures. You’d find a camera in my hand during vacations, events, and even just hanging out. I joke that my own terrible memory is why I want a lot of photos, but having memories to look back on is important to me. I started studying under Kathy Ricker of Love & Adventure Photography in 2016. If you haven’t heard of her, definitely go check her out! She offers wedding and family photography (and guided safari tours!) and is absolutely amazing. My partner and I did a new home photoshoot with her and I loved her style. Initially, I was working just to improve my own photos and to get better photos of the kids. Then 2020 happened. I was bored at home for a couple months and, after Animal Crossing lost its shine, decided to give myself something productive to do. I officially launched Lauren B Photography in August 2020!. Read more>>

Matthew Dowling

I’ve been an active musician for the last 15 years in the area. A lot of that time was in DC, playing in several bands that toured and made some cool/notable stuff happen. SWOLL started in 2018 which almost exactly coincided with a move to Baltimore proper for me. It’s been great living here and it’s a great gift to be around so much creativity in this city. I released a couple records and toured here and there before COVID, and then COVID threw a big old wrench in the equation, as it did for all of us. Nonetheless, I have continued working on records and released a single/video in Oct to sync up with some shows for me this fall.  Outside of music, my life has been one of entrepreneurship, and I’ve started a number of companies focused on developing biomaterials for medical applications. My educational background is in chemical and biomedical engineering. Playing in bands really was the genesis of my entrepreneurial “chops,” as it is a very entrepreneurial activity to create songs in a room, and then decide to attempt to take over the world with those songs.  Read more>>

1 Comment

  1. Janice Bryant-Baker

    June 30, 2021 at 7:16 pm

    I have enjoyed reading about ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

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