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Portraits of Baltimore

It’s more important to understand someone than to judge them. We think the first step to understanding someone is asking them the fundamental questions about who they are and how they became the person they are today. Understanding and empathy are essential building blocks for a better, more compassionate world. We’re incredibly fortunate to be able to ask these questions each week through our interview series. Below you’ll find inspiring interviews from in and around Baltimore.

Mike Shelah

I started using LinkedIn as a prospecting tool back around 2005 when the platform was very new. Over time my co-workers would ask me for help using LinkedIn and I began teaching others. Later I was invited to train organizations like GoodWill of the Greater Chesapeake and The Virginia Recreation Park Society. Since launching my website in 2011, I have spoken to thousands of college students and business professionals along the northern east coast. I work with individuals as well as organizations on sales, leadership, and emotional intelligence. Read more>>

Rebecca L. Hargrove

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a performer. I loved to sing, play the piano, and act an entire fool around my house. Thankfully, my mother supported all of those ambitions. One afternoon we were watching Tupac’s VH1 behind the music, and I told her that I wanted to attend an arts high school like Tupac. She immediately drove me to Baltimore School for the Arts to fill out an application. I attended BSA as a voice major in the Music Department. It was there I started my formal music education and was inspired/encouraged by my faculty to pursue a career in the arts. Thanks to them, I went on to seriously study music at Oberlin Conservatory and The New School of Music in New York. Read more>>

Ronica Edwards

Growing up I always knew I wanted to be a photographer. My mom raised my uncle and I together and when he began taking an interest in photography as a teenager, I knew one day I wanted to do the same. I was only in elementary school at the time but something in me told me that I just might be really good at it so for about 10 years I kept that thought in the back of my mind. Unfortunately, photography is not a cheap hobby and isn’t always accessible, so it took me years before I was able to buy a camera. The summer before my first semester of college I went to a Beyoncé and Jay Z concert at M&T bank stadium. This particular tour had a photographer named Ravie B that was this young woman of color doing something I never even imagined could be done by someone like me. Read more>>

Frank Goodman

I started my entrepreneurship journey in 2010 focusing on building web and mobile application for people in the small business community. Before this journey, my career was in the Intelligence Community as a contractor where I focused on building intuitive enterprise web applications. My educational background includes a BS is Computer Engineering with a minor in Computer Science and an MS in Systems Engineering from George Washington University. While contracting, I quickly built a name for myself because I was technical with the ability to design and communicate which isn’t very common in the tech community. Read more>>

Chris Sahloff

I created CRIT in 2019 as a homebrewed tabletop game for my friends and I to play. After a few games, I realized how fun the story was and taught myself how to draw and started making illustrations based on events in the game. That turned into making a comic book and now we have 7 issues available with over 3000 units sold worldwide. As with any new venture it has its challenges, but I have learned from each one and use them to grow and become more successful. I had to learn how to draw, which was a challenge, and then I needed to learn marketing and then I had to learn how to build an audience. Every year is a new challenge, but the payoff is worth it. Read more>>

Michael Harris

In the very beginning, it was my mother who insisted on renting me an acoustic guitar so I could learn after seeing my eyes light up watching guitar player Roy Clark on TV. I ended up learning how to play pretty well and got into jazz band as first chair guitarist by my senior year in high school, then went to North Texas State University for music briefly and eventually finished my studies at George Mason University in VA as a philosophy major. I was supposed to go to Scotland to continue my master’s in moral philosophy, but finances fell through, so I started waiting tables and playing gigs in VA and DC. I quickly realized that becoming a full-time musician was way better than the series of jobs I had waiting tables… Read more>>

Camila Sanchez

I was born and raised in Baltimore for the first decade of my life. I’m not sure when it started but I have always enjoyed making art. Part of my obsession may have been due to my family’s frequent visits to the Walters. I was constantly drawing, and my parents encouraged my passion with art classes wherever they could find them in the city. As a kid though I didn’t really know what an artist job looked like, and so for Career Days in elementary school I’d dress up as an art teacher with a smock and painter’s palette. It wasn’t until I reached high school that I realized that what I wanted to do most of all was tell stories. Read more>>

Pump Like A Mother

I was recently incarcerated for 2 days in jail. I am not proud to say that. A very traumatic event happened to me during my short-term visit. I am a 30-year-old woman with 2 kids. I am currently breastfeeding my youngest child. The moment I was put into handcuffs, I was thinking about how I was going to lose my breast milk supply if I can’t feed my baby or pump my breasts of every 2-4 hours. “Lactation will continue as long as milk is being removed from your breasts.” (Source: Lactation Process, Cleveland Clinic). My breasts are continuously filling up with milk for my baby to feed on the nutrients that formula does not offer. Once being in booked into the main jail, then transferred to the jail where I stayed for 2 days, my breasts would get rock hard from not pumping, my breasts becoming really uncomfortable & hard on the urge of Mastitis. Read more>>

Jewel Goldsberry

When I was younger, I would watch my older cousins do my hair and others which inspired me to want to do hair as well. In middle school, I would play around with styles on my own hair because it was fun for me, and I would also have some anxiety booking with other stylists. In 8th grade, I applied for the cosmetology program at North Point High School and was accepted. By the end of High school in 2020 I became a licensed Cosmetologist at 18 years old. In the midst of it all, I started my own hair business where I offer and specialize in braided and natural styles. I am now 20 years old and a full-time student at Towson university majoring in Business Administration with a concentration in Entrepreneurship and a minor in marketing. Read more>>

Korey Keels

I have been in the pest control industry since I was 21 y/o. I had worked for various companies, large and small, in the market. After my first few years of learning the industry, I became interested in opening my own pest control company. I was fortunate to be able to work directly with the owner and I received great insight from a business perspective. 14 years later, the opportunity came to purchase the small business from the owner that had acted like a mentor to me. I had built a strong rapport with the existing customer base, and I managed to continue to expand the company little by little over the next few years. I was working independently to service my ever-growing customer base. Read more>>

Jessica LaPrade

Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve wanted to design clothing. It’s always been my passion. When it was time for college, I elected for a school that was art based because I felt like I would get the best experience. I attended The Art Institute of Philadelphia where I was finally able to learn and grow in my skill set. I received a BA in Fashion Design. After college I worked a few 9-5s to of course pay this large student loan bill that was starting to come every month. Several years after graduating college, I was stressed, tired and fed up with the day-to-day tasks of a job I quite frankly hated. I decided it was time to take a chance on myself. I was out in touch with a company that gives starter businesses funding in order to help them achieve their dreams. Read more>>

Melissa Kang

The story of how I got to where I am today has many twists and turns with multiple challenges along the way. The inspiration behind Jazzy Jade Designs is my beautiful two-year-old daughter, Jasmine Jade. I was diagnosed with pre-ovarian failure 12 years ago and it took 9 years and multiple rounds of IVF to finally get her. I was working as software consultant that required 80% travel to client sites and long hours when I finally got pregnant. I turned in my resignation within a month of getting pregnant because I could not take the risk of travel and stress affecting the pregnancy. Best move of my life because I have this amazing little girl who is the love of my life. Read more>>

Amber Singletary

So it was truly by accident, well I won’t say accident but definitely not by intention that I started my career as a makeup artist. I used to be a hairstylist and one day after finishing a client’s hair, she asked me if I would help her apply her eyeshadow for a date night like I was wearing mine. After that I continued to do clients’ makeup whenever they would ask and from there, people kept saying you should be a makeup artist. At this point, I was working full-time in a standard 9-5 job and working as a hairstylist part-time so I had no real intention of adding on more work but as a joke, I was talking to a friend at work and said I should go apply to work at MAC on our lunch break. And I did just that. Read more>>

Eric Moncrief II

I started out playing in the GO-GO band (Trilogy) which we later changed the name to (Reaction Band) I transitioned from their and started my own band ( NU Action) that lasted a little while before I ventured out and started working on a project with the bass player of the Band his name is Tye, We were working on a whole studio album but unfortunate circumstances and my battle with getting out of the streets. I then started rapping with a DC Rapper named Nu The Mayor. We did numerous of mixtapes. I then ventured out on my own and started Straight up Ent along with my brother Emir Frisby he goes by (Prince) he made the beats for me when I first really started my solo music career. Read more>>

Shar’Ron Tyrell

For many years I was involved in the arts. As a child, I would participate in school plays and church plays. It’s still crazy to me that I didn’t major in theatre in college, however, the will for your life that God has for you will always seems to find you. In 2008, I directed and produced my first play called “Hard Knock Life.” From that moment I was hooked. I started my own production company Becoming Who I am Productions. A few years later, I met my husband, we married and then our lives took a pivot. We decided to start a family, we conceived, and then had a miscarriage. That inspired me to write a play called “Why Question God.” With this play, we travelled up north and we also was chosen to participate in DC Black Theatre Festival; as a playwright, my goal with anything I write or do is to inspire and uplift all those who support. Read more>>

Toni Shuford

Being a girl from Baltimore, I’ve learned how to make nothing out of something. I started while I was in college and around my cousins, creating different drinks that fit the vibe at the time. While building my business, I am also the president of Hanks Productions. Creating events with my team that allows me the opportunity to present my talents behind the bar, administrative, and hosting. I am someone who invested in creating an amazing experiences either through laughs at an event or telling me make you a drink that reminds of an island. I love making my customers feel heard and seen. While the opportunities present themselves, I make myself be remembered because I pour love into everything I do. Read more>>

Tonie Restrepo

I am Tonie Restrepo, Wholistic Lifestyle Mentor, Pastor of Wholly Nation, Certified Personal Trainer and DNA Coach, and Transformational Speaker. I was born and raised, the youngest of five, to immigrant parents from Jamaica, West Indies. I am the first generation American in my Family. At twenty-three, I lost my brother to heart failure. He was only 34 years old. Four years later, on my daughter’s 4th birthday, my grandmother lost her battle with colon cancer. Then, one of my dear friends I went to School of Ministry with; he was the Class President, and I was the vice. Anointed man of God dies from a heart attack. A few years passed, and my dad was diagnosed with stage four lung cancer and died three months later. Read more>>

Gregory Gensheimer

As a child, I witnessed my maternal grandfather deftly jack up an entire house in order to repair its foundation. Watching him work fascinated me. It was powerful to witness a capable and confident person who could create objects and buildings with his own two hands. I knew by walking into his woodshop and smelling the Douglas fir that I wanted to be a carpenter. This understanding led me to explore shop classes starting in fourth grade and continuing through college at SUNY Oswego, where I received a B.S. in Industrial Arts. My coursework included drafting, design, woodworking, metal fabrication, ceramics, printing, photography, and plastics. I went on to teach these skills to students in the U.S. and abroad in the Kingdom of Tonga as a Peace Corps Volunteer. Read more>>

Tobi Owolabi

I am the founder of O-Line Security, an organization that helps people start careers in the fields of IT and cybersecurity. In 2019, I realized how challenging it was for people to find the right resources and opportunities to break into these industries. That’s why I started O-Line Security, originally as a class for friends and family, but eventually expanding to help people all across the country. Today, we have established partnerships with major IT staffing agencies and have assisted numerous individuals and families in finding new careers. If you or anyone you know is interested in starting a career in IT or cybersecurity, O-Line Security is here to help. Stay tuned for more on how we can support you in reaching your goals. Read more>>

Deb Shine Valentine

I arrived in Baltimore in 2021 by way of Los Angeles and the tiny town of Halifax, Virginia, but before that, I lived in Philly for over 20 years. I felt at home here right from the start. Connecting with other small business owners from a wide range of backgrounds and identities has been a big piece of what I’ve loved about being here. Because my work is mostly virtual, my business has moved with me, but when I finally registered it in Maryland, it felt right.  I’m a life and leadership coach, Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion consultant, and writer. As a coach, I work with people who want more out of life than what they’ve been told is possible. Read more>>

Royce Sarpy

I relocated to Washington, DC after being accepted into Howard University’s Doctorate of Educational Leadership and Policy Studies program. This move was fostered by teaching in no-excuses charter schools in Brooklyn and Harlem. While there, I experienced the harsh realities of educational inequities and disciplinary practices rooted in racism. This was also the space that helped illuminate the gap in early literature that was racially and culturally representative of our kids. I published two early reader chapter books since to start to help fill this gap. The books have been featured in schools and libraries across the nation. Royce Sarpy and the Twin Day Disaster was an Amazon Best Seller. Read more>>

Monique Henry-Hudson

Simply Robotix started in 2011. It was originally my portfolio =website that I used to get freelance work as an animator and graphic designer. It has since evolved into a platform where I create podcasts, videos and not offer consultations for independent animation production teams and creators. Though it hasn’t been a smooth road the main challenge that comes to mind has been my effort to clarify my goals for the business. I’m able to do many things and I have so many ideas and I want to do them all but having to decided what to do first which project to see through to completion first is always a challenge. Read more>>

Kenny Futrell

In September 2021, I wanted to change my unhealthy habits that I got during the pandemic. I started going to the gym, eating healthy, and taking care of myself. After 3 or 4 months of working out, I gained 30 lbs. and felt more confident. I thought, ‘How can I help others make a similar change in their life?’ So, I started posting my workouts on Instagram and TikTok. At first, not many people saw them, but then more and more people started asking about my diet and workouts. I started coaching people online and by June 2022, I also started training people in person. I used the same methods that helped me make a change in my lifestyle to help others. Read more>>

Lyndsey Williams

I graduated from University of Maryland Baltimore in 2017 with my Masters of Social Work. I started working at Johns Hopkins Bayview OB/GYN clinic in 2018. At first, I was a generalist social worker taking referrals, checking boxes, and connecting patients to resources. I even got a little bored and wanted to pursue a degree in public health. But a very wise supervisor of mine encouraged me to dig a little deeper into the work I was doing and try to find my passion point. This was such essential advice. I networked with other social workers in the field and realized there were evidenced-based practices to work with pregnant and postpartum women. I received more training and fell in love with the work of women’s therapy. Read more>>

Britain Weyant

Growing up in bands, I had made a lot of great friends that shot photos or videos at our concerts and things. There was a moment whenever one of those friends stayed over at my home, and I picked up his camera and had an immediate interest in it. He eventually gifted me a camera, and I hit the ground running trying to absorb as much information from other folks that I knew that did the same thing or things like the internet. After a certain point, I learned enough to feel established and able to take on clients myself. I said yes to every opportunity that I could. I did a lot of weddings and events as a photographer but eventually decided to stick with the video portion. Read more>>

Andrew Bonieskie

My name is Andrew Bonieskie, and I began playing music at the age of five. My mother, being a music educator with a master’s degree in music education, sat me down at a piano as soon as I could focus long enough to practice for any considerable amount of time. I continued these lessons while also taking part in many different choirs also directed by mother until I was old enough for public music education. In middle school band, I moved on to percussion where I played for two years while receiving private education on the subject as well and eventually learning to play on a full drum kit. Out of an abundance of teenage angst I rebelled against the music that was so much a part of my younger life and became a devoted actor as I entered my high school years. Read more>>

Shakirat Abolurin

In fall of 2011, I feel really sick and slipped into depression. During that time, I started to watch YouTube to keep myself engaged. While exploring YouTube, I came across few YouTubers like Jackie Aina, Patricia Bright, and many more. I was very intrigue and began to show a lot of interest in makeup. YouTube was my gateway from everything happening during that period. I started to purchase makeup and brushes just to practice on myself. I remember purchasing my first makeup palette which was the urban decay naked palette. From then I began to practice on my sister and friends from church. I began to build on my personal kit. Read more>>

Pedro Night

My journey with music began at the age of five in Montgomery Village, MD when I was introduced to the piano and started taking weekly lessons. Throughout middle and high school, I switched to the saxophone and played the instrument for 10 years. I started DJing in 2010 at family parties, school and college events, and some private events here and there. When I started my undergrad studies at Montgomery College, I began promoting for Club Glow and Echostage in Washington, DC, setting off my career in music and nightlife. I worked my way up the ladder and by the time I was 21, I had a full-time position in the company, placed in charge of marketing and promotions. Read more>>

Angelica Sfakianoudis

Hi! My name is Angelica Sfakianoudis, the owner of Pixel Clear Photo Booth LLC. I’m a registered nurse by day and photo booth owner by all other hours! I know it’s two different worlds, but I tell people this is my fun job! The inspiration came from a trip to NYC with my boyfriend. It was his first time in New York, so we decided to go to Time Square and like you see on Tik Tok, we had a random photographer who came up to us and asked to take our photo. We didn’t trust it at first but then we said why not! So, in 20 minutes, we had a mini photo shoot and the most amazing photos uploaded to our phones. It was that simple! Read more>>

Lala Queen

As a child I always loved fashion. I would make my own clothes and pretend to do my makeup. I learned how to braid using my baby dolls hair. As I got old, I used to braid my little sister’s hair, which I always got in trouble for. Then In high school, my mom forced me to take cosmetology classes, which I am glad she did. I always had a passion for fashion. I was also on the fashion team at my high school. It has been so challenging, just learning how to open an online boutique and fulfill orders. Even finding steady clientele has been a small issue. However, it is all coming together. Read more>>

Veronica Cooper

Since I was a child, I have always been told, “Follow your dreams, Trust your Gut, and Make No Excuses” Although I fail from time to time to trust my gut like most people my age, I always have followed my dreams and made no excuses for the things I wanted. Born in Las Vegas, NV I graduated High School at age 15 which gave me a head start on my goals. I started my career in Fashion Photography. This gained me networking at a young age allowing me to help be a part of the startup for the Las Vegas Fashion Council. This was a huge deal at the time because I was only 17. At age 19 I was introduced to two up-coming rappers who bartered me recording studio time in exchange for shooting their cover artwork. Read more>>

James Magruder

I was born in Washington, DC, and spent my traumatically-formative teenage years in Chicagoland. I went east to college and graduate school at Cornell and Yale School of Drama. I moved to Baltimore in 1991 to work at Center Stage as their Resident Dramaturg. With only 13 T-helper cells to my name, I expected to die of AIDS by 1997, but I was one of the first combination therapy miracles. (My HIV viral load has been undetectable for 27 years.) By the turn of the new millennium, my recovered immune system and I decided to get serious about my childhood dream of becoming a writer, and so I started writing short stories. Read more>>

Nailah Queen

I’m Nailah Queen, wife, mother, CEO, philanthropist, innovator, self-care advocate, business mentor, influencer, travel enthusiast, and serial entrepreneur. I’ve always had some sort of side hustle growing up and decided in 2015 to step out on faith and become a part-time entrepreneur. I did this so that I could leave a legacy for my son and family so while still working full time, I started Royalty Escapes Travel Agency and since then have opened Realeza Styles Travel Clothing and Accessory Line, the successfully emerging Regally Insane Hair, and Body Health Line and “It’s Nailah” the hub for Nailah “The Brand” coaching and business services. Read more>>

Rio Fresco

Well, my journey starts in Baltimore, and right now I’m in Los Angeles. I’ve doing fashion since we are one clothing brand and sabiato clothing in dc. I started out my trunk in Baltimore County at barber shops around the city selling my cliche t-shirts that had clever sayings on them. However, each shirt coordinated with the hottest new sneakers coming out at the time. From there I started to dive deep into the fashion world. I attended Los Angeles trade tech to pick up more skills along my journey to the top. Now I have a few merchant items you can purchase now online at my website No very rough road I went from being up to cool guy to being homeless for couple of months. Read more>>

Dondre Lawson

Since birth, my biological mother lived in the poorest neighborhoods within Baltimore on programs like Section8, Social Security, and food stamps. We moved from projects to projects in the early ’90s avoiding danger, gang violence, and staying safe, attempting not to fall into any systems. We eventually moved from Baltimore to Owings Mills, and my mother still carried the same mindset of location, status, and surrounding dangers; anyone that has lived in those types of environments can understand why people from the hood think certain ways, and because of this mindset that my mother had developed it created major differences and issues between me and her. Read more>>

Madison McFadden

I started my business after my daughter makava rode was born and wanted to do something different in the beauty field I did lashes, facials, waxing and all of those things but I wanted to do more and I love for people to feel beautiful and comfortable, and confident in their skin and I believe tooth gemming gives a lot of confidence towards people and their appearance. It has not been a smooth road I have went though so many obstacles of not having any clients or having off and on clients gems not sticking correctly or when people want a refund and just trial and errors in the business field of money, set up and a proper business structure is what I had to figure out. Read more>>

Jen Karner

I started writing stories when I was a kid. I think the first time I really *remember* deciding I wanted to write a book was in first or second grade, and once the idea occurred to me, I couldn’t get rid of it. I spent most of my free time with my nose stuck in a book. When I wasn’t reading, I was writing stories when and how I could. I fell in love with fantasy thanks to Lord of the Rings and horror because of Firestarter and once those two genres had their hooks in me, I was done for. I kept writing through my teens and 20s, usually after school or between jobs, but I’d grown up in a blue-collar family where “writer” wasn’t really considered a profession that had any stability. Read more>>

Neal Tucker

My name is Neal Tucker, I’m a father of (2) and a husband. I own an IT business call NextTech and I’m also the founder of The Huddle Brand. I was born in Atlanta, GA., and raised in Prince George’s County. While in high school I played varsity basketball, and I used my artistic talent to design clothes. I attended Salisbury University after getting kicked out of Morgan State University for having average grades. At Salisbury, I continued playing sports and I started my first major brand Karma Designs. Karma Design was more than a clothing line; it was a movement. We help annual cookouts and events to host friends and family. After college, I began teaching and doing armed security to help open the doors to my IT career. Read more>>

Jessica Smith

I am a mental health advocate and community builder, who uses my online and in-person platforms to fight against the stigma of mental illness. Writing is my first love, and I obtained my bachelor’s degree in Communication and Philosophy, manga cum laude, from George Mason University. For as long as I can remember, I have been a critical thinker and problem solver. I have a big heart for community service and for bringing healing to the world. What life showed me is that I would need to focus on healing my inner world so I could be most effective in the outer world at large. At the end of 2018, I quit my full-time job as a business coach at the age of 26 due to burnout and took a mental health sabbatical for 14 months. Fortunately, I had been aggressively building my savings account in case a job transition was coming my way and it indeed was. Read more>>

Caity Wilkinson

I am a men’s sexual confidence coach, and I work with men virtually around the world to help them build the intimacy and relationships they’ve starving for. My work is an absolute DREAM and lights up my core every single day! I’m obsessed with human sexuality, especially taboos. How is sexuality the only health topic we can’t discuss openly at the dinner table? But I didn’t discover coaching as a field until the pandemic. Before then, I worked in divorce law for several years, fulfilling my Elle Woods teenage fantasy while I (secretly) prepared to go to graduate school for sex therapy. But grad school never happened. I knew I still wanted to spend my days talking to people about the problems in their sex lives, but the academic/clinical route lacked the level of creativity and freedom I was craving. Read more>>

Chris Eliff

I’m a mom, a pediatric nurse, and a photographer who’s always had a passion for life. I do my best to appreciate and make the most of every single day, Photography has become an outlet for me. It’s a coping mechanism, it’s a way to communicate when words won’t do. There’s beauty all around us; we all need to stop and be more aware of that. When you look at one of my photographs, I want you to look at it again & again, in the same way, that you read the lines of a favorite poem again and again. Communication without words. That’s what my art does for me. Read more>>

Julie Outrage

I was born in Senegal and grew up in the Maryland/DC area. I picked up a guitar when I was 15 and something just clicked. At that age, I looked up to guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Tom Morella of Rage Against the Machine, and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin. I had a funny childhood dream of being the “girl” version of those guitarists! My dad got me guitar lessons in high school, and I luckily had a guitar teacher who took me under his wing. Eventually, my lessons were over, but my guitar teacher continued teaching me for free believing that I had a natural ear for music. Once I got to college, I had a brief stint as a Jazz guitar major before I moved into my interests in film production. Read more>>

Natasha Taylor

My start in my career came from my first role as a Web Producer at BHLDN by Anthropologie. Right out of college with a communications degree, I knew what types of work I enjoyed and what skills I had a natural inclination for. But I still felt as though I hadn’t come across a career path yet that aligned with my passions and skills just yet! I knew that I wanted to support people to be their best selves, lead incredible initiatives and work within a creative team. Read more>>

Tim Wes

My entire life I’ve always used creativity as a tool for escapism. As early as elementary school I always wanted to play an instrument and eventually worked my way into learning guitar, singing and writing songs, forming bands, and traveling performing my own music. As I grew into my twenties, my love of creativity and music continued to grow but the reality of how uncommon it truly is to make a living doing music started to kick in. Read more>>

1 Comment

  1. Marion blackwell

    September 1, 2022 at 1:30 am

    Love your work. I am an artist organizer who supports local artist in business promoting their work as a business model.

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