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ChangeMakers: A Passion for Uplifting People, Communities

Diane Bell-McKoy is President and CEO of Associated Black Charities, which has had a leading role in development in the city. Andre Chung / for NBC News

"Baltimore: ChangeMakers" will introduce you to some of the individuals who are engaging youth, seeking to improve their neighborhoods block by block, and demanding that their voices be heard in corridors of power. Each one is different but determined in their own unique way to change the paradigm in the city, pushing to help rebuild it one day, one person at a time.

NBCBLK Presents: ChangeMakers: Baltimore
NBCBLK Presents, ChangeMakers: Baltimore. NBCBLK

Change Maker: Diane Bell-McKoy

Hashtag: #systemchange


You don’t make progress by standing on the sidelines, whimpering and complaining. You make progress by implementing ideas. -Shirley Chisholm

Diane Bell-McKoy watched on television as rioting, looting and arson swept through Baltimore in the aftermath of Freddie Gray’s death, leaving the CEO dismayed and heartbroken.

Yet as head of Associated Black Charities (ABC)—a non-profit that’s operated for 31 years — she didn’t wallow in despair. Instead, the trained social worker recommitted to doing her life’s work: uplifting people and strengthening communities.

“We make the mistake of treating people in low-income and black/brown communities in need as if they are broken,” says Bell-McKoy. “They have merely adapted to what was created in their lives and communities by long-standing disinvestment, and negative policies. Many of our citizens are knee deep in trauma and suffering.”

To that end, ABC is working to address disparities in Baltimore’s African-American community and communities of color across Maryland.

Diane Bell-McKoy is President and CEO of Associated Black Charities, which has had a leading role in development in the city. André Chung / for NBC News

The organization takes a holistic approach to tackling issues, identifying and seeking to understand their root causes, then developing smart strategies that incorporate information, tools and resources.

“First, we must listen,” says Bell-McKoy, whose resume includes serving in the administrations of big city mayors, and leadership training at Harvard. “Then, as we move forward to support communities, we must provide people with the access, opportunities and relationships to change their lives.”

RELATED: ChangeMakers: Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle

That’s not all this 60-something executive, wife, mother and grandmother wants to see happen.

“I also hope our nation has the courage to address institutional and structural racism, and the systemic policies that created the situation we currently have in Baltimore and other cities across America. …there are days when I’m frustrated and have to fight back a sense of hopelessness, but other days when I am extremely hopeful.”

Diane Bell-McKoy is President and CEO of Associated Black Charities, which has had a leading role in development in the city. André Chung / for NBC News

Our "Baltimore: Change Makers" series will introduce you to some of the stand-out individuals who are part of a burgeoning movement. Each is determined to help the city rebuild, block by block, person by person, one day at a time. As you read their profiles we hope that you will be inspired to join the conversation and let us know, who are your neighborhood #ChangeMakers? #BaltimoreChangeMakers

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