Advocacy in Baltimore

May 19, 2021


By Cheyenne Varner, '13

Danielle Torain, ’06, began leading the only field office of one of the world’s largest philanthropic organizations just three months before the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In January 2020, she became director of the Open Society Institute–Baltimore, which focuses on criminal justice reform, education, youth development, and advocacy on addiction and health equity.

Since the pandemic hit, her work has been hyperfocused to meet the specific crisis at hand. With the Rockefeller Foundation, the mayor’s office, and other partners, OSI released an equitable vaccine distribution campaign. It provides education to increase confidence in the vaccine and expand peoples’ ability to access it, targeting those disproportionately impacted by the illness, particularly low-income communities of color.

OSI has also provided $400 emergency relief stipends, particularly to people less likely to have received federal relief in 2020 — “immigrant families, individuals with criminal history, young people in some cases impacted by housing and stability issues,” Torain said. OSI went one step further, connecting clients to job placement and case management services, emergency housing, and more.

Torain is particularly fit for a time such as this, with a decade of award-winning experience in local government, community-based work, philanthropic spaces, and foundation and agency consulting with a passion for social justice going all the way back to her days at the Jepson School of Leadership. “I’ve seen a full range of perspectives on what it takes to build and sustain movement,” she reflected.

The fit is all the more perfect because she is a Baltimore native herself. “I see it as a tremendous honor and privilege to be able to do such meaningful work from a position where you can give back to the place that’s given to you.”