Executive Function

Lindsey Baker of Maryland Humanities

Breaking down barriers between communities

HUMANITIES, Fall 2023, Volume 44, Number 4

Lindsey Baker discovered the humanities through soccer. At fourteen, and already a long-time, avid player, she stepped onto the field of an all-adult soccer league.

Baker was surprised to see that her teammates were the only Latin American people in the league, and even more surprising to her was the cruel way she saw them being treated. More than once, fights were instigated through excessive fouls and trash talking. During one of these fights, Baker recalls, rocks were thrown at her teammates.

The experience drew her to the history behind different cultures. “I wanted to understand, you know, what’s happening here? How has it happened before? Will it happen again? That’s all history to me.”

Baker’s desire to understand history and life experiences different from hers led her toward a career in the nonprofit sphere and to the role of executive director of Maryland Humanities, where she works on expanding the organization’s reach and ensuring racial equity.

One way the council does this is through the Marilyn Hatza Memorial SHINE Grant program, which offers general operating support grants.

“Local organizations know what their communities need best,” said Baker, “but often, when writing a grant application, what their community needs doesn’t align with what the funder wants to fund.”

With SHINE grants, small organizations bypass the complex funding restrictions of program-specific grants and focus on using awards in ways that are most beneficial to their community, even if that means using them for payroll.

Maryland Humanities is also expanding their reach through the Language Access program, which strives to bridge the communication barrier with the 11 percent of Maryland residents who speak English as a second language. One recent project taken on by the program was expanding Maryland History Day, to make the competition more accessible to English language learners.

“The concept is that the skill sets you learn in History Day, like research, analysis, creating an argument, analyzing sources, and presenting publicly are skill sets that all people would benefit from. But, historically, we haven’t worked with English language learners.”

Maryland Humanities is addressing this by partnering with a small group of teachers who have experience in teaching both English as a second language and social studies. With these teachers, Maryland Humanities helped create a curriculum that provides English language learners the skills needed to participate in Maryland History Day.

Additionally, Maryland Humanities fosters connections throughout the state with One Maryland One Book, which brings together diverse groups of readers by selecting one title centering around a new theme every year. This year’s choice, There There by Tommy Orange, with its cast of 12 interconnected Native American characters, responds perfectly to 2023’s theme of connection. 

“Last year, it was really interesting during the author tour to hear the author and the audience talk about the themes that stood out to them. You get in a room together, you’ve read the same thing, but you’ve read it differently because of your experiences and your mindset in that moment, and then you start to talk with others, and your mind kind of opens up and shifts and plays with these new ideas.”

The One Maryland One Book program unites 10,000 readers annually. One group was composed of 22 football players, and it was the first time most of them had been in a book club. For some, it was the first time they had finished a full book.

With Baker at the helm, Maryland Humanities has strengthened its ties to communities that previously went overlooked. This focus on community engagement, diversity, and inclusion, however, is not just a practice Baker implements in her work life. With a Salvadorian husband and two brothers-in-law also from minority communities, Baker is surrounded daily by diversity.

“I feel it’s kind of inherent to who I am, to always have those extra voices, whether it’s family, or friends or teammates from soccer that have different lived experiences than me, I’m constantly listening, and learning, and putting myself in the context of the larger experiences that are around me, which has informed and helped me professionally and personally. . . . It’s a constant reminder that I don’t know everything.”

Tell us more . . .

What do you like best about soccer? The connections with people from all over the world. 

Is there one place in your world travels that’s your favorite? No. But I would say my favorite way to travel has been traveling with someone from that country.  

If you could have lunch with anyone from history, who would you choose? During Maryland History Day there was a presentation about the separation of Indigenous children from their parents. So, if I could have lunch with multiple people, I would bring those parents back together with their kids.