Tonee Lawson is the founder and executive director of TheBe.Org STEM program. (Photo: Courtesy of TheBe. Org)

By Aria Brent,
AFRO Staff Writer,

Tonee Lawson is the founder and executive director of TheBe. Org, a local nonprofit organization that focuses on encouraging and nurturing youth to live above their socially-imposed limitations to develop their character, talents and leadership skills allowing them to go beyond a dream and achieve remarkable excellence.

TheBe. Org grew out of a leadership development program for girls that Lawson led on behalf of her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority. After receiving positive feedback from the participants of the program, members of the community and her sorors she was encouraged to make the initiative bigger and to start a non-profit organization.

However, it was the discouragement a family friend felt amidst her transition from middle to high school that truly left Lawson inspired to do more.

“I was having a conversation with a family friend who was struggling with the transition from middle school,” Lawson explained. “She ended up saying that no one from Baltimore ever makes it. That broke my heart for her to feel so defeated at such a young age and for her to feel that she was not worthy of success.”

Lawson has an extensive background in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) with degrees in biology, molecular-biology, biochemistry, bioinformatics, and biotechnology. Considering science was something that always came naturally to her, she chose to focus on STEM to help others find their untapped potential in the ever-growing field.

“The tech and STEM market here in Baltimore is severely underrepresented by Black people.There are lots of opportunities there but not a lot of local talent is sourced for those jobs. It’s an untapped job market with such earning potential and not a lot of our young people explore that arena,” said Lawson.

In addition to STEM, TheBe. Org also focuses on social and emotional learning. Essential life skills such as confidence, social awareness, leadership and self awareness are taught in an after-school setting to help prepare students for success following high school.

[TheBe. Org] is a wonderful opportunity to be a part of for those interested in a STEM career and it’s never bad to try out new things. It can help you figure out what you want to do for a career,” stated Deshawn Cornish, an alumni of the program and a freshman theater arts major at Morgan State University.

Although Cornish doesn’t plan on pursuing a career in STEM he noted how much he enjoyed being exposed to a new field and the vigor that came along with learning to code.

Dymonta Murray is a current participant of the program and expressed similar sentiments, sharing how fun yet challenging his time with TheBe. Org has been. Murray is preparing for his senior year of high school at ConneXion: A Community Based Arts School and is interested in majoring in computer science when he goes to college.

“I’ve always had a pretty easy time in class when it came to coding, so I thought this was going to be the same. It ended up being way more difficult than I expected. I feel like learning to expect challenges and to try hard for what I want to do is the most important thing I’ve gained from the program,” shared Murray.

As the organization approaches their 10 year anniversary they’re looking to deepen their impact and to reach more schools. One of their goals is to continue to not only source local talent but also develop it with hopes of having an overall greater impact on the Baltimore community.

“It’s important [Black youth get exposed to STEM opportunities] so that they can see themselves in careers that have a very promising future. There’s no limit to where you can go with a career in STEM,” Lawson said. “ It’s important for us to expose our young people to those things at an earlier age and help them build up the skills necessary to earn a well living wage.”