By Reuben Greene,
Special to the AFRO

In a heartwarming celebration of community, M&T Bank and The Aspen Institute recently came together to commemorate The Weaver Awards 2023. Now in its third year, the Awards recognized the dedication and contributions of Baltimore’s remarkable “Community Connectors,” who embody the spirit of fostering community connections and building trust among neighbors as envisioned by The Aspen Institute’s “Weave: The Social Fabric Project.”

The event was held at the enchanting Urban Oasis in West Baltimore, and its vibrant atmosphere appropriately set the stage for an evening of unity, diversity and inspiration. The venue was alive with the harmonious sounds of music, offering a soulfully infused ambiance to accompany the celebratory spirit. The menu featured delectable Asian cuisine that delighted the senses, and nature offered beautiful weather, allowing attendees to enjoy the festivities under the open sky.

“Weave: The Social Fabric Project” seeks to rebuild broken social trust that has left Americans divided, lonely and in social gridlock.

“We are living in a society where trust is so important. It’s so hard to rebuild trust. Very easy to lose it and extremely difficult to build it back,” said Dominique Goss, executive director of M&T Charitable Foundation. “Each of these awardees are helping to create deeper-rooted trust in the community, and we need you.”

Twenty Baltimoreans were among this year’s recognized “Community Connectors,” who each received a framed plaque conferred by The Aspen Institute’s Executive Director Frederick Riley and James W. Peterson Jr., vice president and small business ambassador at M&T Bank. The awardees will also receive $5,000 grants and a network of support for their grassroots community-building projects. 

The Weaver Awards were created to support Baltimoreans 18 years and older whose projects focus on making connections between residents and prioritizing their community’s emotional needs. 

“Growing up in Baltimore, weavers were the difference makers in my community who inspired a sense of belonging and trust,” said Dan Porterfield, president and CEO of the Aspen Institute in a statement. “They prioritized relationships, showed up authentically, saw the humanity in everyone, and built social trust which made us collectively stronger. That’s what we honor through the Weaver Awards.”

The Awards also aims to support small groups or individuals who would likely not receive typical grants from foundations, corporations, or governments. The 2023 cohort, for example, comprised people from a variety of backgrounds: a minister, comedian, basketball coach, yoga instructor, Broadway dancer, Reiki healer, master gardeners, chef, entrepreneur.

“Some of the most trusted people getting things done in their communities may not be running nonprofits,” said Riley in a statement. “What they share is that they see needs and inspire neighbors to work together to strengthen the place they call home. Those are the weavers we aim to find, support, and celebrate.” 

Award recipient Monique Bess, of Black Box Radio in Southwest Baltimore, expressed her gratitude. 

“The benefit of receiving this award is being honored by the community itself,” she told the AFRO. “On top of that, we’ll be able to do some modernization of our studios. We’re focused on producing live shows starting September 2024.”

Ulysses Archie Jr., of the Baltimore Gift Economy located in the city’s Irvington neighborhood, said beyond being grateful for the recognition, he also was inspired by the other awardees.

“I’ve been inspired by each of the award winners,” said Archie. “The work they’re doing across cultures and across communities… I’m just grateful to be a part of it.”

Shaleece Williams, executive director of the Tree House Project in Central West Baltimore, said it felt good for their work to be vindicated, especially as a nonprofit organization.

“It’s a fantastic feeling to be nominated by community members,” she said. “Running a not-for-profit takes diligence, and being recognized for the work I do with young people is a blessing.”

For those interested in future updates or how to contact The Weaver Awards, visit  for more details.