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The Story of GBALI

Gilman Black Alumni Give Back and Gain Purpose

Giving Back

“We really wanted to find a way to give back, not only to the Gilman community but to the Baltimore City community,” says Kumasi Vines ’96. He and classmate Charles “Chaz” Howard ’96 had both seen different kinds of alumni clubs at their respective universities, and it inspired them “to organize Black alumni of Gilman and to create a vehicle that would allow for giving back to the next generation,” Howard says. That was the impetus in 2005 for the two friends founding the Gilman Black Alumni Leadership Institute, better known as GBALI (pronounced ja-bal-ee).

“Our experience at Gilman — our friendship, our brotherhood — really showed us how folks from different backgrounds, given the opportunity to be in the same space, can develop great relationships,” says Vines. “We saw young folks — high school students — as the future of the city.” Howard says they wondered, “What would it look like to create an institute to prepare them for college and for life in general?”

Terrance Whitehead '95, Chaz Howard '96, Kumasi Vines '96, Karlo Young '97

(left to right) Terrance Whitehead '95, Chaz Howard '96, Kumasi Vines '96, Karlo Young '97 at GBALI's 10th anniversary celebration in 2015.

“Our experience at Gilman — our friendship, our brotherhood — really showed us how folks from different backgrounds, given the opportunity to be in the same space, can develop great relationships.”

So Vines and Howard, along with Terrance Whitehead ’95, Karlo Young ’97, and other classmates, met with then Headmaster John McGill, who gave the group an immediate green light on using Gilman’s facilities for the program. Coach Johnnie Foreman became their point-person at Gilman, and Coaches Tim Holley ’77 and Joe Duncan were big on-campus supporters as well. Howard notes that the administrative leadership who came after McGill deserves credit as well. “Not only have they permitted GBALI but they have affirmed it and cheered for it. I think that’s a testament to the School’s desire to be a welcoming place for different groups.”

In GBALI’s first year, Howard and Vines returned to their alma mater nearly every Saturday morning from October through March to lead a coed mix of 12 high school students from Gilman and surrounding public and private schools.

After that first year with a dozen students, GBALI began to expand, in numbers, outreach, leadership, and content. In recent years, the roster has hovered around 35-40 students. Howard, who has lived in Philadelphia since attending the University of Pennsylvania, became a sideline cheerleader after it got off the ground, while Vines continued to run the program for the next 10 years. Whitehead and Young, who helped out in year one, stepped up as co-directors with Vines in 2006 and have been a constant in GBALI leadership for the last 18 years. Others have become involved along the way, including a few female co-directors.

Educate, Empower, and Entertain

A typical Saturday morning begins promptly at 9:44 a.m. — and no, that is not a typo. The odd start time, according to Young, is an intentional strategy to teach students about punctuality and managing their time effectively. “Some students have been dragged into the program by parents who made them fill out the application,” he says. But after two or three weeks, and for the rest of the year, it is the kids who are pulling the parents to get them there on time.

After a light breakfast, the group plays a round of That’s My Jam, a game Whitehead invented, similar to Name That Tune. He says that he continues with this icebreaker week after week, year after year, because GBALI alumni often ask him eagerly if they are still playing the game, and he doesn’t want to disappoint them.

After the game, they get right into the content, which consists of a presentation or lesson of sorts followed by related hands-on activities. “On paper, it sounds like school, but we pride ourselves on not being like school,” says Whitehead, who, notably, travels to Baltimore from Northern Virginia nearly every Saturday GBALI is in session. The organization’s tagline is to educate, empower, and entertain, and they focus on all three of those pillars, though he admits with a smile that sometimes they lean more heavily on entertaining. “It has helped us to engage with the young people and to build trust,” he says, acknowledging that trust is sometimes difficult to build with teenagers.

The topics covered stay relevant from year to year — navigating college admissions, learning money and time management, developing a network of authentic connections, and building relationships, for example — and so they repeat them. But they adjust their approach to keep it fresh for the students who return for more than one year. “We engage the subject from different angles to spice it up,” says Young.

In addition to lessons and activities presented on Gilman’s campus, a large part of the institute is exposure for students, a concept Young introduced, in part because he did not have anything like it when he was growing up. “Seeing is believing,” Whitehead says. They take the students on field trips to college campuses and different places of business like law firms, hospitals, and nonprofits. “A lot of our students need to be shown that they’re not exempt from this environment.”

Regarding exposure, Howard adds, “It creates possibilities. It creates dreams.” He also highlights the relationships they form from being in the group. “They get an expanded village. They have more people in their corner.”

A Big Impression

At GBALI Alumni Day, when a dozen or more recent or not-so-recent graduates return to Roland Avenue at 9:44 a.m. on the last Saturday before winter break, Whitehead and Young get to enjoy the fruits of their labor of love. “That’s when you hear ‘I’m glad someone told me…’ the things that they didn’t know were important while we were teaching them, but then when they get into the college environment or the real world, they realize they had a head start.”

Whitehead thinks the information registers for the students because it’s delivered by adults they trust whose motives are only to help kids learn from the missteps of their own youth.

GBALI grads don’t only show up on Alumni Day; they often keep in touch with the program leaders throughout the years or many years later. Young says he hears from past students who want to know if they can come to GBALI while they are in town for a weekend. He estimates they’ve had 20 alumni pay GBALI a visit this school year alone. On one occasion, a couple alumni made virtual appearances from Germany and Seattle. “They talked about working and living their lives far away from home,” Young says, emphasizing the exposure this brought to students who may not know anyone who has moved away or who works overseas. It lets them know that “somebody who was in your seat just a few years ago” can make a life like that a reality.


“Our teachers tried to instill in us the importance of service, and that’s what I think of when I think of GBALI. It’s a spot where we pour into the generation that’s coming up after us just like people poured into us.”

Sometimes when Young and Whitehead hear from previous participants, it’s to share good news — like the recent development that two GBALI alumni got engaged to each other. Sometimes it’s to reach out for help with negotiating a job offer or to seek guidance on a life issue. Sometimes it’s to say that GBALI made a big impression on them and that they want to give back in their own way, like former NFL player Brandon Copeland ’09, for example. He started Beyond the Basics in 2016, a free camp for kids to learn about football and also about community service and achieving their dreams off the field. Young says, “Part of that was because of his time in GBALI” — because Copeland saw the Gilman Black alumni who came before him serving the community. “Now he’s pouring back in his way. That’s the piece that brings me the most joy.”

“Like People Poured into Us”

It’s not just students who gain value from their GBALI experiences. The leaders running the program are equally moved.

Reflecting on what motivates Whitehead to wake up early to drive nearly two hours to Gilman on many Saturdays for nearly two decades, he talks about his life’s journey. Having grown up in West Baltimore, transferring to Gilman for Upper School, matriculating at the University of Pennsylvania, and moving up in his tech career to his current position at Google, he notes, “Through that entire process, someone helped me. Someone taught me things.”

He goes on, “I don’t believe lives are derailed by big activities. It’s the little things, and I owe it to the people who did little things to change my life.” He remembers meeting Bill Greene ’68 — who was part of Gilman’s leadership team at the time — the summer before high school and how he “jumped through hoops” to get him into Gilman for that fall. Whitehead continues, “GBALI fills the gap of giving purpose to my life.”

Howard points to his Gilman education as the inspiration for the institute. “Our teachers tried to instill in us the importance of service, and that’s what I think of when I think of GBALI,” he says. “It’s a spot where we pour into the generation that’s coming up after us just like people poured into us.”

He reminisces how “this all started as a couple of emails and phone calls between a few guys. Sometimes the ideas you have can turn into something special. I encourage people, if you have an idea, go for it.”

Chaz Howard, Kumasi Vines, Terrance Whitehead, and Karlo Young, who were interviewed for this article, wish to acknowledge the following people who have contributed to GBALI: Kourtney Whitehead, Kellee Gonzalez, Rhonda Smith Wright, Brian Taylor, Henry P. A. Smyth, John E. Schmick '67, Johnnie Foreman, Joe Valentine-White '07, Tangie Mason, Erika Outlaw, Jeff McGhee, Amy John, Jessica Suriano, Crystal Lee Alston, Peggy Bittner, and the countless Gilman alumni who have supported GBALI over the years.

article published February 15, 2023