Law student Bill Joyner honored with UMB Diversity Recognition Award

Bill Joyner is passionate about fighting economic inequality in Southwest Baltimore and sees his mission as a two-pronged effort: supporting local businesses while addressing the systemic issues that create the imbalance.

“I know that opportunities are limited when entire neighborhoods are impacted by racist policies and practices in education, employment, housing, health, and law enforcement,” says Joyner, senior economic inclusion specialist in the Office of Community Engagement (OCE) at the University of Maryland, Baltimore (UMB). “The sacrifices of others have lifted me to a level of relative privilege and safety from the worst impact of these forces. It’s not only my duty to lift as many others as I can, but also to dismantle the forces that threaten us in the first place.”

Joyner’s work with OCE has been transformational in boosting economic opportunity in Southwest Baltimore, as he has recruited nearly 30 local businesses from marginalized populations to be part of UMB’s supply chain, with the vast majority of the business owners being people of color. He also manages an after-school paid internship program with the volunteer-led community Pop! Farm, which provides Baltimore youths with valuable work experience, and serves on the steering committee of UMB’s Live Near Your Work Program, which provides funding and resources to help UMB employees buy homes near the University.

For these efforts, Joyner will be honored with a Diversity Recognition Award for outstanding staff member on Feb. 5 during UMB’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Black History Month Celebration. The honor is well-deserved, says Ebony Nicholson, MSW, the diversity, inclusion, and leadership program specialist in UMB’s Office of Interprofessional Service and Learning Initiatives. 

“Bill’s work directly aligns with one of the many goals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.: Developing sustainable pathways out of poverty for historically marginalized groups,” Nicholson says. “The services and projects Bill manages create generational impacts. These programs over time can improve the relationship between UMB and our Southwest Baltimore community by providing mutually beneficial relationships in the form of business partnerships.” 

Chief among Joyner’s projects is the Community Merchant Access Program, which connects small businesses owned by people of color, women, and immigrants to procurement opportunities with UMB, the University of Maryland Medical Center (UMMC), and other universities and corporations.

“Bill is consistently introducing the UMB community to local businesses we can support with our institutional resources,” Nicholson says. “Many of these businesses are owned by historically marginalized populations that might not always be on the radar of a large institution such as UMB. His work is literally ‘putting your money where your mouth is.’ ”

Joyner says he’s particularly proud of the Community Merchant Access Program, an initiative that includes the Local Food Connection, where participating small businesses receive access to training, technical assistance, marketing support, and other resources to help them sell food or provide catering services.

“We took UMB’s spending on local food sources from 0.01 percent to 7 percent in a single year, and we did that in 2015 while also starting up and staffing OCE’s Community Engagement Center, which had no dedicated staff at the time,” says Joyner, who also is studying for his law degree at the Francis King Carey School of Law and hopes to graduate in July.

Joyner has made an impact on other major issues as well. For instance, when UMMC and the School of Medicine were rocked by allegations of sexual misconduct in late 2018, Joyner stepped forward to organize leaders from UMB’s six professional schools and interdisciplinary Graduate School to form an Institutional Equity Workgroup.

“The workgroup formed in the summer of 2019 and works to find the institutional barriers within the University that might prevent minorities and women from thriving,” Nicholson says. “The committee continues to collect data and will present recommendations to campus leadership for targeted action across the University.”

Joyner says he’s pleased to do such work because it pays back those who’ve supported him along his journey.

“There are many people who have invested huge amounts of time and energy in helping me find a way to make a difference at UMB,” he says. “And in a place like UMB where time and energy are sometimes in short supply, I don’t take that for granted, and I want to make good on their investment.”

Winning the Diversity Recognition Award also demonstrates that UMB is acknowledging and encouraging grassroots efforts to promote equity and inclusion on campus and in the surrounding community, Joyner says.

“I think there’s a common belief that a person has to do something ‘big’ in order for it to be significant. For example, you have to conduct groundbreaking research on disparities or launch a campuswide initiative that impacts thousands of people every year,” he says. “But this award rejects that notion, which seems appropriate since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. also rejected it. He said, ‘All labor that uplifts humanity has dignity and importance and should be undertaken with painstaking excellence.’ That’s what I strive to do.”


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