Challenging a Culture of Low Expectations

What Works Studio was hired to develop the logo and website for the Warnock Family Foundation


The reality of life is that it’s not all cupcakes and rainbows. Even if it were, cupcakes aren’t good for you and rainbows mean there’s rain.

The reality of life is that, along with the potential for diabetes and monsoons, there are people that are trying to survive and barely scraping by, there are children with neither homes or suitable parents. A few blocks away from you and your cupcake is a disengaged community of people emotionally detached from the world around them resulting in crime and ultimately a culture of low expectations.

You can complain about all of this. You can shake your head in disbelief and you can tell yourself the world is a horrible place. All of this will get you nowhere. At the end of the day you are faced with more crime and an empty cupcake wrapper.

If you truly want change, you need to get to the root cause of the problem. You need to ask yourself why. What motivates people to give in to this culture of low expectations? Was there a virus going around infecting people and making them more prone to crime? As you continue to ask questions, you start to develop an understanding and the answers begin to reveal themselves. This is when change happens.

David Warnock, founder of The Warnock Family Foundation, has done exactly that. David, along with founding executive director Olga Maltseva, ask these tough questions, get to the root and make the necessary changes to move forward.

David did not grow up here. He is from Michigan. I ask him if he was hesitant to move here because Baltimore has “kind of a bad reputation.” I quickly realize that I may be contributing to the problem more than I know.

“That sort of gets at why I started this foundation in the first place – you said it has kind of a bad reputation. People lead with ‘it has a bad reputation,’ and it does have a bad reputation, but the reality is that we have two of the greatest hospital systems in the world, University of Maryland and Hopkins, right here in our city. In terms of Nobel Prize winners per capita I think we are in the top ten…It’s amazing – the talent we have in this city. And the Foundation, to some extent, is all about trying to change that culture of low expectations.”

“One of the biggest problems with a culture of low expectations is that people feel disconnected. They don’t have a place to go to ask the simplest questions like how to buy a car or open a bank account,” says David. He is currently addressing this problem by serving as chair of board of directors at The Center for Urban Families. The Center for Urban Families was founded in 1999 by Joseph T. Jones Jr. and has since become one of the nations top responsible fatherhood programs helping fathers emotionally and financially support their families. The program’s importance was affirmed on May 17 when President Obama paid a visit to CFUF during a tour of Baltimore.

CFUF maintains that one of the key components to responsible fatherhood is the ability to get a job. How can you provide for a family if you don’t have the basic skills to get a job? You may understand why you aren’t getting by, but once you understand that your basic skills aren’t up to par, that information has the power to change you.

Upon entering The Center for Urban Families men are given a basic test of skills. If basic skills aren’t what they need to be, it’s hard to get ahead. Here men can come in with a 2nd grade reading level and ‘get tuned up’ to and 8th or 9th grade reading level. Once their basic skills improve, their range of job opportunities improve. Once their job opportunities improve, the more likely it is that they will be able to provide for their families and, in turn, a sense of optimism and stability can be restored.

The CFUF also looks at the problems these families face and advocates for change in our policies. For instance, you may ask yourself, why would a young man with kids and a family who went to jail for a non violent crime like selling drugs continue to sell drugs after his release? It was actually found that our Child Support System is the root cause of this chain of events.

As this young man sits in jail, the child support debt begins to collect. Once he gets out he can get a real job to support his family, but the state is going to garnish 65% of that money. If he is even able to make ten dollars an hour he has to live on $3.50 an hour. Additionally, he can’t have a driver’s license and the state seizes his bank assets. How will he survive?

By doing the very thing that got him to jail in the first place.

Thus, The Child Support Incentive Program, the brainchild of the staff of CFUF, allows for past-owed debt to be eliminated to parents that have made two consecutive years of child support payments. Child support is treated like bad mortgage debt. By reducing its value and writing it off, these men finally have a chance to get ahead. Here, David talks in more detail about the issue at Ignite Baltimore:

David’s work at CFUF helped him to realize another problem in a culture of low expectations – the future generation. So how exactly do you challenge the culture of low expectations within a cohort of middle school and high school kids? How do you help them see a bigger, brighter future? You make them excited about learning. You make it mean something to them. If you are David, you might even create a school with a henhouse, tilapia farm, and a greenhouse in West Baltimore.

GSA - Energy Exchange - Boy with fruit

Green Street Academy, the creation of David and Lawrence M. Rivitz, is a public middle and high school that addresses the need for better schooling in Baltimore. By incorporating project-based learning into everyday subjects such as language arts and science, kids can work to address real-life needs like solving hunger in Baltimore. By connecting the school to the green economy through giving students 21st Century skills and workplace experience, the school ensures success in every student. “It’s viral when kids talk, they start believing in themselves. It’s not just the athletes that succeed,” explains David.


David’s work at CFUF has also inspired him to be involved as strategic advisor at Green JobWorks, a construction staffing company that connects men and women in workforce development programs with jobs at environmental firms. Green JobWorks has employed hundreds of men in green jobs such as asbestos and abatement. Green JobWorks places an emphasis on safety measures and as a result won the Association of Builders and Contractors award for missing zero days of work due to workplace injuries.

Not only does Green JobWorks serve to put men and women to work, but they do it while benefiting their employees. Workers get paid time off, paid certification and clients are encouraged to permanently hire employees.

The Warnock Foundation is also invested in restructuring philanthropy. Personally, I like to give but when I don’t know where my money is going, I am hesitant to do so. GiveCorps addresses this dilemma by creating an online platform where people can donate to specific causes.

GiveCorps - Change Party - Change Jar

Instead of donating to general programs, I can donate to causes within the programs, which makes it more meaningful to me. At this very moment I can donate towards planting oysters in the bay, helping Baltimore City girls play lacrosse, or educating city residents how to keep trash out of our waterways.

GiveCorps’ motto is that “you don’t have to be rich to be a Philanthropist.” It’s hard to find the money to give to charity when you are just starting out and I like the idea that I can donate $5 or $500. If supporting a worthy cause isn’t enough to motivate you, you get discounts from local merchants as a reward.

So at the end of the day, we might have a bad reputation, but if we all work together, if we find the reasons for this, we can reverse this culture of low expectations and change will happen. There are great things happening in our city every day.

Go ahead eat your cupcake, I know I will, and enjoy the rainbows life has to offer. When you’re done, check out the Warnock Family Foundation website. You will see a platform for people that are challenging a culture of low expectations and transforming our community into just the opposite.


All photos courtesy of Warnock Family Foundation.