a woman standing in front of a microphone

Meet the Director

Sydnee Wilson Ruff grew up with a foot in each of the two Baltimores. From her home in Park Heights, where 96% of residents are Black and more than a quarter fall under the Federal poverty line, she commuted to private schools in some of the wealthiest Baltimore neighborhoods, where 71% of residents are white. Her family wasn’t wealthy, but Sydnee had a strong support system. “I had a community that was behind me and wanted me to succeed,” she recalls.

“I think the foundation of my professional career is that I’ve always understood what two Baltimores looked like,” she says. “I left my community, where all my neighbors were people who looked like me, and then I would drive 10 minutes down Cold Spring Lane to a school where I was the only person who looked like me.”

At the time, no one was talking about the sort of systemic inequalities that kept those barriers in place, but the difference was stark. Bridging the two worlds was a goal that came later, and became part of what led Sydnee to her new role as executive director of Blue Water Baltimore, and last month Blue Water’s board of directors voted to make her the permanent director.

a woman in a red blazer smiles at the camera

Since graduating from Boston University with a degree in Latin American studies, Sydnee has worked in communications and administration for numerous city agencies, including the offices of the Mayor and Baltimore City State’s Attorney, as well as local nonprofit Health Care for the Homeless. Most recently she was director of operations for the Lillie May Carroll Jackson School, a few blocks from Blue Water Baltimore’s new home in east Baltimore.

Her meeting with Blue Water Baltimore came from a desire to help people, not necessarily as an environmentalist. She took part in a board of directors pipeline program run by Associated Black Charities, and was looking for “organizations that were doing work in communities like the one I grew up in, but didn’t have people who were able to speak authentically to what that experience was like.” At a mixer at the end of the program, she met board member Theresa Furnari, and was impressed by Blue Water Baltimore’s work on equity and inclusion, During an interview later, with Theresa and fellow board member Steven Ragsdale, “we talked about all the Baltimore things and all of the aspirations that Blue Water had for digging deeper into the communities, not just going in and delivering the message about what needs to happen, but really about true partnership.”

Much of her tenure as interim director last year was consumed with revamping Blue Waters’ internal processes, developing a strategic plan for the next five years, and strengthening the organization’s justice, equity, diversity, and inclusion (JEDI) program, to build those principles more directly into outreach efforts and programs and focus on giving Baltimore communities the tools and support to advocate for their neighborhoods. She also oversaw the move from Remington to Blue Water’s new home in Broadway East.

“I think so many of the people at Blue Water are environmentalists at heart—their passion is the science, the environment,” she says. “And those things are important, I’m definitely becoming more of an environmentalist every day. But it’s really important to me because of the people of Baltimore, and that’s what brought me here. It’s really this deep love and affection for the people of Baltimore.”

Similar Posts