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After 30 years with Disability Rights Maryland, Meghan Marsh takes over: ‘There’s so much more to do’

Baltimore Sun - 10/31/2023

For her entire career, Meghan Marsh has called one organization home: Disability Rights Maryland, a Baltimore-based nonprofit that advocates for the civil and legal rights of people with disabilities statewide.

Marsh, who started at DRM in 1993, has worn several hats as a legal advocate, attorney, communications manager, deputy director and interim executive director over the past 30 years, she said. In September, DRM’s board selected Marsh as executive director after a nationwide search.

“We interviewed a number of highly qualified candidates from around the country. But every time we had one of those interviews, when we came back to it, we knew that they were up against a standard that was very high because of all Meghan has done in the past,” Ryan Perlin, president of the DRM board, said.

Perlin said that Marsh, though soft-spoken, is a leader.

“When she speaks about disability rights and disability justice, people listen to her,” Perlin said. “There just isn’t a better leader out there than Meghan.”

Marsh, 53, succeeded Robin Murphy, who took over as executive director in November 2017 and recently retired from that role. Murphy said Marsh is an intelligent, excellent attorney in addition to being a “wonderful, kind, compassionate, understanding person.” She said Marsh was critical in helping her lead during the pandemic, a challenging time for many organizations.

While pursuing her undergraduate social work degree at Pennsylvania State University, Marsh did an internship at a children’s psychiatric hospital. The stories of the children within those walls, and the lasting psychiatric impacts they were suffering, prodded Marsh toward a degree in law to help protect them. She was leaning toward the prosecutorial field when she discovered a passion outside the courtroom.

“When I looked into law schools, I found University of Maryland School of Law, and they very heavily promoted this clinical law program that seemed to join social work and law and really let students practice in the community,” Marsh said. “I was kind of hooked.”

Marsh joined a law students group for those looking to enter public interest fields, which led her to apply for a summer program that placed law students at nonprofits. She joined Disability Rights Maryland, then known as the Maryland Disability Law Center.

“That is where I started working as a student in law school, and [I] never left,” Marsh said, “once I got connected with that organization and saw the really incredible work that they do and all of the different ways that they can address injustices against people with disabilities.”

Marsh said much of her work has centered on correcting injustices. On the mental health team, she represented people in state psychiatric hospitals who were forcibly medicated. She’s also represented people who were falsely accused of receiving too many benefits from the federal government and helped restore their benefit eligibility.

Perlin said the board needed someone with a record of helping those with disabilities who also understood how disability rights should be considered alongside other protections.

“A person who has a disability has a number of other characteristics about themselves which contribute to the way they’re treated in the community, the way they receive health care, the way they manage their living situation and their transportation situation,” Perlin said. “We really were focused on finding somebody who understood that the way those various characteristics intersect is an important part in correcting the challenges and problems that still persist.”

Moving forward, Marsh wants to enhance DRM’s statewide presence “to make sure that we’re assisting people with disabilities all across the state.” She also wants to hold listening sessions with the nonprofit’s partners and with community members. Perlin noted that a major DRM goal is increasing its funding and therefore its services.

Murphy said she expects funding to be a major challenge, in addition to maintaining staffing.

“There’s a really delicate balance between paying as much as you possibly can for quality people and also having the number of staff that you need to serve the public,” Murphy said.

In terms of the issues it hopes to tackle, current DRM priorities include special education, community-based mental health services and counsel for people facing evictions.

“We really do try to take our lead from people with disabilities,” Marsh said. “So what’s important and what’s on the horizon is really what the community feeds to us as important to them.”

Marsh was born in Baltimore but grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania before returning to Baltimore for law school. Now living in Howard County, Marsh has been married for 23 years and has three children.

Marsh said while she’s proud of the work she’s done for DRM, the highlight has been the people within the organization and out in the community that she’s been able to work with.

“It’s just been an experience that I couldn’t replicate and wouldn’t trade for anything,” Marsh said. “I don’t plan on leaving this position anytime soon. … There’s so much more to do. I would love for us to ever reach a point in time where we put ourselves out of work, but I don’t see that happening in the immediate future.”

This article is part of our Newsmaker series, which profiles notable people in the Baltimore region who are having an impact in our diverse communities. If you’d like to suggest someone who should be profiled, please send their name and a short description of what they are doing to make a difference to: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Editor Kamau High at khigh@baltsun.com.

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