The simplest things can make the biggest difference. One of the most solvable problems is providing after school programs as an opportunity for enrichment and community building. Yet Maryland is in the bottom ten states in access to after school programs. As a teacher in a Baltimore City Public School, I saw many teenagers having trouble building relationships with peers and teachers. That was me at that age - grappling with my identity, introverted, gay, a person of color, anxious and isolated to the point of considering harming myself - until I joined an after school club. That club became my second family, which saved me from myself.
So while teaching, Cynthia Chavez and I began to hold hip hop dance sessions for students after school, just for fun. Dance is the invitation - it gets people through the door - but relationships happen when the music is off. The program grew, and years later I’m executive director ofthe Baltimore Dance Crews Project, an in school and after school dance program that builds a community for youth across Baltimore. Volunteers provide a lasting and diverse community of mentors. Our mission: through hip-hop dance, we initiate and strengthen relationships that support youth from school to career.
How do you bring business, innovation, and creativity together? Before becoming full-time, Baltimore Corps was my foot in the door. Our dance teams provide students a support system plus opportunities to build social capital. We listen to our kids. They drive our direction. And now they are teaching some of the dancers, creating a cycle of students teaching students. They earn their performance spot, but we don’t kick anyone out - everyone stays in rehearsals and we nurture them through all struggles. We are trying to open new experiences that let our students find themselves and set their own trajectory.