Baltimore Renaissance Project

Photos by Theresa Keil and Ms. Jess Gartner’s students

We were recently asked to visit New Era Academy in Cherry Hill, by 7th grade teacher Jessica Gartner (who later became the CEO and Founder of Allovue), to talk to the students and take part in a concept called The Baltimore Renaissance Project, a project that examines how the arts can be used as a vehicle for social change and cultural revolution. It was there that we were introduced to another organization whose aim is to counter negative stereotypes through creativity, positivity, and good will.

The Black Male Identity Project is an ambitious undertaking to develop a new paradigm with respect to black men. By using a wide range of artistic expression, conversation, workshops, and public forums the goal is to shift the conversation from one laden with images of oppression and injustice to that of an asset driven narrative that expresses positive stories of black men in the role of husband, father, entrepreneur, and community leader.

Photo by Miss Gartner’s 7th Grade Class

We passed a camera around the room to let the kids have a turn and we were pleased to find that Ms. Gartner’s 7th class wasn’t short on natural talent. They’re the newest contributors to the What Weekly family.

Poet Allen Wilson led the class through a series of verses that was anchored in everyone joining in on the phrase “in the heart of the city” as it was paired with verses that spoke to the experience day to day urban living.

Co-director of the Black Male Identity Project, Fanon Hill, posed the question, “Who has the right to define your identity?” He spoke to the kids about the role of art in the African American community as a collective experience and the power of positive identity. He embodied the project’s mission by personifying positivity and enthusiasm with confidence and purpose. If you’re a teacher looking for someone to engage and encourage your students, you’ve found your man.

Of all of the amazing experiences Brooke and I have had, we felt especially privileged at being invited to participate in this conversation. We might be idealists, but we wholeheartedly believe that the greatest opportunity to enact great and lasting change in the world is happening right now. Sharing that with a classroom full of future leaders whose stories are yet to be written is something we were genuinely excited to take part in. Our message was generally one that let them know that they truly do live in a world full of possibilities. We shared our experience building businesses and tried to convey the idea that anything we were doing they too could do and more.

While changing the worldview of many people is probably one of the more challenging undertakings for a non-profit organization, it certainly has the potential to yield lasting results and is quite possibly the most effective means over time. It’s inspirational to find more organizations adopting this strategy and it makes one wonder what are the odds of penetrating pop culture with radical notions like sincere appreciation and respect for our fellow human beings?

To learn more about the Black Male Identity Project and to find out how to get involved follow this link.

Photos by Theresa Keil, story by Justin Allen.