By Cori Lucas,
When wrestling with stigmas, lack of self-knowledge, and social persecution, among other things, it can be hard to feel good about yourself sometimes. A National Survey on LGBTQ+ Youth Mental Health conducted by the Trevor Project in 2021 found that 72% of LGBTQ+ youth experience symptoms of anxiety and/or depression. It was concluded in 2017 by the Pew Research Center that one-in-five teenage girls had experienced “at least one major depressive episode” within the last year. Aziza Pe&ce (AP) is helping youth, especially LGBTQ+ individuals and young women, strut confidently through their own unique mental, emotional, social and life challenges via “unordinary” means. AP’s organization is using fashion, art, fitness, mentoring and music to create extraordinary individuals in Baltimore City and all across Maryland. AP’s award-winning program model is not only helping youth ages 14 to 24 thrive socially, but also developing their critical thinking skills, leadership skills, and an entrepreneurial mindset!
During her 20 years of active involvement in the Baltimore City school system, Saran witnessed the “racial, homophobic, transphobic, and socio-economic discrimination and prejudice that youth in Baltimore face”.
Founder and Baltimore-native, Saran Fossett has been all over the fashion circuit over the course of her career. Following stints as, among many other professions, a professional model, a modeling agent, a stylist, a boutique-owner, and a fashion events coordinator, Saran became a mother. She cut back on traveling a lot while raising her child but never considered giving up her passion for fashion and the arts. She devised a plan to combine this and her other passion: youth advocacy. During her 20 years of active involvement in the Baltimore City school system, Saran witnessed the “racial, homophobic, transphobic, and socio-economic discrimination and prejudice that youth in Baltimore face”. She pulled from her vast knowledge garnered from her decades of experience with youth and the fashion world and created Aziza Pe&ce in 2008.
If Aziza Pe&ce had all the funding and resources it need, AP’s programming would be promoting the wellness, mindfulness, self-esteem, and social and emotional learning of students in 25 of Baltimore’s 26 High Schools—during, after, and outside of school. AP would also prioritize establishing their own lounges in these schools that would primarily serve as safe spaces for girls and LGBTQ+ individuals. They’d also have a housing initiative aimed at sheltering girls and LGBTQ+ youth, who disproportionately find themselves homeless or in unsafe spaces. Aziza Pe&ce would secure several aesthetically beautiful and functional locations in Baltimore where targeted youth can come receive mentorship, guidance, supplies and resources, college and career preparation, intern- and apprenticeships, information on AP events that’ll engage the community and families, and overall just feel safe on their journey towards their truest and best selves! “Equity is not only a social-justice imperative, but also a way to use resources more efficiently, and to increase the supply of knowledge and skills that fuel economic growth and promote social cohesion.”
Currently operating in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County, Aziza Pe&ce’s in-school and after-school program operates on a wellness-based curriculum that focuses on age-relevant topics from relationships to nutrition. Their summer program integrates fun and engaging outdoor activities into their curriculum. Annual events include their well-known STRUT fashion show in March; their BE! weekend youth conference; their Kumaliza summer trip; and their DC Cultural Excursion where they take youth to the National Museum of African American History and Culture, then end the night at the Kennedy Center to view a professional dance performance. For more information on Aziza Pe&ce’s events, to purchase tickets for STRUT, and to donate to their mission visit them at cllctivly.org/listing/aziza-pece or follow them @iam_azizapece.
All February, we’re honoring a few of the many Black leaders in our community making history every day with #28DaysofBlackFutures.
This is a crowdfunding and narrative power campaign that amplifies and mobilizes resources for Black-led organizations serving Greater Baltimore.
Throughout the month, we will highlight 28 dedicated Black leaders and organizations on the ground creating programs and initiatives that drive health, wealth, safety, and culture in #Baltimore.
Let’s CELEBRATE these changemakers and SUPPORT their work! Our goal is to raise $100,000 by the end of this campaign.
Head over to 28DaysofBlackfutures.org to donate today! ❤️🖤💚