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Quick and Dirty

Seed Money

By Christina Royster-Hemby | Posted 8/2/2006

When Daniela Lewy found out that the Baraka School was closing in 2003, she feared the worst for the boys who had been studying there. Lewy had been teaching at Baraka, the experimental school in Kenya where at-risk seventh- and eighth-grade Baltimore boys were given a second chance at academics, far from their rough city neighborhoods, so they could hopefully gain entry into better high schools once they returned to the United States ("From Baltimore to the Bush," Jan. 15, 2003). Closure of the school meant the loss of one more opportunity for these kids.

When a documentary abut the school, The Boys of Baraka, was released last year ("Back from Baraka," Film Fest Frenzy, May 4, 2005), Lewy-who was then a master's degree student at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health-decided to show it to everyone she could. She began showing it at Hopkins and, with a group of volunteers, pushed for screenings across the city to which she invited students, teachers, and community leaders.

"I [also] wanted to expose [Hopkins students] to the situations faced by Baltimore youth right in the East Baltimore neighborhood where Hopkins is located," she says. "The response was overwhelming. Everybody wanted to do something."

And this year, Hopkins students and alumni have done something to keep the spirit of the Baraka School alive. With the help of Associated Black Charities and African-American community leaders and organizations, the Baraka Youth Empowerment Fund, a scholarship fund and summer-enrichment program, has been created. The fund will raise money for the 36 students who attended the Baraka School while it was open, and its goal is to raise $1 million to support educational, leadership, and empowerment opportunities for them. The fund also will raise money for the Urban Leadership Institute, a nonprofit organization designed to improve the lives of other young people in Baltimore. Though Baraka is now closed, the fund will give city students the opportunity to travel abroad through Summer Search, a program that will receive money from the Baraka fund. The goal is to give 250 city students learning experiences similar to the ones once offered at Baraka.

If the $1 million target is met, the 36 Baraka alums will each get $20,000 dollars to be used for "anything that's going to help [them] become productive adults-from college to truck-driving school, to culinary school, to real estate school," says Donna Fisher-Lewis, chief development officer for Associated Black Charities.

According to Fisher-Lewis, $5,000 already has been raised, and the 36 students will have five years to access the money, five years to tell the fund what educational opportunities they want use it for, and five years to spend it.

In the meantime, those Baraka alumni are showing other city students and teachers what can happen when you invest in at-risk youth.

"They're going into the schools to educate other kids about what they learned at Baraka and how to transfer [it] to Baltimore City," Lewy says. "They prove the power of a transformative experience."

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