#WeAllDeserveArts: Kimberly Vasquez, Yashira Valenzuela, Aliyah Abid – Lead Organizers, SOMOS

The City’s Disconnection from the Arts

August 28, 2020

Premise: Classes affiliated with arts aren’t necessary – FALSE

The arts encourage self-expression, self-awareness, and personal growth. Despite the importance of arts, for decades, students in the Baltimore City Public Schools System (BCPSS) have been deprived of many educational opportunities and resources with art classes being the first to go. 

We are SOMOS (Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society), a student-led advocacy group based out of Baltimore City College High School (BCC). SOMOS tackles systemic injustices in BCPSS. We are three SOMOS lead organizers: Aliyah Abid, Kimberly Vasquez, and Yashira Valenzuela. As student activists, we believe #WeAllDeserveArts because of the positive impact we have witnessed it to have on the lives of youth. 

Baltimore City Public Schools have been underfunded for decades. Currently, we are underfunded by 342 million dollars every year by the state. Not only this, but 15% from our local budget goes towards schools, while surrounding districts average out to put 36% of their budget towards their schools. Franca Muller Paz, teacher, musician, SOMOS advisor, and candidate for City Council in Baltimore’s 12th District, believes we need to “put our money behind the kinds of solutions that take care of our people, as opposed to perpetually punishing them and pushing them through the criminal justice system, which we know has not done Baltimoreans any favors.” (Real News Network, August 20, 2020)

Our arts classes at Baltimore City College (BCC) have prepared us for and are the reason we are confident in public speaking, which we find ourselves doing more and more often. For example, during a protest at the Comcast Headquarters on August 3rd in Baltimore, Kimberly gave a speech on the importance of affordable high-speed internet for all, especially BCPSS students. SOMOS created a petition directed to Comcast (the main internet provider in Baltimore City) stating our demands, supported by Baltimore City Council, Baltimore Teachers Union, and 100+ organizations, to improve the internet quality and access in the City. During middle school, Kimberly was provided the opportunity to be a news anchor for her school’s morning announcements. She knows that this was one of the many ways that her arts experiences have helped her build public speaking skills.

As for Aliyah, she believes that a Speech and Dramatic Arts class that she took in her freshman year was very important for her confidence in performing, as well as speaking in front of an audience. The class gave students practice with writing and giving speeches, interviewing others, and performing with unusual but intentional restrictions. In her activist career, Aliyah has given speeches, has been interviewed, and will be interviewing for our podcast, sponsored by the Susan Crowne Exchange, about the digital divide in Baltimore that we will be releasing in partnership with the Digital Harbor Foundation before the end of 2020.

Separately, Yashira has been in the choir since her freshman year. She has expressed that the many learning experiences in choir have led her to want to pursue Social Work in college and how accepted she feels whenever there is a performance. The choir was a healthy outlet for her to express herself when stress from school heavily impacted her mental health. Similarly, BCC rising senior Vincent Bagley views art as a form of expression for all types of emotion. 

As youth in Baltimore, we have experienced two budget cuts in BCPSS that have impacted our schools’ abilities to continue many programs. At our high school, the cut in funding from the state during the 2016-17 school year led to the reduction of classes offered. The budget cuts had a direct impact on students’ curriculum and arts opportunities. During the 2016-17 school year, Aliyah was a freshman and BCC school administration made the decision not to offer arts classes to the following year’s sophomores. While many students in their freshman year opted to take an additional science class in place of an arts class, Aliyah and other sophomores at the time, were denied the option. 

As we know from personal experience, the arts are vital for personal and mental growth, creativity and career aspirations. Our schools need more funding, because without it, students will miss out on the opportunities that the arts offer. And as quoted by Kimberly’s younger sister Darlin, “you don’t want to be THAT kid in class that can’t draw a normal looking cat.”

#WeAllDeserveArts

Kimberly Vasquez (she/her) was raised in Baltimore City and has attended Baltimore City Public Schools (BCPSS) from Pre-K till present. She is a rising senior at Baltimore City College High School, and a former student at Armistead Gardens Elementary/Middle School. She is a lead organizer of SOMOS (Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society). She enjoys building organizations to bring about permanent change in the community. 
Yashira Valenzuela (she/her) is a rising senior at Baltimore City College and former student at Armistead Gardens Elem/Middle School.  She is a lead organizer of SOMOS (Students Organizing a Multicultural Open Society) and the founder/director of the English-Spanish Intercambio, a program aimed at improving the English and Spanish literacy rates in Baltimore City. She wants to pursue a career in Social Work in hopes to continue advocating for her community.
Aliyah Abid (she/her) is a recent high school graduate, having attended Cross Country Elementary/Middle School, Mount Royal Elementary/Middle School, Baltimore City College High School. She is a lead organizer of SOMOS (Students Organizing a Multicultural and Open Society) and former organizer of the English-Spanish, a program aimed at improving the English and Spanish literacy rates in Baltimore City. Aliyah will be attending college in the fall of 2020 to study finance in order to consult with local nonprofits and charities after graduation. She hopes to find internships related to social justice or finance in the meantime.

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