Bmore Youth Advocacy Council

Members of the 2021 BYAAC Cohort with Sheena Morrison
“The thing about being a student is the overwhelmingness that comes with work and just living and being young. Sometimes acting for your own education isn't the first thought in your mind. I'm sure there are so many students who would love to but they don't know how to start. We need to advocate more and we need people to advocate more for us."
Baltimore School for the Arts
“What stood out for me, was how all of us could research and then come back and do the presentation… It felt like we all contributed to it and put in the work. And it was really good. I felt like we really got somewhere with the audience…. Yeah."
Baltimore School for the Arts

In 2021, Arts Every Day established Bmore Youth Arts Advocacy Council(BYAAC). The Council provides a platform for youth creatives in grades 10-12 to learn about and impact school policymaking. Youth meet with local and state leaders to demystify what the school board does, who its members are and how as students they can be actively involved in the decision making processes that put arts education programs at risk. Youth will be poised to take the lead in a public awareness campaign that engages students and parents; all of the district’s schools teachers, and principals; in and out school partners; the broader community of stakeholders and legislators through messaging that amplifies arts equity goals.

The Cohort

With the goal of forming a council representative of youth with a range of skills from diverse backgrounds from around the city, candidates were selected based on a combination of advocacy experience, geographical location of the schools and artistic practice. BYAAC is composed of eight Baltimore City youth creatives in grades 10 – 12 who attend schools in the district. Youth were recruited, interviewed and selected in response to surveys sent out to Baltimore City schools, youth-led organizations, school leadership programs, community service clubs and after-school  programs.  To be eligible applicants had to be able to commit to meeting virtually weekly for a total of four hours per week, have access to a computer/table/phone, have parental/guardian consent to participate and be over 15 years of age. Each student received a stipend of fifteen dollars per hour. From January 2021- June 2021, students met virtually for two hours twice weekly for a total of ninety six hours.

Their work together centered on strategies to raise public awareness about the benefits of an arts education, identifying barriers to equitable access to the arts and the identification of potential allies who would be in support of policies that made the arts accessible to every student in every school. Targeted audiences included parents, teachers, principals, school board members, legislators and other decision makers. 

Youth council members employed the use of the “Declaration of the Rights of all Students to Equity in Arts Learning,” authored by the Equity Committee of Create CA(2016) as a framework for shaping campaign efforts to encourage stakeholders to pledge to the realization of these ideals. The document, which lists six rights, also served to introduce everyone to arts advocacy issues that students could relate to personally. Each member selected one right from among the list that aligned with their own life experiences or another student’s journey in the pursuit of their interest in the arts. Thus, the exercise served to frame a discussion around the national movement and help connect their own stories to the larger narrative on equitable access to arts education. Each new year the cohort will  turn their sights toward collaborating on an arts education advocacy campaign drawn from their own experiences and concerns. 

All of the youth candidates selected expressed an interest in advocating for the expansion of arts, music, dance and theatre in city schools, but most were not aware of the issues that prevented the implementation of arts programming. Youth were asked in the pre-assessment survey what they hoped to learn from being part of an advocacy group. All expressed a desire for a range of leadership skills that included advocating for themselves, on behalf of others in their communities, and public speaking.  

“I am hoping to step outside of my comfort zone and to speak up” Brayden, 10th grader 

“I want to learn how to advocate respectfully….I hope to learn how to teach these skills to other people to help them develop a voice that can help take action within the Baltimore community.” Keyona, 12th grader

“ By creating dialogue with all the students and adults I will be able to reaffirm my own beliefs and also get better at speaking with others who don’t share similar views” ~Senae, 12 grader

“I hope to learn leadership skills and be able to advocate for myself and what I believe in.” ~NaDonya, 10th grader

“I would like to learn more about equity issues in Baltimore City and ways to approach these problems in a way that will be long lasting and encourage youths to take a stand for their rights” ~Jennifer, 12th grader 


Half of the students responded that they had prior advocacy experience. The other half shared an issue that they would be willing to advocate for.  

“Yes, the Black Student Union at my school was the very first one ever to be created. It was very important to me that in our school we have space as black people to exist and uplift each other, and I knew that it would improve the community in BSA (Baltimore School for the Arts) ~ Senae, 12th grader 

“I’ve done a lot of projects known as Collective Compositions within my afterschool program Orchkids. As a group, we were able to fight [against] police brutality, [for] Black Lives Matter Movement, [against] school shootings ect..Within my community, it helps to promote our voice through music.” ~Keyona, 12th grader 

“Absolutely, immigration was and is one of the issues that I will willing to fight because I am Latina, and all of my family members too and I know the situations and problems that we have to face just for our status, our skin color, our nationality, our language and our beliefs, since 2016 this has being worse and worse but hopefully this will change but that is why I give messages through my art and I want empower my voice with your help.” Vianny, 10th grader 

“Something I have fought for and am still fighting for is my ability to choose my own path. I come from a more traditional Asian family in which I was pressured to enter a STEM or law discipline and my parents often telling me I should study to become a doctor, lawyer, or engineer and stay in Baltimore for college.” Jennifer, 12th grader 

“No there hasn’t been a time but today I would be willing to fight for equal chances in school systems to give students chances to experience something they might want to do when they’re older or just to learn the skill~Kolin, 10th grader 

“No. However I am extremely motivated to advocate for a better arts education in the Baltimore City Public Schools system. Making programs like ORCHKIDS bigger so that everyone could have access to them is very important to me [and] I am willing to work hard for it. ~Bradyen, 10th grader 

“I havent had to fight for something…but if I did it would be for the wrongfully convicted.” NaDonya, 10th grader

“No, but if i had to choose something to fight for something it would be education for all youth across the world.” Myra, 10th grader


BYAAC Objectives:

Objective: To understand the issue of arts education equity and access. 
Research – in various forms – is a hallmark of advocacy. Students were not only engaged in how and where to find information, but also the ways in which it could be used to support or counter an argument. They were encouraged to think about issues, question why they matter, and to find potential resolutions. As a team, council members were tasked with conducting research on the political, and socioeconomic issues at play in achieving equitable access to arts education at both the national and local level. They identified specific policies, structural and cultural barriers to the expansion of the arts education programming in Baltimore City Schools. Research topics included; equity vs equality, arts education policy, arts advocacy, facts, statistics and actions taken, public awareness campaign strategies, demystification of the school board, power analysis to identify key decision makers and local school funding priorities. 

Outcome: Students were able to articulate the issue with research as backup and effectively present the information in meetings.

Measure: Pre-assessment based on application and interviews compared to performance in meetings and end of year reflection. 


Objective: To gain confidence and experience in public speaking.
Asserting the legitimacy of youth-led advocacy, council members publicly shared their stories and experience as students and artists on panels, through blogs and town halls meetings. Council member, Brayden Hamilton co-moderated and participated in a lively panel discussion on “How to Influence Change,” hosted by Arts Education Maryland Schools, which can be viewed on FB and Youtube. Some of their blog posts can be found under the advocacy page of the Arts Every Day website. They have also worked individually and together as a team to draft  their personal narratives in written form, to be mailed, emailed, or read as a public testimony. Council member NaDonya Jones, gave a public testimony at the Maryland Education Coalition(MEC) Town Hall meeting to address the question of “Why does a well-rounded education matter now and in the future?” Fellow council member, Jennifer Zheng’s, narrative was submitted as part of a written testimony in support of a technical amendment to change the language in “The Blueprint for Maryland’s Future,” legislation that identifies the arts as part of a well rounded education.   

Outcome: All students participated in presentations and demonstrated growth. Each of the students demonstrated the ability to respond and converse on a public stage and apply knowledge. 

Measure: Pre-assessment based on application and interviews compared to performance in meetings and end of year reflection. 


Objective: To apply research to the creation of a public awareness campaign.
Youth council members employed the use of the “Declaration of the Rights of all Students to Equity in Arts Learning” as a point of departure to create a youth led social media awareness campaign drawn from their own research.  People don’t know what they don’t know!  To this end the council members joined forces  with youth from Wide Angle Youth Media’s Design Studio (WAYM) to collaborate on messaging for a public awareness campaign.  BYAAC provided the researched content for the campaign and WAYM created the design. Youth from both teams participated in the final selection of content for the social media campaign, the selection of interview topics and conducted interviews with school leaders, and city officials to share their concerns and learn more about where these decision makers stand on the arts.”Can’t Spell Smart without Art”  is the resulting campaign message from their work together.

Due to COVID the team settled on a virtual  platform to get their message out, a survey, social media testimonies and an infographic that can also be left in the wake of public facing opportunities. Messaging will target students, communities, legislators, schools and the school board.

Outcome: BYAAC collaborated with WAYM to create a multi platform social media campaign based on research, personal narratives, and perceived audience interest. 

Measure: Social media campaign components

Student Narratives

Student Myra Hicks on How Band Helped Make Them a Better Math Student

Youth Shares Own Experience Growing Up in the Arts

“Arts should not be a privilege”, Bmore Youth Arts Advocacy Council Member, Jennifer Zheng Explains

For more information, you may email Baltimore Arts Education Initiative Manager, Sheena Morrison at