Last night, the afterschool program at UA House at Fayette, operated by Living Classrooms, hosted a Youth Talent Showcase to spotlight the talent of young Baltimore City residents. This event was one of more than 8,000 events across the country as part of Lights On Afterschool, an annual nationwide celebration of youth-based programs organized by the Afterschool Alliance.
Children ages 6-20 were invited to perform musical numbers, dances, poetry, and spoken word pieces in front of an audience of their peers, family, and friends for a chance to win the top prize at the end of the night—a $100 cash prize. Jasmine Campbell, director of programming at UA House, says that the kids were looking forward to this from the moment it was announced.
“One of the things about our afterschool program is we are striving to create opportunities for students to explore their talents,” Campbell said. “The goal of the program is to give them the confidence and the tools to learn the things they are interested in.”
The idea for this showcase stemmed from an open mic night that the music director for UA House, Christina Campbell (no relation), hosts each month called Showcase You. All of the kids that participate in the afterschool program through Living Classrooms—and youth in the surrounding community—were able to audition to be a part of this talent show.
“I think part of why we do this also is because it’s an avenue for them to perform their gifts,” Christina said. “We try to engage the community as much as possible, and building awareness around the work that we do. Seeing them all so excited, preparing for it, the confidence from it all—it’s such an amazing thing to witness.”
Lights on Afterschool created the grant that made this showcase possible to highlight the benefits of afterschool programs in a city like Baltimore. This nationwide event is meant to urge lawmakers to support to funding of this type of programming to help disrupt the cycle of violence and poverty.
In keeping with that theme, the planning committee for the event wanted to select a group of judges that were in line with those values. Making the tough decision last night were Living Classrooms CEO James Bond, Councilman Brandon Scott, Deriece PateBennett of PepsiCo, Eean Logn of Baltimore Votes, Stacey Ulrich of Under Armour, and Travis Street of Living Classrooms.
The children were judged based on their creativity, stage presence, execution, and crowd involvement. The judges had a tough decision when it came to selecting winners. Scott said that this decision was harder than approving budgets for the city council.
“This was so hard,” he said. “These kids are much more talented than I ever was at that age. Stuff like this shows that the youth in Baltimore can and will do great things in the world.”
There were a group of young girls who live near the facility in Pleasant View Gardens who called themselves the PVG Girls that took home the first place trophy. They wowed the crowd with a high-energy dance number with some pretty unique moves. Fourth grader Tylor Robinson placed second for his emotional (and adorable) rendition of Bruno Mars’ “If I Were Your Man,” and sixth grader Tony Johnson, Jr. rounded it out in third place with his powerful pipes belting out Adele’s “Someone Like You.”
Aside from the contestants, there were other featured performances by 16-year-old Baltimore rapper Prophet, Living Classrooms UA House Dancers and AMPlified music group, and even a performance by the Baltimore Hawks dance team.
UA House at Fayette, formerly the Carmelo Anthony Center, was re-imagined and reopened in 2016 after an investment from Kevin Plank, Under Armour, and the Baltimore Ravens. The center services more than 300 students daily as a response to the community’s need for intervention that supports the academic and social development of disadvantaged youth in East Baltimore.
“We just really wanted to bring in people who support the work that we do,” Campbell said. “People who have a history of supporting East Baltimore and supporting initiatives that uplift youth and community in Baltimore.”
In everyone’s eyes the event was a success—a packed house of nearly 200 people—and they are eager to plan next year’s event.
“At the end of the day, it’s about giving them the space to showcase their talents in a safe space,” Christina said. “We also want to make sure that people understand the importance of afterschool programs and the effect it has on the development of the youth in the city.”