By Special to the AFRO

According to the most recent American Academy for the Arts and Sciences study, the historic decline in arts education over the last decade reflects the persistent inequities endemic to our educational system. Students in high-needs schools and historically underserved populations have been hit the hardest. 

In Baltimore – a city of nearly 600,000 with a population over 60% Black- the education system and the arts education system, in particular, has mirrored many of these national trends.  

Even long before the COVID-19 pandemic, Baltimore area arts groups have been working to supplement the arts education of young folks in the city to fill this seemingly growing gap. Groups like the Education Department at the Lyric Baltimore Foundation, where professional performing artists, writers and educators believe training in the arts can transform a young person’s life.  

For years, the Lyric’s in-school and after-school programs in theater and creative writing have supported the voice and agency of young people. In the last two years alone, Baltimore area students have worked with the Foundation to share— and implement— their big dreams for their world, themselves, and their communities through their annual Dream Big Contest, inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s incredible vision built on principles of justice, equity, and love.  

Through written poems, essays, and even videos and works of arts students in 5th-12th grade have shared their dreams— each more impressive than the last, and each dream speaking to the way young people have a desire to speak and be heard in today’s society. The students here, in Baltimore, want to be lawyers, international diplomats, fashion designers, doctors, and non-profit CEOs and business owners.  

In the last two years, Lyric Education director Denise Kumani Gantt and Education Specialist, Ebony Evans, have mentored a group of students beyond their schooling and beyond the Dream Big contest. Just this fall, a senior at Eastern Technical High School, Chiemela, launched “SparkED”, a fully licensed 501(c)3 non-profit she dreamt up to help Baltimore students achieve higher SAT and college-admissions test scores, especially for students who struggle with regular access to high-speed internet and paid study resources. With a cash prize investment from the 2022 Dream Big Contest and a new network of support, Chiemela’s dream for SparkED became a reality.  

In an ever-changing education climate, and against odds here in Baltimore, the Lyric is proud to be developing students who are paving the way — generating new ideas to better our collective futures, utilizing their voice and agency to put these ideas into action.   Entries are now being accepted for the 2023 Dream Big Contest. Students in Baltimore City and County in grades 5-12 can share their dream for a better world by submitting a one-page poem, 300-word essay, 1-minute video, or an original visual artwork bringing that big dream to life. Submissions are due March 31. Selected students- called Dreamers and Visionaries- will be invited to share their works on stage at the Lyric during a celebration on April 26. For more information about the contest and prizes, visit: