By Demetrius Dillard, Special to the AFRO

Of the inaugural grant recipients from Baltimore’s Children and Youth Fund, AZIZA PE&CE stands out as perhaps the only group geared toward improving the quality of life of young Black women and LGBT youth.

According to its webpage, AZIZA strives to “empower young boys and girls to reach their full potential by discovering their most genuine sense of self.”

Savan Fossett, the founder and executive director of AZIZA PE&CE, is a local community activist dedicated to improving the lives of underserved Black youth.

AZIZA PE&CE, which received a $200,000 grant from the Baltimore’s Children and Youth Fund, plans to use the money to support Black girls and LGBT youth. (Courtesy photo)

“I started the organization out of love for my daughter,” Fossett told the AFRO.

“I felt like my daughter needed to be home because she was about to go to Park School, a predominately White school, and I wanted her to stay home. And so doing that commitment I realized that a lot of girls don’t have someone that cares to offer them life skills ways to navigate through life as a Black female.”

The PE&CE acronym is pronounced “peace” but is an initiative promoting “positive energy & cultivating excellence.”

AZIZA uses fashion, fitness, art, mentoring, entertainment and education to address social and emotional development in addition to life and critical thinking skills. Fossett added that AZIZA is a social entrepreneurial model, meaning that she and her partners teach the participants in the organization how to build a business.

Fossett, a native of the Edmondson Village neighborhood in West Baltimore, said she has been involved in community activism for more than 20 years, and her organization also directs much of its attention to Black girls who face disproportionate challenges at school such as suspension and expulsion.

“We recognized that LGBT youth have experiences that go unaddressed as well, and so we decided that we would be the voice of change,” she said.

Fossett said that AZIZA received a $200,000 grant from the BYCF. The quest to being awarded grant money was prolonged and difficult, as AZIZA requested grant money year after year and kept getting denied, she said.

“Baltimore City Public Schools – they have been very challenging even though the need is great. And so it took us a while, but… we applied for the grant that the mayor’s office committed the RFP for in August of last year and we got the grant to go into schools, especially dealing with girls and LGBT youth,” Fossett said.

“I think that eight to nine years of doing the work, I guess we managed to get the data, the evidence and the writing needed to have them believe that we were worth the investment.”

In late August, 84 organizations were selected to share the Fund’s first allocation of $10.8 million after several months of community-driven review.

According to an Associated Black Charities press release, a 24-person proposal review panel assessed grant applications for the BCYF to ensure community members had an opportunity to recommend organizations.

Associated Black Charities, the fiscal sponsor of BCYF, made the final award decisions, which ranged from $5,000 to $500,000.

The review panel evaluated grant applications submitted through the BCYF were reviewed based on the priorities of strengthening the village; fostering authentic youth leadership, empowerment and self-actualization and building sustainable bridges to educational and economic advancement opportunities and business ownership.

Fossett added that the funds will be used in AZIZA’s ongoing efforts and partnerships with area schools to sponsor programs that promote healthy eating and career development, among various other programs and initiatives.

The organization directly works with Douglass and Edmondson High Schools on a consistent basis, according to Fossett. AZIZA has had a resounding impact, she continued, reflecting on what the organization has accomplished over throughout its decade-old existence.

“We have been creating a generation of young women and LGBT youth who are now committing to college, to starting businesses so that they can give back and further the change that needs to happen… So we are leaders who are creating leaders. We’ve done that over 10 years.”