When Wayne Paige chats with the kids in his East Baltimore neighborhood, he is reminded of his own experience growing up in Baltimore—and the power of a community to overcome challenges. “No matter what crazy stuff is going on in our neighborhood, there is a lot of love and a lot of closeness,” Paige says. “We’re all family.”
Paige recalls the dedication of adults who went the extra mile in leading community programs that enabled him to have opportunities to attend a private school, Gilman, get outside Baltimore, attend college at Howard University, and see the rest of the world.
With The Beautiful Baltimore Project, Paige wants to be a mentor for young people in East Baltimore’s McElderry Park, and support them at various points in their journey through life, just like the coaches, teachers, and family who helped him years ago. “One thing I know from experience is that programs like this create and build lifelong friendships and lifelong bonds,” says Paige. “In this city, it may stop something dangerous from happening.”
Paige envisions The Beautiful Baltimore Project as a safe space for young people, where they can interact with supportive adults and participate in a variety of activities, from artistic pursuits, such as writing poetry, composing music, and visual arts, to physical activities, volunteering, and community cleanups. He also plans to take them on trips for college tours and theater and sporting events and let them host their own open mic night. “It’s about helping young people grow the beauty in themselves and their community,” says Paige.
Mental health and wellness are an important part of the work. Paige sees that the environmental traumas that kids in East Baltimore face every day have become so normalized that young people have become desensitized to murders, narcotics, and dilapidated neighborhoods. The result, he says, is “an overall disrespect in the way we treat each other and carry our lives.” To help young people cope with the trauma, Paige is partnering with a therapist to incorporate a mental health and wellness perspective into the program and provide kids with positive experiences that give them hope for the future.
“I hope we can raise a generation of kids who don’t know about the ugly stuff,” says Paige. “That’s why I call my project the Beautiful Baltimore Project. I hope to put beauty into our city, and beauty into our kids, and eliminate all the darkness. We can eliminate the darkness if we just focus on the light.”