This nonprofit is tackling the achievement gap through arts empowerment

Lauren Grimes. Photo courtesy of Lauren Grimes.

Lauren Grimes encourages high school students to be involved in civics on a local, national and international level. 

A native Washingtonian, Grimes grew up in Wards 7 and 8, two majority Black and predominantly low income areas located east of the Anacostia River in D.C. This experience is what inspired her to create an initiative that gives students the opportunity to explore a connection between advocacy and the arts. She said she knows first hand how difficult it can be for young people to find opportunities to do something meaningful. 

In other words, she wanted to be an active agent for change so she became one. And now she is teaching others to do the same. In 2018, Grimes founded a local nonprofit called the Community Enrichment Project (CEP) to empower up and coming generations in D.C. 

“CEP’s programs are designed to empower youth to be life-long active citizens and community leaders,” Grimes said.

Grimes works hard to show her students different career paths. The program partners participants with professional mentors working in media and the arts.

With the right support and opportunities, they can disrupt systems and challenge status quos. They can make a real, long-term difference in their communities,” Grimes said.

The Community Enrichment Project offers a $16 an hour paid summer internship program for local youth in the areas of digital media, videography and photography.

“When we talk about creating equality in our communities, we are envisioning a society where everyone will be treated equally, but that mindset assumes everyone gets the same support,” she said. “That’s a false narrative.”

There continues to be wide achievement gaps among students across D.C. who identify as white, Black and Latino, according to a 2020 report from the D.C. Policy Center. 

Most recently, in published data from D.C. Public Schools, The Washington Post revealed that white students were performing much higher when it comes to literacy than their Black and Hispanic classmates. 

While 70% of white students passed a literacy exam administered in 2021, it found 28% of Black students and 30% of Hispanic students to be proficient. In 2019, the same test found 44% of Black students and 42% of Hispanic students met the standard, compared with 73% of white students, the article revealed.

Students participate in a CEP program called “HeART Expressions” at Phelps High School, located in Northeast D.C. Recently, they presented a short silent film titled, “Outside the Box.” Filmed from a variety of angles, the movie follows the journey of a box of books delivered to a school library. Grimes said this project helped students cultivate their creative voices.

Jervey Staley of Staley Not Stanley (SNS) Productions helped train students to make artistic decisions as film directors, filling roles as actors, and recording video and sound for the movie. 

CEP also offers a variety of other creative programs to help students develop skills they can use in other contexts such as advocating for social justice.

The organization also sponsors a podcast called  Youth Voices Amplified, Grimes has helped youth discuss what it means to be a resident and how they can become more impactful within their communities. The most recent episodes discuss food insecurity, mental health and childhood trauma. Episodes range from anywhere between five to 40 minutes. 

The nonprofit continues to organize other ongoing projects focused on elevating student voices through creative social media techniques. For instance, at Anacostia High School students are using their social media accounts and other media strategies to raise awareness about their community-based engagement projects. Through the “HeART Expressions,” the programs serve over 50 youth in hopes of uplifting their voice while deepening their connection to the city.

“We must create long term solutions based on the experiences of people that live here and that’s how we will have long-term change,” Grimes said. “I work to help our students consider themselves local citizens that think locally but act globally.”

Issues |Art|Community

Region |Ward 7|Ward 8

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