Park Heights Renaissance Leads Successful Nonviolence Rally
Stacy M. Brown | 8/16/2019, 6 a.m.
To people who comprise the board, staff, and partners of the Park Heights Renaissance, the community that bears the same name of the nonprofit is more than a geographically organized collection of streets.
Park Heights is a highly diverse community, which shares a common aspiration to rebuild. It offers enhanced quality of life and economy opportunity, according to community leaders.
This was highlighted recently by a rally to prevent and stop violence in the neighborhood.
The event, titled “Park Heights Renaissance-Freedom School rally,” was successful, said Kaliq Simms, the education liaison for the Park Heights Renaissance.
Freedom School, a component of Park Heights Renaissance, is an academic enrichment program based in various schools, faith institutions, and community centers from around the country.
“Thirty high school youth published original stories of their lives in Baltimore and created a community mural in Park Heights’ Shirley Avenue Park,” Simms said.
The rally was part of a program for youth that ran from July 1 to August 2, 2019. Participants included individuals from the mayor’s Employment Development Youth Works, Safe Streets Park Heights, and Baltimore Clay Works.
“It was a truly collaborative effort where we hosted 30 high school youth from Baltimore in a program meant to teach career skills and community service,” Simms said.
A component of The Park Heights Renaissance is to encourage and help educate the area’s youth, including teaching them how to write and publish books.
“The books [the students wrote and published during the program] featured their life stories and many of the youth took time to reflect on their experiences, set goals, and to affirm the family members and friends who have supported them,” Simms said.
In addition to book publishing, the youth staff learned how to create mosaic mural art for community beautification.
The rally included more than 150 students who gathered at the Shirley Avenue Park carrying signs and slogans protesting violence. Simms says this was done to help young residents to understand the importance of community participation. She further said the organization must continue to lead by example.
“Park Heights Renaissance is the main community development organization in the neighborhood,” Simms said.
Park Heights Renaissance engages in commercial and residential development projects, community outreach, education initiatives in area schools, and performing landscaping tasks. The organization also partners with Safe Streets in efforts to reduce violence.
“Park Heights is the place to be,” Simms said. “There is so much potential for growth here.”
A Morgan State University graduate and fourth-generation Baltimorean, Simms taught for nearly two decades in the city’s independent schools. Later, she opened a consulting business where she works to address inequities in education for underrepresented families. She chairs the Baltimore Student Diversity Leadership Conference, an annual high school student-led affair that promotes diversity, inclusion, and education equity.
“At Park Heights Renaissance, we pose this simple choice to our community, as well as to our legislators: ‘Children or guns?’ Simms said.
“We choose children every time and prove it by all of the work we are doing in this community to give them excellent educational opportunities,” she said. “We want them to know that they are our number one priority. I believe in Baltimore’s greatness, and I am honored to be a part of that legacy.”