When Anita Foster was only 16, she dropped out of high school in order to provide for her first child. Now, a playwright, filmmaker, and community activist, Foster has developed a program to help at-risk juniors and seniors stay in school and prepare for what lies ahead following graduation.
Foster was raised in the Hollander Ridge housing projects which were demolished in 2000. Her father died when she was 16, and her mother, who Foster described as an occasional drug user, could not provide a very stable home life, often being faced with eviction.
Though an ‘A’ student, Foster says she had little choice but to drop out of high school when she became pregnant at 16,
“I had my own child, and my mother, she was out in the streets,” said Foster. “So, it was either we had to go to a shelter or me having to do what I had to do. So, at the age of 16, I had to drop out of school—in the 11th grade.”
A woman with an incomparable work ethic, Foster – who is currently a tax preparer, radio host, playwright, filmmaker, sitcom writer, organizer of Baltimore’s annual Hip Hop for the Homeless and Take Back the Night/Stop the Violence events- has created a program to help teenagers who may be facing challenges similar to those she experienced to stay in school.
The program, called Motivation to Success, is geared towards high school juniors and seniors, who Foster says are in the age group most at risk for dropping out. Components of Motivation to Success include teenage pregnancy prevention, college preparation counseling, gang violence intervention programs, assistance with job applications, and acquisition of learner’s permits.
In essence, Motivation to Success seeks to address a number of practical gaps not covered in standard public education.
“Half of these kids don’t even know how to fill out an application,” said Foster of the young people she works with. “They graduate these children without an email, they graduate these children without even knowing how to fill out an application, they graduate these kids without even knowing how to go apply for a job.”
Foster partners with local businesses to help provide jobs for her students upon graduation, and also with PNC Bank to provide the teenagers with savings and checking accounts.
“By the time they graduate high school, they’ll be prepared for the world,” said Foster.
Erica Ware serves as the program director for music and hopes to impart the fundamentals of music while also helping the kids see that there are many opportunities they can take advantage of beyond what they encounter on the streets.
A lifelong student of music, Ware has sung in various choirs since elementary school, and plays the piano, clarinet, and flute. By introducing the kids to the basics of music theory, she can then introduce them to a more contemporary instrument than those she trained on, and one that many of the program participants are already interested in: the DJ’s turntable.
By imparting a knowledge of music first, Ware can then train them in the art of mixing, which requires an understanding of the rhythm and pace of music, as well as how to create their own instrumental beats.
“We have to uplift our youth out here,” said Ware. “Just be a positive influence on them and let them know there’s other ways than hanging on the streets or corners, doing whatever they’re doing to get in trouble.”
Anyone interested in enrolling in the Motivation to Success program should contact Foster via email at [email protected]