Scholars perform the Step routine they learned over the course of the summer program, Mercy High School Auditorium, August 4, 2023

On a sunny morning in Baltimore, the auditorium of Mercy High School buzzed with anticipation. The air was filled with energy as students, parents, supporters, and donors to the program gathered for the closing ceremony of the Sutton Scholars® High School Enrichment Program’s 2023 summer session. The theme, “Building a Better Baltimore,” was tangible to the guests, Scholars, faculty and staff. Aides, along with program coordinator, Zinha Byrd (a Sutton Scholars graduate) had worked for months to prepare materials, including the introduction of a new curriculum, for the summer program and were excited to celebrate a successful session.

Rising 11th grade scholar Tyjah Hoxter served as a lively emcee, guiding faculty, program staff and students through meaningful presentations. Rising 9th – 12th graders presented on areas of study and discovery from the summer. They spoke on symbols that represented skills they acquired during the summer program, as well as on issues that deeply and adversely affect the Black communities in Baltimore, such as gun violence, diabetes and kidney failure, safe driving and more. They shared heartwarming anecdotes, testimonies of growth, and stories of friendship, all illustrating the profound impact of their experiences. Over the summer, Scholars learned communication skills, leadership skills, financial literacy, community building skills, conflict resolution skills, rode horses, spent time at camp at our Claggett Center, learned art and photography skills, and more!

The audience’s attention turned to the guest of honor, Damion Cooper, executive director and founder of Project Pneuma, as he took the stage. His presence exuded a quiet strength, and his story held the promise of transformation. With humility and grace, Damion shared his remarkable journey from a near-fatal encounter with gun violence to a life dedicated to mentorship and redemption through Project Pneuma. His words resonated deeply as he recounted his encounter with a former mentee who had once been his assailant. “Through forgiveness, we broke the chains of hatred, and through mentorship, we forged a bond that transcended past mistakes. Today, I stand before you as living proof that dreams can be reclaimed, and futures can be rebuilt.” As Damion concluded his speech, a standing ovation filled the auditorium. The room was alive with a sense of purpose, unity, and hope – a reflection of the program’s success.

Moving History, one of the recipients of an Episcopal Diocese of Maryland reparations grant, provided Step instruction for the scholars over the summer, educating them on this important part of African and African-American history and stressing the importance of Step as an art form that carries Scholars’ stories forward. Students’ artwork depicting scenes of urban renewal, unity, and growth and “your ideal Baltimore” adorned the lobby. A large screen displayed a rotating montage of images capturing the scholars’ journey over the past weeks, from team-building activities to intense discussions, horseback riding, and capturing the world through the lenses of art and photography.

Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton and Bishop-Elect Carrie Schofield-Broadbent sat in front row, their presence a testament to the program’s commitment to nurturing young minds. “Sutton Scholars has a whole congregation of people gathered here today to remind you that you’ve got this. You have got this,” said Bishop-elect Carrie Schofield-Broadbent in her remarks.

“We are here because of you,” Bishop Eugene Taylor Sutton said to the Scholars. He was filled with gratitude for all involved in the program and all those who make it possible. “I am so proud of all you’ve done. The State of Maryland has been ranked as the 5th best school system in the United States – Baltimore City is another story… Almost 50% of youth who start high school in Baltimore City do not graduate… You were determined with your parents and your guardians, many of whom are here. Thank you parents, for making this possible. You Scholars are extraordinary… All of you are different in your various ways…and yet you care for each other and you’re here for each other and you love each other. No one is left behind in the Sutton Scholars program.” In 2022, 100% of Scholars graduating from the program went to college.

With gratitude and a renewed sense of purpose, the closing ceremony came to an end. The Sutton Scholars’ journey was far from over, but as they left the auditorium, they carried with them a vision of a brighter Baltimore, equipped with communication skills, leadership abilities, and a deep commitment to building a better Baltimore.