A fierce model, who cat-walked her way to the runways of Paris in the 90s, Saran Fossett now models audacious love for Black youth in Baltimore through her organization Aziza Pe&ce. She modeled professionally from the age of 16 until now. However, her career was put on hold when she was informed that she was pregnant and could not travel the way she had planned. Unable to realize the full potential of a modeling career, the ravishing fashionista turned to education and worked in curriculum and professional development for Baltimore City Public Schools.
A mother’s love is how AZIZA PE&CE was born, both literally and figuratively. Aziza is the middle name of Foster’s daughter, meaning precious and gorgeous. A daughter who wanted to attend Park School of Baltimore, which gave Fossett cause for alarm. Fossett, being the daughter of a Black Panther, wondered how her Black girl would thrive in an elitist sea of whiteness, so she quit her job and founded AZIZA PE&CE. “I quit my job. I wanted to be this full-time mom, where I’m able to take her to school everyday and help her feel protected and empowered in this space, I clearly did not think about the financial part,” Fossett explained.
In 2013, AZIZA PE&CE debuted in Anne Arundel County Schools. This debut was in response to Black girls being suspended, disciplined, and expelled at disproportionate rates. “They’re attitudinal, and hard to deal with, which it’s not that, you’re white and just don’t understand our Blackness, and so I went into the school,” Fossett recounted when explaining how AZIZA PE&CE began to branch into the public school system. AZIZA PE&CE remained in Arundel High School for four years. In 2017, AZIZA PE&CE entered Baltimore City Schools, with a grant from then Mayor Catherine Pugh. Two schools were identified – Edmondson and Frederick Douglass High Schools – reasons cited included high rates of violence involving Black girls. This would mark the first time AZIZA PE&CE ever received funding.
Fossett’s former business partner, who was a member of the LGBTQ community mentioned to her that AZIZA PE&CE should focus on young people in ‘the community,’ “So I started to do the research and I realized how many are not coming to school because of bullying, how many are not coming to school because of instability, how many are not coming to school because of emotional neglect, and then that side kicked in, PEACE, which is Positive. Energy. and. Cultivating. Excellence.” In the beginning, AZIZA PE&CE’s efforts addressing Black girls and Same Gender Loving (SGL) youth were separate, not anymore.
According to Covenant House, America’s largest provider for youth homelessness and survivors of human trafficking, reports that homosexual youth are twice as likely to experience homelessness than their heterosexual peers. “I think the problem is they [parents] make LGBT sexual and not human,” Fossett said as she challenged what audacious & uncompromising love looks like for Black children regardless of their sexual orientation. “Our LBGT+ youth are homeless because when they say I am homosexual, they say oh, you have to get out of here, we’re not doing that.” According to Fossett, this dynamic leads to sexual abuse from older men who will take care of the youth in exchange for sex or petty crimes enacted for the purpose of survival. “More than half of our young people deal with that, especially in Baltimore city,” Fossett continued.
Most disheartening was the story Fossett shared of a trans-youth, who befell the crush of a male classmate. He bore the brunt of cruel jokes that attacked his hetero-existence exacerbated by the common attacking-question, “you didn’t know that was a boy?” In response to the sudden onslaught of verbal attacks, he became violent toward the trans-girl. During an intervention, he admitted he liked her. She pleaded to understand why someone would be violent toward her when she had never so much as said ‘hello’ to him. Fossett shared the reality she often shares with her youth, “ You’re having to have those conversations with 17-18 years olds that your life expectancy is 35 because people are going to kill you.”
Though reality for many SGL youth is bleak, Fossett is providing a safe space that cultivates the best of them. “We are given our children to nurture and cultivate them… I do what I love, with love, for the sake of love.” A mother of two, Fossett is the ‘auntie’ of a village of youth who need love and find it at AZIZA PE&CE. Their young people use fashion and modeling to demonstrate their authentic selves. AZIZA PE&CE is a place where youth are safe and protected, and most importantly, valued. “I continue to use fashion, fitness, arts, music, entertainment, and education to address social, emotional, life and critical thinking development in young people 14-24.” Unordinary programming with extraordinary results, AZIZA PE&CE seeks to change the reality of every youth they touch. In its 14th year, they’re showing no signs of stopping anytime soon.