"Be Safe, Be Free, Be Me"

Since BMore Me began in 2019, it has expanded to include afterschool clubs, a quarterly speaker series, and an annual student-run conference. We sat down with one of the 2023 student design team leaders, 10th-grader Kameran Rogers, to learn about what the conference meant to him. –EDITORS

EDITORS: How and why did you get involved with BMore Me’s student-run conference?

KAMERAN ROGERS: I got involved with BMore Me through an organization called CHARM: Voices of Baltimore Youth. CHARM’s goal is to uplift youth voices through our poetry. While I was in middle school, I joined CHARM’s student editorial board and published two poems* and an article. As an editorial board member, I also helped CHARM contribute to a BMore Me event in 2022 focused on Homegrown, a book published by CHARM about the beauty of Baltimore. At the event, students heard from many of the contributors to Homegrown, who were Baltimore leaders, artists, educators, and activists.

BMore Me’s program manager wanted to expand upon that event and have a conference in 2023 that gave more students the opportunity to express themselves. She believed it should be student led, so she invited me and several other students to plan it. I was really happy for the opportunity because I think that youth voices are and will always be important.

For weeks prior to the conference, the group of student leaders met once a week to plan. We chose the theme and name of the conference: “A Place to Just Be: Be Safe, Be Free, Be Me.” Then we made a list of artists all over Baltimore, especially Black artists because Baltimore is predominantly Black and we felt it was important for a lot of the students to see themselves in the presenters. We had a very long list of presenters we wanted, so we voted on which artists we felt best reached students all over Baltimore to narrow down the list. We also embedded an LGBTQIA+/intersectionality mini-conference targeted to youth of Baltimore who felt like they didn’t have a space to be open about themselves. We wanted to be as inclusive as possible.

Having the other student leaders with me throughout the journey made it 10 times easier. I couldn’t plan and run a conference like this by myself at this moment. Having such a diverse group, with people of all ethnicities and different backgrounds, brought in our overall message and goal.

EDITORS: High school students have lots of options for how to spend their time. Why do you choose to spend so much time on BMore Me?

KAMERAN: Adults run the show a lot of the time, so it’s a relief that I have been given opportunities to say what I want to say. That’s why I’m passionate about writing; it gives me an outlet to speak my mind. Having the opportunity to speak to other students, and to give them the opportunity to choose who they want to be and to speak their minds through our BMore Me conference, put a smile on my face.

Students should definitely have the opportunity to speak their minds and ask outside-the-box questions about what they’re learning. Before BMore Me, I didn’t feel like I could ask questions about what I was learning—I didn’t think it was my place to ask. Now, I feel like I can ask questions. 

In planning the conference, we wanted students to ask questions. When we planned the student panel for one of the plenary sessions, we intentionally made it diverse, and we tailored the panel to our audience. We knew we would have students in the audience who were interested in artistry, who were queer, who were in middle school, and so on, so we picked student leaders to be on the panel who reflected that. I was definitely an unexpected questioner when I was a little bit younger. So, we planned for it: any unexpected question that would come up, we wanted to have somebody on the panel able to answer that question or to expand on the questioner’s words.

EDITORS: What were the highlights of the conference for you?

KAMERAN: I was jittery on stage. I’d never spoken in front of so many students before. But when I went to the workshop rooms, I met a lot of people I still follow today on social media. I appreciate learning about their journeys and still seeing them progress.

The highlight of the day for me was a workshop on artistry. We made a big circle and talked about where we come from. There were students from Baltimore and many who had moved here recently. Then we talked about the type of art that we wanted to make, the point that we were trying to convey. We were encouraged to express ourselves, like venting through art. It could be about our parents or friends or a decision we made—whatever was on our minds. We talked about it in the circle, then expressed it through art.

I had never done anything like that, and I was really excited about it. I think that’s what art is: an expression or extension of ourselves. Learning about that gave me a bigger understanding of myself. Ever since that conference, I have been doing art to get my mind off of whatever’s going on.

Looking back, I wish I had experienced something like our student conference in middle school. I wish I had seen students like me being given a microphone and speaking their minds—and having fun in the process. It makes me a little jealous looking at it from that perspective, but as someone who is part of BMore Me, it makes me really happy to give other students that opportunity.

*To read Kameran’s poems, “Queer as Folk” and “Was it Love?,” go to go.aft.org/8wy. (return to article)

To read Kameran’s article, “Parents and Kids Explain What It Means to Be LGBTQ or Have a LGBTQ Child in Baltimore,” go to go.aft.org/tam. (return to article)

CHARM’s executive director, Whitney Birenbaum, has served on BMore Me’s Community Advisory Council for several years, as has American Educator’s chief publications editor, Lisa Hansel. (return to article)

[Illustration by Sonia Pulido]

American Educator, Winter 2023-2024