Marissa Berk-Smith grew up in Columbia, MD. She received her undergraduate degree from Boston College, where she studied Sociology and Communications under Dr. Kerry Anne Rockquemore. Her primary focus was finding a way to integrate the sociology of racial identity through photography and qualitative research. The majority of her personal artwork work has focused on biracial identity. Being biracial, she explored the question "what are you?" Having to reduce her racial and ethnic identity into one box on her college application forms sparked her interest in racial issues and how they affected educational opportunities. In 2008, Marissa received her master’s degree in Community Arts from Maryland Institute, College of Art. Her graduate thesis focused on mapping the intersections of racial identity in Baltimore City from a youth perspective. Currently, Marissa works at Towson University as the Assistant to the Dean for the College of Fine Arts & Communication, adjunct professor in the Department of Communication Studies, as well as a facilitator and trainer for dialogues on issues of social justice.
I began my work with at-risk youth during the summer of 2003, working for the Parks and People Foundation in inner city Baltimore. This foundation is committed to improving the quality of life in several Baltimore neighborhoods. In the summer, they host a six-week reading intervention initiative for 3rd and 4th grade students. My role as a reading and art instructor was to teach daily lessons on reading skills, while introducing them to puppetry, photography, and painting. http://parksandpeople.org/programs/superkids-camp/
Thomas Gardner Extended Services School
I became an after-school teacher in Boston at the Gardner Extended Services School in 2003. This program provides the students and their families with comprehensive services in health care, after-school care, and ESL classes for parents. It was there in my classroom at the Gardner School, on the swings at recess, and at the bake sale table, that I initiated several mentoring relationships. http://www.gardnerpilotacademy.org/
DUKE UNIVERSITY: PROJECT HOPE
I worked for the Duke-Durham campaign in Durham, North Carolina, in 2004. This campaign works to bring the community and the university together. I worked as a liaison between six after-school programs and several public schools, working to ensure the education of the 200 children involved in ProjectH.O.P.E., a Duke sponsored after-school program. The West End Community Center is one of the after-school programs that welcomed me into their extended family and found a special place in my heart.
The Youth Dreamers are a group of students who have worked together to buy a house in their neighborhood to turn into a youth run youth center. The Youth Dreamers goal is to create a safe, stimulating place for kids after school in hopes of decreasing the amount of negative acts of violence that are youth are involved in today. In the summer of 2007 I led the Youth Dreamers in a five-week program in the visual arts, where we created a 12 foot mural and photography instillation for Artscape about dreams for our community and the construction and design of the Youth Dreamer's new home. http://www.youthdreamers.org/
THE CREATIVE ALLIANCE
The Creative Alliance builds communities by bringing together artists and audiences from diverse backgrounds to experience spectacular arts programs and engage in the creative process. In 2007-2008 I had the pleasure of serving as an Americorps member as an artist in residence at the Creative Alliance for the Youth Education Department. As an instuctor and coordinator I helped to provide program support as well as visual and performing art opportunities in schools, library branches, and community centers throughout Southeast Baltimore. http://www.creativealliance.org
KIDS ON THE HILL
Kids on the Hill is a youth driven social justice organization that makes art and media about issues where a youth perspective can inspire change. KOH works on a variety of social issues including employment, justice, health and education issues. We produce art and media on commission, teach youth in schools and communities and advocate for issues that impact young peoples lives. We employ youth as leaders and through their efforts we impact over 200 youth throughout the year. In 2008, I joined Kids on the Hill and was involved in several projects including teaching media production, chaperoning a civil rights tour, leading college prep, painting community murals, creating healthy food campaigns, and much more. (See examples of youth videos at www.youtube.com/user/NewLensProductionz) http://www.newlens.info/about_new_lens.html
PAUL'S PLACE OUTREACH
The mission of Paul's Place is to improve the quality of life in this Southwest Baltimore community. Responding to the needs of individuals and families, Paul's Place provides services, programs, and resources that promote hope, personal dignity, and growth in a welcoming, safe and respectful environment.
I served as the Co-Director of Children and Youth Programs at Paul's Place Outreach Center in Southwest Baltimore where I planned, developed, evaluated, and coordinated middle and high-school after-school programs. This position requires juggling three after-school programs and three summer programs in a fast-paced non-profit organization. We serve 160+ children annually as well as hundreds of families and individuals through our adult programs and hot lunch. During my time at Paul's Place, I brought in several community partners, increased the number of youth served, developed a high school mentoring job program, created two middle school programs, and enhanced the curriculum to include community art, healthy and wellness, media literacy, and community service. https://paulsplaceoutreach.org/
AT TOWSON UNIVERSITY
I became Administrative Direcor of AileyCamp Baltimore at Towson University in 2013. AileyCamp is an innovative summer program for youth, ages 11-14, that uses disciplined dance training, creative writing instruction, personal development, and communication workshops, to help campers develop a respect for themselves and others that meaningfully impacts their lives.
Alvin Ailey believed that “dance is for everybody,” and was especially dedicated to using dance to enhance the lives of underserved children. AileyCamp represents a vital continuation of Alvin Ailey’s vision, using the power of dance to enrich and positively alter the lives of children. Conceived by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and run locally by Towson University, AileyCamp combines professional level dance training with personal development activities. Since its inception in 1989, this vital program has reached thousands of youth across the country, providing direction and hope to children who are most in need of knowing there can be a bright future.
MAPPING RACIAL IDENTITY
For my graduate school thesis, I worked closely with a classmate, Nora Scheff, on a joint thesis project entitled "Mapping Racial Identity." As a community artist in Baltimore City, we felt it was crucial to further the conversation about race and the impact of our racial identity on our perceptions of the world during the height of President Obama's first campaign in 2007-2008. Baltimore is currently struggling with segregation within its own neighborhoods. The goal of this project was to engage youth in thinking about what race means to them and their community. Young people from 5 different neighborhoods at 5 different schools/community centers created messages and graphics that were reflected on a billboard. This project addressed the need for youth to have a voice in conversations about race, identity, and how race has influenced their understanding of who they are and how they fit in to society on a larger scale.
TRAININGS AND COURSES
“Mapping Racial Identity"
John Ruhrah Elementary/Middle
Creative Alliance Open Minds
TU Art Education
Training assistant Summer 2018
Towson Seminar TSEM 102 (Spring 2017)
Honors Seminar Advanced Topics HONR 370 (Fall 2016)
Intergroup Dialogue Coordinator:
Journey of Self Discovery TSEM 102
Teaching and Learning in a Diverse Society EDUC 203
MEMBERSHIP / COMMITTEES
COFAC Diversity & Inclusion Committee
University Diversity Action Committee
Faculty Workgroup (2015-16)
COFAC Interdisciplinary Center
Jubilee Arts Fundraiser Committee