Saran Fossett is the founder and executive director of AZIZA PE&CE (AP), a nonprofit program that uses music, fashion, art, fitness, and entertainment to help girls of color and LGBTQ+ youth build self-esteem and confidence. AP offers in-school, after-school and summer mentorship programming that includes everything from workshops on toxic relationships to museum field trips.
Saran started AP in 2008 when her daughter, Nile, was attending an elite, predominantly white school. Saran knew that being one of the only Black girls in the school would be emotionally challenging for Nile. During their drives to and from school every day, Saran poured love into her daughter so she could shine and thrive.
This experience inspired Saran to create AP to help support other young people who might be experiencing their own mental health challenges.
“I love my daughter,” Saran shares. “Aziza is Nile’s, my daughter’s, middle name and it means precious, gorgeous, powerful.”
AP creates a safe space for struggling youth to feel precious, gorgeous and powerful. And in order to do that, the AP mentors help students learn to love themselves.
“When young people feel love and they fall in love with themselves, they are able to overcome and accomplish anything they can imagine. And that is my commitment to them – I’m going to love you. I’m going to teach you what love is. And you’re going to fall in love with yourself and you’re going to be great. It’s as simple as that,” Saran explains.
Designing a Curriculum to Encourage Self-actualization
AP uses a structured curriculum to support social-emotional learning and help young people gain agency.
“We start with who are you? Not what do you like to do, but who are you?” Saran says.
From there, the curriculum covers topics like financial literacy, spiritual health and the effects of social media on mental health. But that’s just the start.
“We talk about race relations, we talk about current trends, we talked about COVID,” she adds. “These are real conversations that they need in order to make better decisions to change their quality of life.”
Instead of only talking, the AP programming incorporates music, icebreaker games, and field trips to help these students on their journeys to self-actualization.
Saran specifically built the AP curriculum to disrupt the harmful messaging these students receive on a daily basis by living in a culture of systemic racism and cyclical poverty.
“You can’t change what you don’t confront,” she shares. “And so, sometimes those things that are uncomfortable for us are the things that we have to discuss.”
The Power of Words and Self-Love
Saran always encourages young people to remember the power of words.
“What comes from your mouth, you hear it and it becomes your thoughts and it becomes your behavior and it defines your character,” she explains. “And no matter what anybody says, when you love yourself, and you use the words, I can, I will, I must, those things, make all things possible.”
But even though she says she was born for this work, it’s not always easy. The program didn’t receive funding for almost 10 years. And constantly giving love can be draining. So she also practices self-love to make sure she can continue the work.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned where to put that intentionally – how to pour into myself so that I can continue to pour into other people,” she adds.
Ultimately, Saran knows that AP has already helped tons of young people. And she wants to continue to expand and provide programming to schools around the globe – alongside her daughter Nile who is also now part of the AP team.
“She is the best version of me,” Saran says. “And I know that when I’m long gone, and they talk about AZIZA PE&CE, Nile will be the one that spearheaded it and blazed the trail for other girls who look like her.”