Sharing his love for storytelling

Lionel Foster speaks at City College with banners in the background

Image caption: Lionel Foster

Credit: Will Kirk / Johns Hopkins University

In 2015, Lionel Foster, A&S '02, launched an essay contest at Baltimore City College—his high school alma mater—to spark a new generation of young writers. Seven years later, the Baldwin Prize is part of the curriculum for ninth and 12th grades and netted more than 300 essay submissions this past school year.

Foster named the competition to honor acclaimed American writer James Baldwin and saw an opportunity for service through storytelling, having worked in public service journalism for outlets like The Baltimore Sun, Baltimore City Paper, and Urbanite magazine.

Each year, he works with teachers to refine the essay topic, oversees a team of professional writers coaching students, and coordinates judges to read and score the essays.

"Right now, the essay is the endpoint, but it really needs to be the beginning," says Foster, who now works in finance and hopes the program expands to include student podcasts, films, or collaborations with other programs inspiring young writers to find their voices.