Philadelphia woman using music to empower young girls

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- A Philadelphia woman is using her music and her conviction to build something extraordinary, and it has grown, perhaps beyond her wildest dreams.

Alysia Lee grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore but came back to Philadelphia's Fishtown neighborhood 10 years ago to be with family. With her, she brought her classically trained singing voice and performance background.

"I began to find myself thinking like what's the purpose of all of this music if it's not building community and connecting people, and I wasn't convinced that just attending a concert really created connections that were really impactful and transformative," she said.

She created a program that did all of those things and called it "Sister Cities." It's a girls empowerment choral academy that provides musical training for girls from kindergarten all the way to 12th grade.

They take part in seasonal programs, theater, music, dance and poetry workshops, and have gone on tour with the Philadelphia Orchestra, performed at Carnegie Hall, the Kimmel Center, and the Academy of Music to name a few.

"It's so important that students have opportunities to build new things to use their imagination, to create something that wasn't there before and also to share the things that they're thinking about with others. It really builds confidence, it builds critical thinking, it builds connection and it helps young people to succeed now and later," she said.

The program has girls representing from 36 Philadelphia zip codes and has expanded its reach to girls in Camden, New Jersey and Baltimore, Maryland.

And with a worldwide pandemic making the arts and performing more difficult, Lee found ways to keep students engaged through virtual rehearsals and performances. Believe it or not, besides small monetary donations for supplies, the program is completely free.

"I remember my family really harping on us that the heroes were just regular people who did something that they believed in and so that hero status is available to all of us," she said. "I would like to think that young women of Sister Cities Girlchoir one day will also be thought of as Black history heroes as they forge a new world and they create a better world for all of us and we all get to enjoy."

"My biggest dream: there would be no child sitting around looking for opportunities to make music that cannot," she said.
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