Community centers fill a vital need in neighborhoods by offering programs to keep children active and healthy.
But Jill Dyson found that these programs in North Memphis were sports-centric and geared toward boys, presenting young girls with fewer opportunities.
“Centers in the area — like Greenlaw, Bickford Community Center, STREETS — they all have a gymnasium and a lot of active gameplay, and really do a great job at recruiting guys,” said Dyson, AngelStreet executive director and founder. “But there’s nothing specifically catered, programming-wise, for females.”
The AngelStreet choir, launched in 2014, trains young women in vocal performance across schools in North Memphis. This summer, it expanded its model into the schools of the Graham Heights neighborhood.
AngelStaff also hired two full-time staff for the Graham Heights chapter, a community outreach coordinator who is responsible for in-school visits and a music coordinator who will teach and develop curriculum.
“We feel like we are filling a void not only for the arts, but for anything that is really female-focused,” said Dyson. “And yes, we use music as our vehicle, but it’s really about relationships and mentoring.”
Related: "Choir provides musical oasis for girls in North Memphis"
AngelStreet mentors girls of ages eight to 18. To widen community outreach, the organization partners with the area schools. Throughout the school year, they visit their partner schools of Humes Preparatory Academy, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Middle, Manassas High School and Kingsbury elementary and middle schools where they complete volunteer projects and recruit girls for the choir.
“AngelStreet is a very safe place for girls to connect and let their guards down [because of] the mentors and staff we have that create that relationship of camaraderie, trust and consistency,” said Dyson.
The young vocalists receive music education as well as opportunities to practice songwriting, relationship building, performance experience and live studio recording. During the school year, the girls take part in two to three big performances.
Angel Street in Uptown from High Ground News on Vimeo.
In 2013, Dyson – who has spent over two decades involved in women’s ministry as a singer, songwriter and worship leader – was asked to put together a small choir to perform at a women’s Christmas dinner at Hope Church.
“Those original eleven girls connected to the three-song performance, and we had a blast. We wrote an original song. We got into the recording studio. They got a standing ovation at the dinner. It was very special,” said Dyson.
This was the spark for AngelStreet. In 2014, Dyson launched girls choir programming and since then, over 300 girls have been mentored through music at the AngelStreet North Memphis chapter.
When it launched, AngelStreet was housed under the umbrella of North Memphis nonprofit Oasis of Hope, located at 245 Guthrie Avenue. In 2016, AngelStreet emerged as its own nonprofit. With its own 501c status, AngelStreet is now able to serve communities outside of North Memphis, though Oasis of Hope remains a strong partner.
A new Graham Heights location opened this summer in partnership with STREETS, a youth mentor and empowerment nonprofit located at 1304 North Graham Street.
Related: "The kids are alright: Meet the Uptown organizations helping its youngest residents thrive"
To introduce themselves to the neighborhood and potential new choir members, Dyson and her team will be performing at the Kingsbury schools’ back to school registration event on Saturday, July 28 from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.
AngelStreet raised $80,000 to support the Graham Heights chapter, and the funds will be used to implement programming and pay for performance trips, like a recent one to Nashville where the girls performed at the Grand Ole Opry.
AngelStreet has given away about $9,000 in scholarship money so far, usually to help their participants pay for books and other incidentals.
Angel Street founder and executive director Jill Dyson and students prepare for choir rehearsal at the Bickford Community Center.
One student who has benefitted from AngelStreet’s program is Terrian Bass. One of the original 11 singers, she joined the group as a high school senior with dreams of being a singer, but there were few venues for learning and performance outside of her church. Her North Memphis high school lacked arts and music programming.
“I’ve been with them through the entire journey. It’s been cool to see the step by step and year by year growth — programs becoming bigger, the many girls we’ve been able to reach and walk alongside,” said Bass.
Through AngelStreet, Bass was connected to opportunities in music — trips to Nashville to introduce her to songwriters and cut an EP; an audition for The Voice and American Idol; and a summer trip to Europe as part of a worship team.
Bass also received a scholarship to Memphis-based Visible Music College. She attended for about a year and a half before leaving to focus on her music career.
The 21-year-old currently tours and records as a background artist with Christian musician TobyMac, but in her spare time, she can be found at AngelStreet helping in the same ways she was helped and serving as an inspiration to other young girls.
AngelStreet hopes to grow its reach and help facilitate future success stories for many more girls.
“I know the impact music can have on someone and whenever you’re able to do something you love and do that alongside other young ladies, it can be super empowering," Bass emphasized. "In the community I lived in, it was important to have that escape, so to be able to provide that for the girls is vital."