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Urban Youth Harp Ensemble

Photographer: Erik S. Lesser

 

The Urban Youth Harp Ensemble in Atlanta, Georgia, USA, was founded in 2000 by Atlanta Symphony Orchestra principal harpist Elisabeth Remy Johnson and Atlanta Public Schools music teacher Roselyn Lewis. The non-profit organization wanted to expose African American students to the complex and beautiful instrument.

 

The free program, which began with just two students, has expanded to include 60 students at two different schools. Advanced students perform at various public and private events. The program has had the result of improving students’ math skills and overall confidence, according to program organizers. Participants have said the program has helped them manage the pressures of school and face the distractions and challenges that can keep them from making it to college.

 

Graduates have earned college music scholarships and now include professional harpists. Roselyn Lewis, the organization’s principal fundraiser, has gotten donations and grants for the program, which receives no money from the Atlanta school system. The program has hired full time instructor and each harp can cost between 7,000 and 20,000 US dollars.

 

Donations to the Urban Youth Harp Ensemble have come from the foundations of former Atlanta Braves slugger Hank Aaron and The Home Depot co-founder Arthur Blank. Grants have come from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Fulton County Arts Council and the City of Atlanta Office of Cultural Affairs, among others.