By Shirley Hawkins
In 2009, nine inner-city high school students approached conductor Charles Dickerson, asking if he would be interested in establishing an orchestra for young people of color. Dickerson said yes.
As word of the effort spread, the handful of students quickly swelled to more than six dozen and the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles was born.
Comprised of 75 percent African Americans, 20 percent Latino and five percent other, the orchestra has helped to transform hundreds of young lives.
“Since 2009, we have trained 356 young people and we’re looking to train more,” said Dickerson, who currently serves as the orchetra’s conductor and executive director. “Many of our young people have joined other orchestras or been accepted at colleges across the country. Our guiding principles are accomplishment, pride, camaraderie, confidence and respect.”
To celebrate10 years of achievement, the orchestra gave a concert July 1 at the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
Los Angeles County Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, a staunch supporter of the orchestra was in attendance.
“I am always inspired whenever I watch a performance of the Inner City Youth Orchestra of Los Angeles. … Their magnificent season finale concert underscored the importance of continuing to empower our youth to make the most of their musical talents, as this is a gift that can take them far in life.”
The concert featured 115 young people who performed on 15 different instruments and showcased their musicianship with the opening number the “Superman March’’ by composer John Williams as scenes from the original “Superman” movie flashed across the screen. That was followed by “Symphony No.1” by composer Sergei Prokofiev, led by guest conductor Dwayne Burrell.
Since its inception, the orchestra has dedicated pieces that have shed a spotlight on young unarmed men who have died at the hands of law enforcement such as Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown.
The July 1 concert was no exception.
Dickerson unveiled the world premiere of his orchestral piece “This is Why We Kneel,” a musical tribute to football player Colin Kaepernick and others who have protested the killing of unarmed young black men by police.
The performance was enhanced by a chorus of young black men dressed in red T-shirts crowded onto the stage to sing the song while a video montage of black men who have been killed by police flashed on the screen.
“I wanted to honor Kaepernick and the NFL players who are protesting the deaths of young black men across the country,” Dickerson said. “I also wanted to diffuse the wrongful accusations of the president of the United States against people of color who are simply protesting these deaths perpetrated against our young people.”
The orchestra “has helped shape me into the musician I am today by giving me the opportunity to play my first concert in Disney Concert Hall,” said Rosalind Darbeau, a conductor for the West Coast Classical String Orchestra. “Being able to perform with so many talented, diverse musicians is such a liberating experience. I have met so many amazing musicians through [the orchestra] that I continue to work with today.”
“I never fully grasped the magnitude of what we were doing. To me it was just friends coming together because we shared a love of music,” said Akila Morgan, one of the original founding members of the orchestra.
“Over the years, I have watched the organization grow, and could not be more proud of everything we have done. I have made many invaluable friendships, we have laughed and cried together and celebrated milestones together as a true family would.
“Being a part of this organization gave me a sense of belonging and confidence, many memories, and has taught me so many valuable lessons about navigating in the world.”
Executive Director: Charles Dickerson
Years in operation: Nine
Number of employees: N/A
Annual budget: N/A
Location: 6820 S. La Tijera Blvd., Suite 201, Los Angeles 90045