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VOL. 133 | NO. 69 | Thursday, April 5, 2018

A Place to be Heard

AngelStreet Memphis lifting girls up through music

By Don Wade

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On a recent weekday afternoon at AngelStreet in North Memphis, dozens of girls age 8-18 are practicing a song, “We Are the World.” Their voices seem to blend together naturally. It takes but a few seconds to hear the talent that’s in the room.

But AngelStreet’s assistant music coordinator, Angela Hyde, wants more from them.

“Remember, you’re using those facial muscles,” she says. “Breathe in and out … OK, that’s better.”

Gabrielle Crawford, left, rehearses a play with her friend Corianna Morris, center, along with other students at AngelStreet in North Memphis. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

All across Memphis, there are community centers with basketball courts that provide an opportunity for youth – often male youth – to express themselves through sports. But artistic opportunities for girls tend to be fewer and farther between.

“Most of these areas, what do they have? Gymnasiums,” said AngelStreet founder and executive director Jill Dyson. “If you’re not athletically inclined, which a majority of girls are not, or don’t care to pursue that …”

Then you can be overlooked. Or better yet, go unheard. AngelStreet changes that.

“They really want to use their creativity and express themselves,” Dyson said. “And we always tell people we don’t just want to develop their outer voice, but we’re focused on the inner voice and coming alongside in relationship and mentoring them through their phases of life. So the longer exposure they have to us, the more impact we can have.”

AngelStreet began as a small choir of 11 girls that Dyson gathered together to perform at a women’s Christmas dinner in 2013. Partnering with established ministries and collaborating with area schools, AngelStreet has grown.

Originally under the umbrella of Oasis of Hope in North Memphis, AngelStreet now has its own 501 (c) (3). In the past five years more than 300 girls have walked through their doors. They currently serve 40-60 girls at the North Memphis chapter and soon a new chapter will open in the Graham Heights community.

Terrian Bass, 21, was one of the original 11 girls to perform at the Christmas dinner. She was in high school then. Now, she has toured with Christian music stars Newsboys and TobyMac. She also helps out around AngelStreet.

Terrian Bass, 21, spends much of her free time volunteering at AngelStreet. Bass has toured with Christian music stars Newsboys and TobyMac. (Daily News/Houston Cofield)

“It’s been really cool to see it flourish and the younger girls it’s beginning to impact,” Bass said. “I can identify with the majority of the girls here.”

Reketa Johnson, 18, started coming to AngelStreet when she was 16 and attending Craigmont High School. Today, she’s part-time employee/mentor and the recipient of an AngelStreet scholarship she’s using to go to cosmetology school.

“I had a lot of problems going on in high school and being in a broken home at one point,” Johnson said. “It was a safe place for me. I was able to express myself through music.”

AngelStreet also provides opportunities for much younger girls. In fact, many of the participants are in elementary school.

Third-grader Gabrielle Crawford is one of those girls. When she came to AngelStreet last year, Dyson says, she was like many girls upon arrival: shy, not wanting to audition alone, practically singing into her hand. Now, she jumps at the chance for a solo. Or to just sing for a stranger there to learn about the program.

And what’s going through her little head while she’s singing?

“I’m thinking that everybody loves me because I am a special leader and a star at AngelStreet Memphis,” she said.

Dyson, 41, has a background as a singer/songwriter. She also has always had a heart for women’s ministry. AngelStreet has been an ideal marriage, a chance to make a difference for girls as they grow up and often in difficult circumstances.

“Only God knows all the details that they go through, but we know the stories,” Dyson said. “There are siblings in there right now who lived in their car for about six months and have constantly moved from home to home but always have found their way here.”

The success Bass has had can serve as in inspiration to other girls and she realizes she carries a responsibility.

“Music is a gift God gave me,” she said. “And I took it seriously. When you recognize your calling, you want to play your part in the body of Christ.”

Most of the girls, of course, won’t ever go on a 40-city tour with TobyMac or some other well-known artist. But at minimum, coming to AngelStreet could change their lives for the better today. And perhaps tomorrow, and the day after that.

Or as Gabby, the third-grader, said: “I like to come here because our teachers help us to sing. They mostly love us and care about us. And that’s what all people are supposed to do.”

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