Exchanging Music and Culture Across the Atlantic

gerami-groover-2This year, we’ve welcomed Gerami Groover to our upper school staff. She teaches musicianship to grades 3 – 8, as well as chorus in middle school and 3rd grade. Gerami is a Boston Arts Academy alum – she studied there under Linda Nathan and Carmen Torres – who went on to earn Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees from the Berklee College of Music, and to pursue teaching in Boston.

Gerami also happens to be the very first American to complete the Mandela Washington Fellowship for Young African Leaders Initiative reverse exchange program. The Young African Leaders Initiative, called YALI for short, was launched in 2010 by President Obama, who, in Gerami’s words, “saw the need to build international relations between US and Africa, and the best way for him to do that was to connect with young professionals and leaders within sub-saharan African countries.” He created the Mandela Washington fellowship, where up to 1,000 young african leaders come to the US each year to participate in a 6-week exchange program where they study in universities, and work in internships and fellowships.

Last year, Gerami says, it was pointed out in YALI that “it’s great that young africans come to the US, but Africa also has a ton of resources and knowledge to offer, and Americans can learn from there as well.” This lead to Obama creating the YALI reverse exchange fellowship program. Gerami was the very first American to complete the exchange program in the first cohort. There were only 8 Americans selected to go to Africa, but Gerami was the first funded to go and first initiative completed. Gerami worked with Miliswa Mamba, a YALI alum that Gerami met when Miliswa was at her fellowship in Boston, to create a high-caliber formal music education workshop for ages 8-18 in Swaziland.

Gerami was in Swaziland for 2 weeks this past summer. The first week, she and Miliswa were running a business forum for local government officials, business owners, educators, and artists – anyone interested in helping champion having formal, globally accessible musical education throughout Swaziland year-round. After the forum, members of the ministry of education who had attended committed to ensuring that by 2020, there would be a formal music education track from primary school to higher education in Swaziland.

Gerami and Miliswa held their music workshop on the second week of Gerami’s visit. Prior to going to Swaziland, Gerami created a proposal for what the workshop program would look like. There would be classes on musicianship, performance, music history, and traditional Swazi music classes. From that curriculum ,Gerami partnered with some of the most successful musicians in Swaziland, who came onboard for this program to teach students. So the students were taught by the most famous musicians in their country! There was also an introduction to instruments in the workshop, so Gerami’s brother Gregory, a jazz saxophonist, came along to teach the kids how to play soprano recorders. The students are still playing their recorders today!

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By the end of the program, 150 kids, ages 8-18, had been served by Gerami’s initiative. But that isn’t the end of the story; Gerami will go back to Swaziland next year, to run the program with Miliswa again. Gerami will also be working with another YALI fellow to figure out how they can continue this initiative for years to come. They’re coming up with a plan to have a sustainable program. This YALI fellow will be coming to Boston in the spring of 2017, where Gerami and him are planning to do a hip hop history workshop with students at CLCS and more.

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