The Crusader Newspaper Group

Aspiring Black violinists take the city by storm thanks to Merit and CYC

By Elaine Hegwood Bowen, M.S.J., Chicago Crusader

Last spring, 16 children ages five to nine from Chicago’s South Shore community were given the chance to take free violin lessons through a pilot program between Merit School of Music and Chicago Youth Centers (CYC).

CHILDRENDue to that pilot’s success, Merit, a nationally accredited community music school, and CYC, a non-profit dedicated to supporting children and families in underserved communities, has expanded their partnership with the launch in October of a new choir program at CYC’s Sidney Epstein Youth Center, 3415 W. 13th Street in Chicago’s North Lawndale community.

CYC’s North Lawndale center and CYC’s Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center, 7601 S. Phillips Ave. in South Shore, mark the two newest locations in the Merit Music in Communities program, which delivers high caliber music instruction to more than 2,000 students at nearly 30 public and private schools and community centers throughout Chicago and Northwest Indiana.

In South Shore, Merit’s “freshman class” of violin students began their second session of group lessons in October. Additionally, 10 CYC students will travel once a week for private lessons at Merit’s West Loop home, the Joy Faith Knapp Center.

Merit’s new choir program at CYC’s North Lawndale location launched on October 16 with classes for two age groups: six to eight years and nine to 12 years. In addition to children from North Lawndale, CYC is also providing transportation for students from its Bridgeport location on Monday afternoons to join the choir program.

Kyli Savannah Jackson, age 6, of the Galewood/Austin area, is learning to master the violin. Although Kyli is not in the Merit program, her commitment to the violin, as well as keyboards and drums, illustrates the influence of music across the city with young Black children. Her music instruction has also had a positive effect on her cognitive skills.

“Chicago Youth Centers is proud to partner with Merit School of Music to bring high quality music education to students who may not otherwise have this opportunity,” said Kevin Cherep, President and Chief Executive Officer of Chicago Youth Centers. “Music is a critical component of CYC’s programming, which helps children build key social emotional-skills like patience, resilience, confidence and creativity. They are learning about music, but also developing the skills that will empower them to thrive in the 21st century.”

“Merit School of Music exists to transform the lives of Chicago-area youth through the removal of barriers to an excellent music education. To deepen the impact of this mission, it’s critical to partner with organizations such as Chicago Youth Centers that are committed to helping young people of all backgrounds realize their full personal potential,” said Charles Grode, President and Executive Director, Merit School of Music.

Grode added, “Chicago Youth Centers brings more than 60 years of success in working deeply and effectively throughout Chicago’s neighborhoods, and I am thrilled to see all that we are accomplishing together. I am also deeply thankful to Merit Life Trustee and past Chairman, Ray Rusnak, for bringing our two organizations together.”

In generous support of Merit’s mission, all tuition for classes, private lessons and instrument rental for Merit’s students at both Chicago Youth Center locations is funded by The Epstein Music Education Fund via the Dan J. Epstein Family Foundation.

Students enrolled in Merit’s classes at both CYC locations will be encouraged to continue their studies as Merit’s programming grows to include intermediate and advanced classes. The program’s most motivated students will also have opportunities to participate in Instrumental and Vocal Music classes and private lessons at Merit, and to audition for Merit’s highest level of instruction, the Alice S. Pfaelzer Tuition-free Conservatory.

For more information about violin lessons at the Rebecca K. Crown Youth Center in South Shore, call (773) 731-0444 or visit

For more information about the choir program at the Sidney Epstein Youth Center in North Lawndale, call (773) 762-6255 or visit



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