Three months into founding her dream community organization in 2019, Jada John and Empire Marching Elite—a marching band in the style of Historically Black Colleges & Universities (HBCUs)— had to face the pandemic. The new community organization could not rehearse nor engage with their community in person.
But they survived, and the Empire Marching Elite, part of an umbrella organization called Big Apple Leadership Academy for the Arts, has exceeded expectations, growing to include more than 145 participants from the Bed-Stuy and Bushwick communities. The Academy offers music education programs as well as community development programs like voter engagement and career development initiatives that are free of tuition. After emerging from the pandemic, the Academy is carving out a place in its community.