Reflecting on Fifteen Years Hill Dance Academy Theatre & The Historic Hill Community
When Ayisha Morgan-Lee decided to develop her vision for a nonprofit Black dance organization in the Hill, many people asked her, why the Hill? At the age of six, Ayisha entered the August Wilson Writing Contest. The contest theme, in all divisions, was The Hill Community. Her entry, The Hill Through the Eyes of a Six-Year-Old, was a two-page essay about her daily visits to her grandparents' house on Anaheim Street, going to school at St. Benedict the Moor on Bedford Avenue, the same school that her Dad attended as a child, and how much she enjoyed visiting Ms. Greene, the Carnegie librarian, who worked in the most exciting place on Centre Avenue with wall to wall books all about Black people. The Hill was also significant because that was where she went to church on Freedom Corner at the historical St. Benedict the Moor Catholic Church. She won first place and the signed August Wilson photo award hangs in her office today. As I reflect on HDAT's fifteen years, what I know for sure is that as a six-year-old, Ayisha Morgan-Lee recognized that her cultural, spiritual, educational, and ancestral values were deeply rooted in the Hill community. It is essential when establishing a business that an organization's name and mission defines its public identity and demonstrates the organization's purpose. Selecting the Hill as the place to provide the artistry, culture, and education of Black dance was intentional. HDAT has been able to bring national master dance artists to the Hill such as Cleo Parker Robinson, Artistic Director of Cleo Parker Robinson Dance who was so pleased to visit the childhood home of August Wilson and meet his nephew Paul Ellis. During her visit, Cleo Parker Robinson shared memories of his uncle's plays that were staged in a Denver theatre where her father worked. The International Association of Blacks in Dance is a national cultural arts partner with HDAT, and the world of Black dance knows that students are being trained in Pittsburgh in the Hill community, home of many great and historical jazz musicians and singers, and the late August Wilson. The Hill's rich cultural arts history and center of Black life has had many successes and challenges; however, for fifteen years, HDAT's mission for Black dance has been embedded in the Hill, and it is a sacred cultural place where Ayisha Morgan-Lee is committed to building her vision to train Black children in the traditions of Black dance.