Summer 2012, the CEO of HRW Music Group was asked to attend a talent show presented by Daughters of Destiny; a non-profit organization mentoring troubled, highly at-risk, inner-city young ladies. The CEO was seated at a table of 15 teen girls who all seemed to know each other. The girls sitting next to the CEO told him that the girl at the far end of the table was a singer and was going to perform, the others were there for support. Turns out, she and all the young ladies at the table were living at the Joshua House, a group home foster care facility for difficult and challenged teen girls in Tampa, Florida. The news of ‘someone from a record label’ traveled from ear-to-ear quickly down the table. The 13 year old kept looking over at the CEO from the corner of her eye, then quickly away. It was perfectly cute.
The CEO had never had a chance to talk to kids growing up in a group home before, they were all really cool, all trying hard to be liked. The talent show had been going for a couple of hours and the CEO needed to leave for another appointment. Everyone had performed except for the girl at the end of the table. As he was getting up to leave, the group home girls began pleading for him to stay a moment longer – to hear Shayla. It was as if she was their hero, something they could call ‘their own’. Sitting back down he was hoping this kid could actually sing. The other performers had tried so hard but all lacked any real raw talent. Sometimes you look so hard trying to find someone special that you are not sure if they are indeed talented or you are just making it all up in your head.
Taking the stage, she had everyone laughing about something or other she said. Okay, she has stage presence, but can this kid sing? Tears were beginning to form in my eyes. Her voice was untrained, but wrapped its arms around me. I handing her my business card telling her to have one of the administrators at the foster care facility call me. It was dark in the room where we were all seated. Unable to read the writing on the card she quickly ran to an adjoining room that had a light on inside and a big glass window. I could see her through the glass as she read the card – uncontrollably jumping up and down. Then abruptly stopping, still as ice for a moment, pressing the the card to her heart. It was perfectly cute.
After 6 months of phone calls, permissions and paperwork Shayla became the second signed artist.
Shayla called the CEO in August of 2014 crying that she was being evicted the next morning. Her mom was moving in with her boyfriend and Shayla was to return to the foster care system. HRW Music Group working with social services gained temporary custody and took her in for a year. Ari’s mom was sick and unable to work to provide for Ari. Both Ari and Shayla lived with the CEO for their 10th grade school year at Blake Performing Artis High School.
Shayla was abandoned a third time by her mother at age 17. The CEO gets a picture texted to him. It’s a image of 4 black trash bags with her guitars and longboard sitting on top. Shayla hadn’t seen her mother in a month, her older sister had moved out, no food for a week. It was Saturday morning. The Sheriff was coming by Monday morning to take Shayla back to group home. We called Ariel’s grandmother, Shayla is sleeping on her sofa now.
Week after week, Ari spent 7 years of her childhood with her mother moving from homeless shelter to homeless shelter in downtown Manhattan. Then after moving to Tampa several years ago, Shayla found her. They shared a home-room class in middle school. They were as sisters; constantly being expelled from school for fighting. In fact, Shayla was arrested at the age of 12 for jumping a 14 year old at the foster care facility. Ari was a dancer, never trained, just raw talent. Ari was to be a choreographer for the 5 girl band we were putting together called, Shoulda’ Been a Boy Band.
We had worked with several non-profit organizations that help with the OrangeCinderella project. All the organizations advised us to drop Ari because of her “over the top attitude” and her “constant back-talk.” Over and over we were told, “Ari is beyond fixing, you are just wasting your time with her.” In fact, we were advised to drop all the girls in the project and find ones with better up bringing and backgrounds that would be easier to work with. HRW Music Group would never be a successful label working with these kinds of girls.
A year ago, Ari jumped through the flames at the front door of her apartment with her mom and brother. Their home burned down – again homeless. We converted the practice studio into a make-shift home for Ari’s family where they lived for several months until getting back on their feet, again!
Ignoring advice, we have worked with over 20 teen girls for over four years. Most of them have an ex-felon parent and are currently (or previously) living in government assisted housing or homeless facilities run by local churches with their moms or grandparents. Only three of them have dads still around. They say, “Dad’s never come back around here.”
And maybe everyone else was right about working with these girls – it is all just too hard.
We were all in the practice studio one day and the CEO was again explaining to one of the vocal coaches that the reason for such lack of progress in moving towards recoding some songs was that we were busy just trying our best to fix the girls. These young ladies’ lives consisted of drama, issues and staggering disappointments. The voice coach, who had been signed with Soulja Boy, quit anyway.
The CEO says to the girls, “It’s okay, everyone thinks all we are doing is trying to het a hit song. When really, we are just trying to fix you.”
Shayla responds, “No Rob, we are supposed to fix you.”
crumbs to bricks __ by Keneesha
FROM CRUMBS TO BRICKS will always be my motto – something I can call my own, to hold onto me; something from nothing.
I was raised with 13 brothers and sisters. At age five I was molested by friends and family. Child Protective Services yanked me from home and dumped me at a shelter. I’ll be safe here.
While residing at the shelter, again it happened, it was the older teens living at the shelter.
At this point yea I feel lost, lonely, and most of all confused about my situation. Why so many people? Why always to me?
Yes, yes, yes. I’m free. Moving to a nice foster home. I’ll be safe.
The same things kept happening there. I was afraid to tell anyone, mostly uncomfortable and embarrassed. Beginning to stay to myself, now blaming myself, scared.
Finally, I was out of the foster care system. My mom couldn’t get custody so I was placed with my aunt. OMG, at 13 my brother drugged me and had sex with me. Will it ever end!
I meet my dad when he came to visit one day when I was in foster care. After a year with my aunt I moved in with him – he’s the pastor of Mt.Vernon Baptist church in Houston.
This is the turning point in my life. I fell in love with music. It seem to be the only thing that would make me forget about any and everything and gave me peace. I started singing in the choir faithfully. But even though I love to sing and clap it was something about those drums. I’ve never taken any lessons before but always felt I had what it took. I started playing after church all the time and the elders always would run me off the drums saying stop Making all that noise! Lol I guess they really didn’t understand my gift that was being born within me at that time. one day the drummer didn’t show up at church guess who was there? Me! I played a real simple beat that I had been practicing before, thank God it worked because I start playing for the youth choir after that! from there my love for music grew. I started playing drums more and more the more I play the more happier my life seem to be. since then my life has been on a positive turn because of my motivation, my love for what I do which is my gift of music , and my determination to be something in life. I’ve had a lot of doors open in my favor that I never would have had if I wouldn’t have started believing in myself and picking up my self esteem. I’ve come a long way but I didn’t do it by myself. with prayer and my drums nothing is impossible. the reason I say crumbs to bricks is because at one time I belived that I was crumbs. I was shattered into pieces. I felt I was nothing. But now my spirit is rejuvenated! those pieces are now a strong beautiful woman I’m stronger than I was before. I stay positive, driven, and motivated in everything I do and positive things always come back to me. Along with my music i aiming toward being a mortician and fire fighter. I also hope to one day meet new wonderful people and be an inspiration for young woman to be strong internally and follow their dreams.
I don’t what this to happen to anyone anymore. My sisters are strippers. I want to be something more – like Cindy Blackman, drummer for Lenny Kravitz and now married to Carlos Santana.