In a time when Black Americans are facing two separate pandemics: a virus and one of systemic racism and oppression, art and dance are healthy ways to begin to heal and cope.

Enter Kansas City Friends of Alvin Ailey, an organization that for 35 years has been committed to teaching the neediest children in the Kansas City area critical life skills through dance. They agree, believe the arts are incredibly important, especially at a time like this. That’s why they’ve been working to adapt their programs to continue to meet this need.

This month, the National Endowment of Arts (NEA) awarded KCFAA $50,000 through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to help the organization’s chief crtistic officer to continue to plan, adapt, and implement their programs around the pandemic.

“With this generous funding, KCFAA will be able to continue developing programs that use the power of dance to enrich and positively impact the lives of children and our community,” said Melanie Miller, the organization’s CEO.

Because COVID-19 has prevented KCFAA from continuing their regular programming and fundraising efforts, like many non-profits, the organization has struggled. While they are still hundreds of thousands of dollars below where they need to be to continue serving the community, Miller said the NEA funding will help KCFAA continue to push forward.


Once the pandemic hit, KCFAA moved quickly to adapt their programming especially the popular AileyCamp, KCFAA’s signature program targeted for middle-schoolers aged 11 to 14. Normally the six-week summer camp works with 100 youth, with camps in both Kansas City, Mo., and Kansas City, KS.

This year, KCFAA AileyCamp was a virtual camp held during three and a half weeks in June. Working with about 70 local participants from both Kansas and Missouri, campers participated in interactive online classes in modern and jazz dance, creative writing and personal development, which covered topics like bullying, suicide prevention, drugs and racial injustices.

Miller said the camp was a productive booster for kids who may have felt depressed about the issues going on in the world, and the classes served as an outlet for them to talk about those feelings and hear from those who may feel the same.

“We felt that our AileyCamp was something to help lift them up and give them a purpose for waking up this morning, allowing them to connect and then also to do some activities that help them to feel good about themselves,” Miller said.

Other Virtual Programming

Throughout the summer, KCFAA has also been hosting free virtual dance classes every first Friday of the month. Tyrone Aiken, KCFAA Chief Artistic Officer is also hosting a series of short five-minute videos featured on the KCFAA website called “Take 5 with Ty” where he teaches quick movement lessons like warm-ups, cardio exercises, and balancing.

Aiken, who has been with KCFAA for 26 years, said the connection of the mind and body through movement and dance has a way of grounding, calming, and relaxing you. He said that it is especially important for combatting the doom and gloom that can set in from the stressors around us.

Looking Forward

Miller and Aiken both agree, the organization is learning from the online work they have created since the pandemic, so that they are more prepared for their fall programming. However, more donations and financial support would help.

If you’re interested in making a donation to KCFAA, now through Sept. 15, Camps for Kids is doubling donations made to AileyCamp! The organization will match your gift, dollar-for-dollar, up to $1,500 per individual.

For more information on virtual classes or how to donate, visit

Jazzlyn Johnson is a Report for America corps member based at The Community Voice covering Kansas City’s African-American community.

Jazzlyn "Jazzie” is the former senior reporter for our team, who joined the company in 2020 in the midst of the pandemic, through the Report for America service program. For the past two years, she covered...

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