Heart of Detroit: Woman brings art, music, dance to Detroit public schools

Lena Pernell's Real Life My Music program unlocks joy of after-school activities


DETROIT – Like many of us, Lena Pernell fondly remembers after-school activities.

"We would be in the building until like 7:30 or 8 (p.m.)," said Pernell. "You had track practice, basketball practice, there was like a calligraphy class."

Pernell was shocked a few years ago when she and her sister went to pick up her nephew from a Detroit public school.


"He is like sitting outside on like a little stoop and there is nobody around, and I was like, 'Where is everybody?' and she was like, 'They are gone home,' and the doors to the school were locked," said Pernell. "I'm like, 'There aren't any after-school programs?' and she kind of chuckled like, 'Why would you even suggest that?'"

Budget cuts have left many Detroit public schools vacant after 3 p.m. Pernell created a program called Real Life My Music, which transports art, music and dance classes to Detroit public schools.


"We are like a traveling circus," said Pernell.

Lugging instruments and supplies from her mother's basement, Pernell and other volunteer teachers gather in whatever rooms they can get unlocked.

"If we have a gym, we have a gym. If we have a classroom where we have just taken all the desks out, we just have a classroom, and the kids enjoy it so," said Pernell.

"Have teacher; will travel," said Mitch Albom.


"Yes," said Pernell, laughing.

Pernell moved back to Detroit to establish the program, which she and others do for free.

"You hear the term extracurricular, you just think that it's disposable, like it is extra, nobody needs it, but I feel like those programs develop transferable skills in the students that they aren't getting anywhere else," said Pernell. "I was raised by a single mom, and I know how tough it can be, and I feel like if I can give them a reason to go to school every day, then it would be selfish of me not to help them do that."

Pernell's biggest challenge is paying for a custodian or guard to watch the building during her classes. She is trying to raise donations.

Meanwhile, Pernell's Real Life My Music program is unlocking the joy of after-school activities and putting it back in the heart of Detroit.

Heart of Detroit