The Young Women’s Drumming Empowerment Project is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based out of Washington, DC. Since 2005 YWDEP has been organizing a summer enrichment program for urban teen girls. Young women are enrolled from all wards of the District as well as neighboring counties in Maryland, and are ages 8-18. They engage in 12-14 weeks of weekly intensives with established DC artists who also serve as positive female role models and mentors. The girls begin by learning to play the djembe from Kristen Arant, YWDEP’s founder, an accomplished musician and percussionist who in the last decade has built a career using West African drumming as a tool for building self-esteem, self-expression, personal growth and healing. Young women open up as they learn to drum, and are then guided to journal, write their own poetry and songs, choreograph dances and skits, and perform in front of live audiences. Each summer ends with a final performance, which serves as a rite of passage for young women who enter the program shy, apprehensive, and unable to process their emotions and reach completion as self-assured young women who are not only aware of their talents and wisdom, but able to express these to audiences of family, peers, community members, and strangers.

In October 2011, YWDEP piloted a drumming school for girls to run for 12 weeks. Girls ages 8-14 enrolled in the school and met weekly for 12 weeks, focusing on learning percussion techniques including djembe and drumkit. YWDEP’s first drumming school session ended on January 28 with a performance at a halftime show for the DC Roller Girls, DC’s roller derby team. YWDEP held the drumming school again in the spring, and recently ended its Fall 2012 session as the featured act for a Kwanzaa celebration at the renown Union Temple Baptist Church in Southeast Washington, DC.

In addition, YWDEP’s Director Kristen Arant, as well its apprentices and mentors, have brought empowerment drumming circles to women both young at old at DC, Maryland and Virginia schools; Girl Scout troupes; Women’s festivals as far as Massachusetts and North Carolina; to women in corporate settings and more.

In the past 8 years, YWDEP has received 8 small grants from the DC Arts Commission. These, along with stipends from performances and community donations raised through community fundraising events, have made YWDEP’s financial backbone. YWDEP performs an average of 30 shows per year, ranging from audiences of 50 to over 1,000. YWDEP has performed at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC as well as the Smithsonian museum of African Art and the Portrait Gallery. YWDEP’s professionalism is unparalleled by other youth performing ensembles in DC. Audiences witness extraordinary power watching young women play African hand drums with technique that is studied and practiced, sing with full voices, and dance. YWDEP’s founder is committed to instructing girls in traditional techniques of the djembe as well as traditional rhythms; once these are learned, young women are encouraged to improvise and find their own voices on the drums.

YWDEP has made an undeniable impression on the hearts and souls of the people of DC, and therefore has been asked to perform at venues in New York City as well as Baltimore, North Carolina and Massachusetts. At each opportunity, young women gain confidence in their skills, build their self esteem and gain exposure to other powerful female artist role models. Due to YWDEP’s success, founder Kristen has had the opportunity to travel and study in Ghana, and to bring her healing arts focus to hospitalized children in China.

YWDEP is currently looking for partners to create sustainability and growth. YWDEP dreams of becoming peers with organizations such as Step Afrika and performing groups like Sweet Honey in the Rock. YWDEP has a committed board, executive director and program director along with interns, apprentices and volunteers, all serving the organization’s mission with little or no monetary compensation. YWDEP has survived and grown little by little despite not having a major donor. YWDEP hopes to change this one step at a time through clear, honest portrayals of its work and success.