The disaster of the Liberian Civil War has been followed by a cultural emergency in Philadelphia, which has the largest Liberian refugee population in the US, with estimates of as many as 35,000 Liberians from 16 different ethnic groups. 

Despite their numbers, the Liberian community is often invisible – sometimes even to itself. There is no Philadelphia Liberian community cultural center to celebrate and pass on Liberian African heritage, and young Liberians struggle to know who they are, while their elders often feel like cultural throwaways in a foreign land. 

Refugee Liberian artists, the Philadelphia Folklore Project, and Roadside Theater began collaborating in 2012 on the Liberian Community Performance Project. The collaboration created, through traditional Liberian music, dance, and storytelling, a community conversation about issues facing Liberian refugees including domestic violence, spousal abandonment, and children with problems mothers felt they couldn’t address. 

Over the next two years, the project developed into Women's Chorus for Change, featuring Liberian singers performing traditional and new songs to spark dialogue about gender violence within their communities. Chorus for Change creates pop-up concerts and dialog in the places where Liberians gather, and instigates other events that bring Philadelphia city officials and social service workers into the Liberian community conversation about self-identified women’s issues in the West Philadelphia Liberian refugee community. 

Chorus for Change founders Gayflor, Tete, and Tomah were all members of Liberia’s National Cultural Troupe, an ensemble of dancers, singers, and drummers who lived and trained together for years in Monrovia. Selected from their home villages when each was barely a teenager, they joined compatriots from all 16 of Liberia’s ethnic groups to form the troupe.

During and after Liberia’s 1989-2003 civil wars, each dedicated her music to peace-building in refugee camps and in her homeland. They are now using their music to address inequities and violence in their current home, West Philadelphia, a low income African American neighborhood challenged by poor schools, drugs, and violence, and in which many Liberian immigrants experience anti-immigrant bias, racism, poverty, and deportations, in addition to schisms among themselves.

Cite This

“About: Liberian Refugee "Chorus for Change".” November 11, 2014.

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