Ayisha Morgan-Lee, a 2020 alumna of the Doctor of Education (EdD) in Out-of-School Learning Program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Education, was recently named to the Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP’S 2022 40 under 40 list. She will be honored at a ceremony held at the Rivers Casino in Pittsburgh on November 18, 2022.
Each year, Pittsburgh Magazine and PUMP recognize 40 outstanding individuals under the age of 40 whose creativity, vision, and passion enrich the Pittsburgh area. As the founder, CEO, and artistic director of the Hill Dance Academy Theatre, Morgan-Lee does just that by addressing the cultural need for Black dance education in Pittsburgh.
“My mentor, Oilver Byrd, always told me that the Hill Dance Academy Theatre was something special and that one day others would see the impact of its mission, vision, and values,” says Morgan-Lee. “The recognition is an absolute honor and validates nearly 18 years of struggle, commitment, and educational excellence for not only my work but also the work of students, parents, faculty, and staff.”
For Morgan-Lee, this acknowledgement demonstrates that the Hill Dance Academy Theatre’s mission is valued by others as filling an important educational career gap in the Pittsburgh area.
“This means that the mission of the Hill Dance Academy Theatre to develop Black and Brown students aspiring and dreaming of careers in concert dance is an area that warrants recognition,“explains Morgan-Lee.
As the organization’s artistic director, Morgan-Lee is intentional in her commitment to Black dance. She encourages her faculty to create and utilize Black cultural aesthetics informed by Black culture, identity, history, and experiences.
“As a Black woman leading a Black arts educational organization, I empower faculty, students, dance artists, and choreographers to engage students and audiences in the experiences that develop cultural character,” says Morgan-Lee. “This includes the understanding of life experiences through the artistry of Black dance.”
Morgan-Lee’s own experience in earning her EdD at Pitt Education expanded her knowledge of educational programs and sparked a determination to focus her work on helping Black and Brown students thrive in dance careers.
“I came to Pitt Education with a mission to help my program fit into the educational ecosystem as authentic opportunities that prepare students for careers in the arts,” says Morgan-Lee. “Although I was the only EdD student in arts education, which did serve as a challenge, I was able to engage with my cohort around educational issues in urban education such as finances, white supremacy, culturally relevant education, and so much more.”
Pitt Education also helped Morgan-Lee see the continued need for arts education as an out-of-school model and an opportunity for educational growth.
“Today our educational systems are eliminating the arts in schools and with the loss of the arts, we are limiting student’s creative opportunities and lessons in critical thinking skills, visual literacy, and an appreciation of diverse culture,” says Morgan-Lee. “Pitt Education helped me see how deep this action is and how to improve it.”