Welcome from the Founder and President
City Strings United welcomes you!
City Strings United was founded in response to a need that I perceived in urban Boston. The circumstances of the youth in those areas reflected my own experiences growing up, first in Massachusetts, then in California and Texas. Serendipitously, I was able to take cello lessons at an early age while living in San Diego.
There I performed in youth orchestras, including the San Diego Youth Symphony. The ability to demonstrate my musical skills in a larger setting, coupled with the wonderful guidance from my teacher and mentor, gave me a sense of self-worth. At a summer music camp that I attended, I met Glen Campbell, a cellist in the San Diego Symphony Orchestra. Mr. Campbell taught me to play the cello free of charge for six years.
The cello and the people who allowed me to master this instrument changed my life forever. As an adult, I decided to provide these opportunities that meant so much to me personally to youth in Boston’s inner city. And so, City Strings United was born! Starting with a small group of 12 children in 2012, we have grown to over twenty students with plans for further growth in the next few years.
During these years, City Strings United has enjoyed collaborative performances with such respected artists as Walter Beasley, Professor of Music, Berklee College of Music, the Grammy award-winning drummer Terri Lynn Carrington. It has twice been invited by the Museum of Fine Arts to perform at its Community Day Celebration during the Art in Bloom Weekend. Further, City Strings United has opened for the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Community Chamber Concert Series and has participated in the Roxbury Stringfest sponsored by the Celebrity Series of Boston’s Arts for All program, in which it has performed with tabla player Sandeep Das, Castle of Our Skins, and the Guy Mendilow Band.
City Strings United has been recognized by Boston media as well as local social and cultural institutions including: The Boston Globe, New England Cable News, Boston Neighborhood Network, Urban Update, Greater Boston Chapter of the National Council of Negro Women, Black Ministerial Alliance, Mothers for Justice and Equality, The Northeasterners and The New England Arts Group.
The Covid-19 pandemic has been a challenge for everyone, but City Strings United has been resilient. Although our concerts had to be cancelled because it was not feasible to gather in large groups, we successfully switched to remote learning through the Zoom platform. Now in our ninth year, we will continue to provide musical opportunities for Boston’s youth, to foster their growth and development, and to teach the joy of music. We look forward to in person classes and concerts as soon as they are deemed safe.
Founder and President
Bithyah Israel, Founder and President
Doug Rich, Operations Manager
Rhea Gibson, Assistant Program Director
Wanda Jones, Family Coordinator
Suyoon Cindy Kim
Our Junior Assistants
We believe in peer-assisted teaching. Some of our more senior students are currently assisting in teaching the classes to their younger peers. They receive weekly counseling and training to enable them to approach this in the dual way that City Strings United operates – teaching music and teaching respect and discipline. Not only do the students benefit, but these older students get a sense of their ability to lead – something that will benefit them and their communities.
Board of Directors
Ellen Hallett - Chair
Ellen Hallett is retired from a career in college administration. She was assistant to the president and board secretary of Wheaton College for five years and held a similar position at Rhode Island School of Design for fifteen years. She is a volunteer tutor in the town's ESL program and served on the Board of her town’s League of Women Voters for four years. Ellen earned a BA from Trinity Washington University and an MS from Simmons College.
Bithyah Israel - Founder and President/Secretary
A beneficiary of free cello lessons in her youth, Bithyah Israel is a cellist, composer, and community organizer whose work centers on social justice and equal access to opportunities for communities of color. A Boston native raised in San Diego, she holds a BA in health administration and has worked most recently as Social Justice Fellow for the Arts and Humanities with the UU Urban Ministry in Roxbury. She is a member of the Celebrity Series Community Engagement Committee and the Massachusetts Production Coalition. She is also a recipient of the "Women of Courage and Conviction" award from the National Council of Negro
Women Greater Boston Section for her work with City Strings United.
Bill Huss - Treasurer
After retiring from a career at Xenergy, an energy consulting firm, as senior vice president and chief operating officer, Bill Huss now teaches quantitative methods and entrepreneurial business at Babson College. Bill has served on a range of non-profit boards and consults to the non-profit community on strategic planning and organizational management as a member of Empower Success Corps of New England, which he chaired from 2012-2016. In 2019 he successfully led the strategic planning effort for City Strings United. He holds a Ph.D. in business and engineering from The Ohio State University along with an MA in public administration and an MS in industrial engineering.
Sharon Brown, is a proud mother of five, who lives in Boston, Massachusetts. She is a graduate of Boston Latin Academy. She has three girls and two boys, ranging in age from five to twenty-four. All five of her children play or have played string instruments, including the violin, viola, and now the cello. She is delighted to be the Parent Liaison on the City Strings United Board.
Peter Cobb, J.D.
Peter Cobb is a strategic and fundraising consultant with an extensive background in the worlds of art, organizational strategy and development, and law. He currently runs the artistic and community programming at the Washvault Lab Laundromat, an innovative laundromat/arts-space in Medford, Massachusetts. In addition to work with numerous artists, non-profits, and small businesses, he has worked in various capacities with the New York Foundation for the Arts since 2010. He is also a jazz saxophonist and has performed nationally and internationally. Peter received his Masters of Music from NYU and his JD from the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Josette C. Goldish
Josette Capriles Goldish was born and raised on the island of Curaçao. She holds a BS from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an MS from the Sloan School of Management. Following a career in finance, she embarked on research into the Sephardic Jews of the Caribbean and has written and lectured widely on the subject. Josette has also served on numerous boards, including as president of MIT Hillel and VP of Strategic Planning for Gateways: Access to Jewish Education.
Herman Hampton has taught in the Ensemble Department at Berklee College of Music for over 20 years and has performed as a bassist with the University of Massachusetts Symphony Orchestra and the Lowell Philharmonic Orchestra, as well as local jazz ensembles. He has presented workshops in colleges and public schools on the culture, history, and aesthetics of African American music. A founding member of Berklee's City Music Program, which offers free musical instruction to inner-city youth, Herman has also worked with the Boston Police Department to improve communication between youth offenders and the police. He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Massachusetts and a master's degree in jazz pedagogy from Berklee College of Music.
In a 40-year career with the Newton Public Schools, Greg Hurray worked as a teacher, writing specialist, K-8 English coordinator and principal. Most recently he has been teaching a graduate course for aspiring principals, mentoring new administrators, and working as part of an audit team to evaluate the English Language Arts program of individual school districts. He is currently leading the CSU curriculum development team in documenting the key attributes of our approach. Greg is married, has one son, and lives in Wellesley. He holds a B.A. in English from the University of Virginia and an M.Ed. from Tufts University.
Dr. Cleopatra Knight-Wilkins
Dr. Cleopatra Knight-Wilkins is an accomplished vocal performing artist, and urban educator who led the Boston Arts Expansion Initiative as the Boston Public Schools Senior Program Director for the Arts. She has dedicated 40+ years working in diverse teaching and management positions and received various awards for exemplary scholarship and artistry. Cleopatra has served as a special education and music teacher/administrator, chief academic officer, and adjunct professor of creative arts and learning. She has performed at venues including Symphony Hall and Carnegie Hall and currently provides leadership coaching nationally. Cleopatra holds a Doctorate Degree in occupational therapy from Quinnipiac University, a CAGS in music education from the Kodaly Center of America, a Master of Special Education degree from Northeastern University, and a Bachelor of Science degree from Boston University.
Mona Roberts is a graduate of Howard University with a major in music education and double minor in piano and violin. Upon moving to Boston, she completed training in computer programming and worked in Information Technology in the financial services industry for thirty-six years, retiring from Fidelity Investments as Vice President in Brokerage Technology. She currently serves on the Board of Overseers at the Celebrity Series of Boston and is a member of the National Council of Negro Women, Blacks in Data Processing and Jack and Jill Associates of Boston where she served on the executive board for eight years. She has taught and
performed at the National Center of Afro American Artists Elma Lewis School of Music based in Roxbury, MA.
Barbara Dawson - Honorary Chair
Barbara has been a long time supporter of City Strings United since its inception and served as CSU's chair for many years, providing the group with her sage advice.
City Strings United Advisors
City Strings United Advisors provide the Board with guidance and advice in their respective areas of expertise. They are called upon as needed and enhance the Board’s capabilities.
Paul Alexander – Chief Marketing Officer, Marketing & Communications, Boston University Questrom School of Business
Heidi Berman – Events logistics and alumni/ae parent representative
Marc Fogel – Technical consultant
Ingrid Wolfson – Executive coach