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East End Festival’s Impact on Real Richmond Kids is Immense

Armstrong High School senior Imani Adewale loves music because it’s a way for her to express herself.

“When I don’t have the exact words to describe how I feel, I can find a song that describes how I feel,” says Adewale, a member of the Armstrong Choir Ensemble.

Armstrong High School’s arts program is one of several Richmond Public Schools in the East End that receive funds from the RVA East End Festival, which will be held this Saturday. 

Since 2016, the RVA East End Festival has raised more than $400,000 to support music, visual arts, and performing arts programs at eight elementary, middle, and high schools in the East End communities of the Richmond Public Schools system.

Adewale began singing in choir at her church when she was five years old and has continued through middle and high school. 

“Music is one of my few passions,” she says. “I was really shy when I first started singing. Singing helped me overcome my stage fright. Now, I am not so closed off and shy. I’m outgoing. I want to do everything.”

She understands how much schools in the East End have benefited from the Festival. 

“The more they have the festivals, the more students come wanting to participate in choir,” she says. “It also helps us get better equipment.”

This year’s festival will be held Saturday, September 24, from noon to nine o’clock at Henry Marsh Elementary School, 813 N. 28th St. in Richmond. The festival is returning after a two-year pandemic hiatus.

“Mark your calendars now because our fifth RVA East End Festival will be a special occasion to celebrate the artistic excellence of RPS students and the amazing talent in our community,” says Saxsmo Gates, one of Richmond’s premier saxophonists who has played with artists such as Dizzy Gillespie, Marvin Gaye, and The Temptations. “Music and the arts have been pivotal in my life. I want our students to have the same chances as I did to unlock their creative potential and even discover career pathways.” 

Gates is co-chairing the festival with Marilyn Heckstall, who has served as chair of the RVA East End Festival since 2017. “This event is a community-wide investment of love in our children because it creates opportunities for them to succeed,” Heckstall says. 

Past proceeds from the festival have been used by the Richmond Public Schools Education Foundation to acquire or repair musical instruments and to create a dance studio at Armstrong High School, as well as to purchase choral risers, concert attire and visual art supplies such as pottery kilns. 

“The festival’s financial goal for 2022 is $100,000 to be used for a variety of purchases to benefit music, performing arts and visual art programs at our wonderful East End schools,” says

Cheryl Burke, who serves on the School Board for Richmond Public Schools.

For Adewale, it’s all about the music and how it makes her feel.

“It gives me a sense of peace,” she says. “And, that’s important now.”

To learn more about the RVA East End Festival, contact or visit the Festival’s Facebook page. To make an online contribution to support the Festival and its mission, visit



An award-winning writer based in Richmond, Joan Tupponce is a parent, grandparent, and self-admitted Disney freak. She writes about anything and everything and enjoys meeting inspiring people and telling their stories. Joan’s work has appeared in RFM since the magazine’s first issue in October 2009. Look for original and exclusive online articles about Richmond-area people, places, and ideas at Just Joan: RVA Storyteller.

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