When I re-opened Frederick Douglass High School as principal in 2008, the school had been closed for 27 years. As a beacon of hope and light and the cornerstone of the Douglass community, my strong, passionate staff and I envisioned strong academic programs, school pride, leadership development,  strong athletics and strong fine arts programs that are often the heart and soul of culture and climate in a school.

So naturally, when I was contacted about an opportunity for additional support and resources for my young strings program, I enthusiastically said, “Yes, please!”

Memphis Music Initiative stepped in and immediately made a difference, providing individual and small group instruction, skill development for my many students without formal or early music training, and opportunities for cultural awareness through performances and field experiences at no cost to students.

I recall the pride that our orchestra students felt when they heard their recording of the school’s beloved Alma Mater being played over the intercom each morning. Through MMI, students were able to experience first-hand, life in a recording studio and left the studio with a CD of recordings of several of their pieces. Student pride and lunch at a local restaurant topped off the day! Additionally, our strings students benefited from master clinics, college and museum visits and summer internships to name a few.

After nearly four decades in Memphis and Shelby County Schools, I was offered an incredible opportunity to join Memphis Music Initiative to lead their In Schools team, where 68 programs across 34 schools, public (including charters), and parochial schools. Though looking forward to a much anticipated and well deserved leisurely retirement, I enthusiastically accepted the challenge offered by MMI. I look forward to employing my skill set, developed over 38 years’ experience as a classroom teacher, professional school counselor and principal, to advance the mission and vision of Memphis Music Initiative as they facilitate the expansion of opportunity for artistic development and entrepreneurship for one of Memphis’ greatest natural resources.

As a veteran educator, I bring a needed perspective to this team and this work. This extraordinary team of gifted and professional artists provide a layer of support and resources that is certainly groundbreaking and cutting edge. I give all the credit to MMI Executive Director Darren Isom and In-Schools Director Lecolion Washington for MMI’s vision of making a difference in under-served schools and communities in the Memphis and Shelby County areas.

Through MMI, I’m able to continue on my journey of “Coming Home to Give Back.” My daily mantra guides my path and simply states: “It’s only what you do for others for which you will be remembered.”

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Janet Ware Thompson has spent her adult life in service to the students of Memphis and Shelby County. She began her career in education as a classroom teacher. From there she transitioned into the role of professional school counselor and was later recruited and served in an administrative role in Memphis and Shelby County Schools for nearly three decades. Thompson joined Memphis Music Initiative in September of 2016, managing the InSchools Team, which currently provides arts engagement in over sixty programs across thirty-three parochial, public and charter schools.