To begin, I initially was a bit perplexed about what to write in this piece. I had few any initial thoughts as to what it was that I wanted to talk about. I mean, sure, Memphis Music Initiative is a terrific place to work. In fact, the MMI Associates program has been an absolute blast for me, possibly my greatest workplace experience. However, that doesn’t say a whole lot — or does it?

It wasn’t until today the words began to formulate inside my head as to what it was that I not only enjoyed, but, why it was that I enjoyed what I enjoyed so much about the staff and organization. This was all thanks to a conversation I had with a few other MMI staff, in regard to educational policy reform. This is a topic that is very sensitive to me, considering my failed efforts at graduating high school, traditionally. It’s something that I neither regret nor am proud of — but it’s also the source of fuel for my advocacy work.

Now, to be clear, it’s not out of norm that we have these types of conversations in the office, but today was a bit different. The level of passion and excitement seemed a bit higher than usual, especially for me. Everyone who participated in the conversation seemed to add an additional degree of perspective that collectively re-constructed the picture of what the idealistic organization looks like, in terms of core values and principled beliefs. This was the spark I needed to finally begin this piece.

Two of my deepest passions are music and serving youth. I do these wherever I can and whenever I can. That is why accepting this opportunity to work as an MMI Associate was a no-brainer. When I first began my Associate program, I immediately connected with the “disruptive” approach and philosophy of MMI. Starting from the daily talks, with Ms. Tawanna Brown, who has essentially become a spirit guide of sorts for me, to the bold and dynamic leader I’ve come to know as MMI Executive Director Darren Isom. In fact, the very first Program Development Institute session I attended featured words from two of the smartest and most well-spoken women I’ve come to know, Amber Hamilton and Kiesha Davis, and the overall support of the MMI staff/faculty.

When this organization talks about equity and inclusivity through community based programming, it is clearly mirrored through their internal working relationships. My time here has been well spent, and I have had a healthy exposure to the arts community through well-rounded cultural and communal experiences. This time has provided me the opportunity to share out in circles of professionals with whom I had never before imagined crossing paths. I have met nationally recognized authors and have also contributed strategic research to the development of some very insightful think pieces.

Working with MMI has given me a means of leveraging my own cultural capital, and, a place to be unapologetically me. It has been a task for me to fully embrace this freedom, and walk in my truth, only because my past working experiences in Memphis have not been nearly so appreciative of cultural diversity. I am grateful for the encouragement and the continued support. I attempt to stretch my gifts further and farther, as a result of being surrounded by such trailblazing talent and intellect. I don’t know if there were a more ideal environment to have done so in, and if there is am not sure if I am interested in trading places. The benefits for me have spilled well over into my personal life, outside of the office. This is one brand I have no problem endorsing, and, at the same time admiring.

Chase Madkins is a Memphis native. He is a Memphis Music Initiative Associate, cultural strategist, youth advocate, and hip hop enthusiast.