Welcome to MMI’s Fellow Spotlight series! Every other week we’ll be posting an interview with one of our amazing teaching artists. Not only do they lend their talents to support MMI and engage Memphis youth all over the city, but they’re also helping to build—and sustain—our arts ecosystem through their independent projects.
Today, meet Mike Mosby! Mike is an all-star drummer who currently serves MMI youth at Oakhaven Middle School and Mitchell High School. He is also the founder of a youth empowerment nonprofit, Raising the Bar. He recently chatted with MMI about his work, his inspirations, and why Memphis youth “are the gift.”
I was born and raised in Memphis. But I’ve lived in a couple other places over the years—Atlanta and LA.
I’m a drummer by trade. People know me from playing drums, but I play other instruments, too. I play keyboard and I play organ in church, but most of my professional gigs have been me playing drums.
I’ve been working with youth since 2005. I was going into schools doing motivational speaking in a mentoring program. Eventually, I started a mentoring program for troubled youth, which is now my nonprofit organization, Raising The Bar.
On Raising the Bar
At Raising the Bar, we focus on mentoring and empowering boys. BAR is actually an acronym or Behavior, Attitude, Responsibility. We have several programs that we use to fulfill our missions and empower our youth, including a sports program, a life skills mentoring program, and a music program. We provide an after-school music production program for one of our partner schools. And we have a program called Sticks and Grooves—it’s a drum master class where we bring masters drummers in to teach kids who are inspired to be drummers.
Sometimes I’ll bring in special guests to teach master classes. We’ve had Chris “Pat” Bounds in, who performed with Stevie Wonder, Christina Aguilera, and Toni Braxton. We’ve had Steve Stewart who has performed with Black Eyed Peas and more. The list goes on. That program is very special.
On Music as Liberation
I grew up without a father. My mom raised all boys by herself. I was the one who was the troublemaker, and I got involved with some street stuff.
But in my early 20s, my life started taking a turn. I began to see that there was more to life after losing a lot of close people to gun violence. I know that I wasn’t perfect. But I did make a decision to try and go ahead and see what the other side is like, to try to do the right things and push for the positive narrative for myself.
Music taps into your emotions without you even knowing it. In Memphis, You could throw a mic into a crowd of 100 people, and somebody will be able to sing and blow your mind away. Music is that. Music, it gives you the freedom to be who you want to be or who you don’t want to be.
It’s just incredible what music can do for somebody and for a group of people. Or for the world.
I’ve always played music. And that’s how, in 2015, I came across MMI. I learned there was an organization that was out here actually providing opportunities for people like myself—musicians, singers, and producers—to go into the schools and teach what we do.
I know this is my life purpose, to empower young people.
Black and brown kids from Memphis have gifts that move the world and it dates all the way back to the Stax era. We’ve got gifts that literally move the world.
I think at some point we lost this identity. Some of our youth today don’t realize that they are the gift.
You’re the gift.
I’m sure Beyonce didn’t become Beyonce when she turned 25. I’m pretty sure she was in high school somewhere singing and performing and aspired to be a musical icon. And we have the Beyonces and the Jay Zs and the Michael Jacksons and the Timberlands in our schools right now aspiring to be musical icons. They just don’t have opportunities. It’s no secret that there are plenty of challenges in our communities.
On Making Moves That Count
It’s not every day a Grammy award producer who can actually change a student’s life at the snap of a finger comes to your school. So that’s the whole point of our Make Moves That Count audition. It brings an incredible opportunity to the front door.
We recently concluded auditions. From that pool, eight students are going to be selected to do a couple of things. Number one, they’re going to be selected to perform in a school district-wide arts fest on May 2nd. And I will be leading their production. They’re calling it the Make Moves That Count production. One student is going to have the extra opportunity to actually create something, whether it be a beat, a song, etc. with the producer. Students will also have options to be a part of workshops that we host throughout the summer.
My birthday was February 23rd, and every year for my birthday I do a show or an exhibit. But this year I wanted to give people something more tangible. So I released a book on February 22nd on Amazon. It’s called Make Moves That Count: 21 Gems for the Driven.
Basically, this book is your daily motivation. It’s full of quotes. One of my favorite quotes reads, “Commitment supersedes condition.” And that’s one that I really live by, especially when doing this work that we’re doing.
I always have the privilege of what I call falling apart. When it’s all said and done, I can just come home and fall apart, get ready for the next day. And that’s true to this work because you don’t want to carry the burdens of the people all day and then go to sleep with it.
I wake up fresh every day.
On Empowering Our Community
To the powers that be in the Memphis community, I say make moves that count—moves that enhance the opportunities of our black and brown kids and empower them.
We don’t really have a music industry push from the city. We’re definitely a hub for talent, people come here to get talent all the time. But musicians leave Memphis and go to LA and Nashville, Atlanta, New York. So we need to provide the opportunities—real programs that focus on the arts. Because we are talented folks.
To the students, I say, it’s not what you think. It’s not what you think. Whether you think that street life or the wannabe gang life is popping, it’s not. It’s not what you think.
Some of our youth also think that there are no opportunities to have a career in music. They don’t see that every day. They see nurses, they see FedEx workers, they see a couple of barbers. That’s what they see. And there’s nothing wrong with those things.
But if music is your gift, it has the potential to take you well beyond.
And the truth is, they do have opportunities. They just have to go and find them. We out here. If they can’t go find those, we’ll eventually find them. But I want them to know it’s not what you think. It’s really out here.
As we all continue to navigate this new world, please keep our local artists, musicians, and creators in mind. They are all continuing to do amazing work in our community—in spite of the challenges, closed venues, and lost gigs. So if you can, take a moment to check out our Fellow’s (and other artists’) websites to see if there’s a way you can lend your support.
Stay healthy and safe!