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Our Team

  • Lawrence Blackwell
    Director, In-School Programs

  • Chastity Blair
    In-School Project Coordinator

  • Tawanna Brown
    Program Manager, Community Music Program Grants

  • Brittney Boyd Bullock
    Director, Youth Programs

  • Andy Collins
    Data, Evaluation, and Research Manager

  • Brenda L. Ford, SPHR, SHRM-SCP
    Human Resources Manager 

  • Amber Hamilton
    Executive Director

  • Iris Hollister
    Program Manager, MMI Works

  • Johnny Kroeze
    Director of Finance and Operations

  • Kathy Lindenmayer
    Director of Development

  • Jennifer Prince
    Communications and PR Manager

  • Victor Sawyer
    Senior Fellowship Coach

  • Janet Thompson 
    Coordinator, In-School Leadership, Partnerships,
    and Engagement

  • Lucie Thompson
    Finance and Operations Manager

  • Rychetta Watkins
    Director, Grantmaking & Capacity Building

  • Gavin Wigginson
    Fellowship Coach

Our Board

  • Kenyatta Andrews
    Board Treasurer

  • Sarah Lockridge-Steckel
    Board Member

  • Jennifer McGrath
    Board Member

  • Jeff Rhodin 
    Board Secretary

  • Cecilia Walker
    Board Member

  • Tarik Ward
    Board Chair

  • Christy Valentine
    Board Member
     

Our Supporters

Foundations and Corporations

  • 200 S Linden LLC

  • ACE Awareness Foundation

  • Amazon Smile

  • Anonymous

  • ArtsMemphis

  • AutoZone

  • Good Coin Foundation / Target Circle

  • Hyde Family Foundation

  • The Lewis Prize for Music

  • LYRASIS / Performing Arts Readiness

  • Memphis Brooks Museum of Art

  • United Way of the Mid-South

  • Urban Child Institute

Individuals

  • Scott Adams

  • Kenyatta Andrews

  • Rose Archer

  • Shante Avant

  • Dacquiri Baptiste

  • William Bartumioli

  • Brett Batterson

  • John Bazzanella

  • Morgan Beckford

  • Catherine Boone

  • Jim Boyd

  • Brittney Boyd Bullock

  • Ty Boyland

  • Robin Briggs

  • Valetta Brinson

  • Tawanna Brown

  • Kameelah Bruce

  • Katherine Bryan

  • Jamilica Burke

  • Margaret Carter

  • Elizabeth Cawein

  • Nick Chamoun

  • David Cordoba

  • Dr. Gary Damon

  • Dru Davidson

  • Brett Davis

  • Sabrina Dawso

  • Kevin Dean

  • Tosha Downey

  • Grace Doyle

  • John Doyle

  • Meka Egwuekwe

  • Erika Fairley

  • Katie Ferren

  • Emma Finder

  • Thomas Flippen

  • Brenda Ford

  • Jen Frank

  • Francisco Gascue

  • Robby Grant

  • Richard Greeenwald

  • Cheryl Green

  • Travis Green

  • Amber Hamilton

  • Marie Hamilton

  • Michael Hamilton

  • Tomeka Hart Wigginton

  • Bray Hayden

  • Patrick Hendricks

  • Anne Hogan

  • Amy Hogevoll

  • Iris Hollister

  • Kelli Holloman

  • Elizabeth Hunter

  • Kathryn Johnson

  • Adriane Johnson-Williams

  • Tanya Junious

  • Rachel Knox

  • Johnny Kroeze

  • John Lang

  • Sam Lawton

  • Stephen Lee

  • Nikki Lekhy

  • Kathy Lindenmayer

  • Janet Lo

  • Sarah Lockridge-Steckel

  • Emma Lockrige

  • Kito Lord

  • Brian Manburg

  • Jennifer McGrath

  • Charles McKinney

  • Janis McKinnon

  • Alison McNeil

  • Linda McNeil

  • Katie McWeeney

  • Jessica Mele

  • Jessica Miller

  • Erskin Mitchell Jr.

  • Vonesha Mitchell

  • Kevin Moran

  • Caryn Morrow

  • Jannette Morrow

  • Michael Mosby

  • Kallie Mosley

  • Allison Myatt

  • Stephanie Myers

  • Erin Nelson

  • Sam O'Bryant

  • Anne Perry

  • Veena Rangaswami

  • Robert Rendek

  • Rebecca Reynolds

  • Jeff Rhodin

  • Tuwisha Rogers-Simpson

  • Ileanette Rosado-Wilson

  • Jon Ross

  • Elizabeth Rouse

  • Kiara Sally

  • Ruth Abigail Smith

  • Tamar Smithers

  • Greg Snook

  • Dorian Spears

  • Meredith Speer

  • Michelle Staples-Horne

  • Darcel Stewart

  • Caitlin Strokosch

  • Corey Strong

  • Owen Summers

  • Lauren Taylor

  • Rebecca Terrell

  • Wendi C. Thomas

  • Anthony Thompson

  • Lucie Thompson

  • Jonathan Tsay

  • Christy Valentine

  • Cecilia Walker

  • Tarik Ward

  • Elizabeth Warren

  • Rychetta Watkins

  • Rita Wauls

  • Denise Whiting-Pack

  • Gavin Wigginson

  • LarJuanette Williams

  • Dana Wilson

  • Macon Wilson

  • Emma Zyriek

From Our Executive Director

 

In reflecting upon 2020—a year of great chaos, reckoning, truths, and loss—we have all been confronted with many uncomfortable realities about what it means to be safe. We have been forced to question when it is safe to hug a loved one, safe to jog through a neighborhood, safe to openly love who you love, safe to walk down the street in your skin, safe to know that your vote will be counted. Many of us have never known a true feeling of safety in the United States; others are just awakening to the reality that for too many, safety is an unfulfilled promise. The absence of safety shakes our being and disrupts the evolution of our true purpose. How can we be free without safety? How can we pursue beauty and liberation if we can’t just…be?

At MMI, we wrestled with these topics as we pivoted our services and programs to be responsive to a changing world. As the coronavirus pandemic swept the world, we prioritized safety in our immediate surroundings—to the extent possible—and charted a course to continue delivering music engagement programming to our youth. But the public murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police brought to light a truth we have always known—we are not safe. Our beautiful, hilarious, curious, kind, creative students are not safe. So how can we focus on instilling a sense of agency, power, or liberation in them, if this country is constantly reminding them that they are not safe?

I am reminded of words W.E.B. DuBois spoke in 1926. In “Criteria of Negro Art,” he creates a space for art in the struggle for equality: “Such is beauty. Its variety is infinite, its possibility is endless…The world is full of it; and yet today the mass of human beings are choked away from it, and their lives distorted and made ugly. This is not only wrong, it is silly. Who shall right this well-nigh universal failing? Who shall let this world be beautiful? Who shall restore to men the glory of sunsets and the peace of quiet sleep?”

In his words the answer becomes clear—the artists shall not only remind us of earthly beauty, but they will help us create a vision for a more just future. By keeping a relentless focus on creative expression, on creative Black and brown liberation, on Afrofuturism, we are encouraging young people to not be bound by the attacks on their safety, but to continue to create a vision and a pathway for a future that is free. That is the true work of MMI.

I thank the Board, staff, Fellows, young people, and community that make our quest for beauty in the midst of chaos possible. We remain steadfast.

Amber Hamilton
Executive Director

In-Schools Program

The In-Schools program places professional, working musicians in schools across Memphis, wherever there is a need to support and enhance that school’s music programming. Throughout the school year, our music engagement Fellows work closely with school partners to tailor curricula and field experiences to the needs of the students served. 

Our In-Schools Fellowship allows students to interact with, and be mentored by, a diverse group (72% people of color) of world-class musicians who call Memphis home. Each of our Fellows brings a wealth of musical know-how—spanning genres from jazz to hip-hop to classical—and passion for music education to classrooms across Shelby County.

In the 2019-2020 school year, MMI placed 27 Fellows in 56 programs in 44 schools serving approximately 3,708 students across Shelby County, including Shelby County Schools, Harmony Schools, Compass, Memphis Scholars, STAR, Kaleidoscope, and Frayser Community Schools. The 22 zip codes where our Fellows served represent some of the most historically marginalized and under-resourced communities in Memphis, with the highest concentration of residents in poverty (38108, 38127, 38106). 

Fellows work with their classes over ten months, forming important mentoring relationships and interventions at critical junctures in the lives of Black and brown students, and modeling what it looks like to be a music professional in Memphis—whether it’s a career in music performance, education, or business. 


Specifically, MMI Fellows focus on the following key areas of learning:

Music skill-building:

MMI Fellows support music skill-building in their school environments by bringing their expertise as professional music artists to the classroom. The combination of their experience, the expertise of our partner teachers, and the artistic drive and talents of our youth creates an environment of continuous, reflective, improvement. Key areas of music skill development include: music literacy, performance preparation, small and large ensemble experience, soloistic artistic expression, music composition, music production and songwriting, and practice/rehearsal methods. 

Creative Liberation:

Following our strategic pivot toward creative liberation (see below), we have also seen a true fusion of creative liberation and music skill development. Liberation modules are seamlessly interwoven with music skill-building curriculum, capitalizing on the professional musical experience of our Fellows, training exploring topics of social justice and liberation, and strong partnerships with our city’s traditional music programs.

Through our In-Schools program, we aim to create a classroom environment in which young people recognize and acknowledge the challenges of current systems, yet feel equipped with the skills, agency, creativity, and liberation mindset to disrupt these systems for the benefit of self and community. 

During the 2019-2020 school year, Fellows incorporated creative liberation learning modules, including Memphis music, social justice, protest songs, and more, with music skill development. Building on the foundation of past creative expression curricula, our Fellows have actualized creative liberation–focused engagement: they’re utilizing the protest music of the past and present to teach songwriting so that our young people can create the protest music of the future.

Social emotional learning areas:

Including confidence, teamwork and persistence, and creative expression (which is positively correlated with stress management and positive behavior modification). Our strategy recognizes that a well-rounded, interdisciplinary approach to cognitive and emotional development is critical for our youth, many of whom are currently facing unprecedented levels of stress and adverse experiences in their homes.


The Fellows we work with are also vital in building and sustaining a thriving Memphis arts ecosystem. Throughout the year MMI provides Fellows with coaching support and monthly professional development opportunities to help them navigate a sustainable career as a working musician, teaching professional, or organizational leader. In the age of Covid-19, that’s never been more important. So, in 2020, MMI began providing training for Fellows in ACEs (adverse childhood experiences)-informed approaches, a trauma-informed curriculum to help youth who we recognize are experiencing unprecedented challenges as a result of the pandemic.

In March, the In-Schools team, like all creative youth development programs, faced the sudden halt of all major program activity. When Shelby County Schools closed on March 13 due to the Covid-19 pandemic, over 35,000 youth lost basic access to essential learning tools: computers, consistent internet access, instruments, production technology, and curricula. The In-Schools team worked quickly to implement virtual engagement strategies and technology planning for students, parents, and classroom teachers and principals. With area schools closed, MMI Fellows held a virtual orientation session to introduce MMI’s creative liberation strategic pivot, and to begin reimagining the In-Schools program along with the internal team. 

The In-Schools team also hosts monthly Parent-Teacher-Principal Cohort Meetings in which school partners attend collaborative sessions designed to support and connect schools, parents, and communities with opportunities to strengthen school partnerships, share best practices, and build relationships. The 2019-2020 cohort met via Zoom, due to restrictions on in-person meetings caused by the pandemic. In spite of that, the In-Schools team saw record turnout—particularly during the rollout of MMI’s creative liberation strategic pivot, which served as a guiding focus for selecting school partners for the 2020-2021 school year.

At the close of the 2019-2020 school year, youth who were part of our program demonstrated high levels of music engagement, with 94% of music programs reporting that they participated in at least one performance (local, state, regional, or national). Ninety percent of Fellows and music teachers reported that students have become more aware of music and cultural opportunities by working with a music Fellow.

Finally, over 90% of Fellows and music teachers observed student social emotional growth across all areas of confidence, teamwork, challenge, engagement, and care.


Testimonials

An educator’s perspective:

“Hire more fellows like [Fellow name]. Our music Fellow is… fully competent, dedicated, skilled, versatile, and engaging to make a PROFOUND impact on my students. Because of [Fellow] support, help, and encouragement, my students are performing at a high school level.”


“The Fellowship is incredibly effective at bridging gaps in student understanding and in giving the students of [our school] an equitable music education. I only wish more students in our city and beyond had access to similar programs.”

From a Fellow:

“The most valuable contribution I make to these kids’ lives every day is that I make them feel important, like they have potential, and that all they have to do is try hard. It’s such a huge lesson to learn…even if the instrument they play is not going to be important to them after they graduate, I really believe in being in the classroom and showing them that making a real effort pays off.”

MMI Works 

The MMI Works summer internship program provides a pathway for youth grades 10-12+ to explore and strengthen their creativity, earn money by working at local arts and music organizations, and learn what it’s like to be a professional in the arts. Program participants are offered equitable access to career training and personal development through educational sessions on topics ranging from resume-writing to self-determination throughout the summer and school year (MMI Works Extended, or MWE). 

Though Memphis is known internationally for its legacy of arts and music, young people, particularly Black and brown youth in under-resourced communities, are experiencing declining access to quality music engagement programs—a truth that has been underscored by the Covid-19 pandemic. In Memphis, there simply aren’t adequate internship and apprenticeship opportunities for young people to gain professional skills and make career networks in the creative sector. The MMI Works program offers a robust solution that utilizes creative engagement with youth to build confidence, teamwork, and persistence across all aspects of their lives.

During a typical summer, the Works program is eight weeks long, with participants working 32 hours per week at various arts organizations across the city, and attending one professional development (PD) session per week. The PD sessions provide tailored curricula that helps students bridge their school and work experiences with whole-life skills, including design thinking, problem solving, and goal setting. They also provide a pathway for students to explore and cultivate a sense of liberation through creativity. 

Our curriculum aims to help shape and inform each participant’s artistic journey through the examination and practice of creative liberation. We encourage students to explore creative liberation through: 

Truth-telling practices: We practice truth-telling by exploring the ways lived experiences are influenced by histories, contexts, and systems.

Contextualization: We practice contextualization through explicit survey and review of case studies featuring artists whose liberating work is often informed by various sociocultural context(s).

The affirmation of self and community: We affirm our individual and communal values and preserve those through creative practice.

The MWE program, which continues throughout the school year, provides participants a space to continue the creative liberation content by connecting with each other in a peer learning environment outside of school. 

The COVID Context

This year, we had to quickly adjust our program offerings to accommodate the uncertainty of the Covid-19 pandemic. 

We had two goals: Keep the integrity of the program intact, and offer a creative, engaging virtual experience for participants. Normally, our key components consist of building community; preparing fun, interactive activities and field trips; and working closely with creative arts organizations and local artists. This year, we focused on honing participants’ creative skills virtually, knowing that we would not have access to worksites due to the pandemic. We made a number of changes to the program’s format, including offering two virtual tracks—a creative track featuring seven art genres and a PD track— tailoring deliverables in partnership with the individual participants; diversifying PD content through interactive games and activities, panels, and guest speakers; and varying creative track curriculum through a combination of guided instruction/modeling, collaboration exercises and sessions, and independent work. 

 

In 2020, the MMI Works summer cohort included 57 students, some of whom worked 24 hours per week for 6 weeks. Students participated in one of seven creative tracks including instrumental performance, music production, visual art, film/screenwriting, creative writing, dance, and vocal performance. All in all, MMI Works students worked a total of 4,735 hours. MMI also awarded 20 college scholarships to participants who successfully completed the program.

 

What Students Are Saying:

“Creative liberation is akin to when people are ‘in the zone’ ('Soul' movie reference); when you’re really giving in to your artistry in a way that is very free, and you feel at peace and you’re giving yourself to whatever art form it is.”
— Andrea D.

“Creative liberation is the intersection of whatever the creative or artistic thing is with a broader social issue or broader purpose. This includes ‘the zone,’ which comes about when that art is used…to work on something bigger than yourself.” 
— Gus P.

“Creative liberation is a way to make a connection through a common passion or a common love.”
— Sydney W.

“Creative liberation is using your form of art in a way that brings liberation to yourself and others.”
— Camilla M.

“Creative liberation is letting your soul control your mind and your hands.”
— Wilmer A.

“Creative liberation is when you take your creative ideas and make it into a way to make others feel liberated.”
— Bianca F.

 

Grantmaking & Capacity Building

MMI invests in local arts and music organizations through grant funding and technical assistance to support organizational sustainability, improve program quality, and build a robust, vibrant Black arts community in Memphis. 

Our support aims to enhance the capacity of small and grassroots nonprofit organizations to implement high-quality music and arts programs. We also provide information and strategies to help those organizations secure funding and other resources beyond those provided by MMI. This support is a key component in building a strong arts ecosystem for Memphis’ Black and brown youth. Since our Institute for Nonprofit Excellence and Community Program Grants launched in 2017, MMI has supported the growth of nearly a dozen summer programs. Our partner organizations have also seen promising gains, a doubling of corporate sponsorships, and a three-fold increase in fund development.

The local and grassroots organizations we partner with bring vital music, theatre, and arts programming to young people in historically under-resourced neighborhoods from Frayser and Orange Mound to Soulsville and across South Memphis. Our work is centered on fostering opportunity for the leaders who work tirelessly on behalf of Black and brown youth, creating spaces for young people to use their talents, their voice, and their aspirations toward a more just future. Through our Institute for Nonprofit Excellence (INE) and our Program Development Institute (PDI), MMI aims to meet the unique needs of the local youth serving arts ecosystem:

Institute for Nonprofit Excellence

The Institute for Nonprofit Excellence (INE) provides grants and intensive capacity-building support for organizations to take the next steps on their journey to sustainability serving the youth arts sector in Memphis. The INE meets nonprofit partners where they are, providing access to effective practices, knowledgeable professional support, and cash grants to a cohort of organizations that hold the potential to deliver high-quality music programming to youth in under-resourced communities. 

Our Current Partners:
AngelStreet Memphis
Harmonic South String Orchestra
Memphis Black Arts Alliance
Memphis Jazz Workshop
Raising the B.A.R. Memphis
Memphis Slim Collaboratory

Program Development Institute

The Program Development Institute (PDI) provides leadership, technical training, and support for grassroots organizations and nonprofit leaders. The PDI uses multiple pathways to support teams in building their capacity and enhancing the quality of their programs. 

PDI also offers a Tailored Support initiative that matches partners with consultants who provide across all areas of operating a nonprofit, including:  

• Funding resources and strategies
• Revenue planning and cost allocation
• Board development
• Program development
• Program evaluation tools: surveys, observation rubrics, spreadsheets to collect and track data

Other supports offered through PDI include one-on-one thought partnership and resource assistance on an ongoing basis.

Our Partners: 
CazaTeatro Bilingual Theatre Group
Blues City Cultural Center
Memphis Youth Symphony Program
Perfecting Gifts, Inc.
Princeton James Productions
Successful, Inc. 
Withers Collection Museum and Gallery 
Young Actors Guild 

 

The MMI Emergency Relief Fund

In 2020, arts and music organizations in our network and beyond faced unprecedented challenges due to the Covid-19 pandemic. MMI established an Emergency Relief Fund to provide short-term, immediate relief for individual musicians, young people, and youth-serving music nonprofits who are part of our network. Our goal was to support the ability of our partners to navigate this current crisis and to support ongoing music engagement and creation, particularly in Black and brown communities. While this fund could not fill every need or shortfall experiences by the applicants, MMI is grateful for the opportunity to provide critical aid to the artists, musicians, and organizations who power our creative economy and the young people who are the next generation of Memphis’ storied cultural heritage.

$50,000 in grants to 7 organizations

Approx. 2,270 youth annually engaged

$150,000* total estimated loss addressed

(*) Excluding one partner organization

 

Institute for Nonprofit Excellence Overview

$207,000 in grants to 6 organizations
386 youth engaged 
$230,491 new funds raised outside of MMI

Tailored Support Overview 

$22,420 granted to 7 organizations in 2019-2020 program year
2,605 estimated youth annual enrollment (prior to Covid-19 conditions)
250 estimated consultant hours total 
198 estimated program manager support hours (2019-2020)

Summer Beats Overview

$8,000 in grants to 3 organizations 
Approx. 94 youth engaged
112 estimated program manager support hours

Demographics

93% Partner organizations led by people of color 

66% Partner organizations led by women

 

GM/CB partner highlights

Memphis Slim Collaboratory became a stand-alone nonprofit barely a year before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Challenged by not being able to host in-person programming for artists or live performances, including the signature Soulsville USA Festival, Executive Director Tonya Dyson quickly recovered, mastering the software and technology to livestream performances and programming to educate artists and engage audiences. During 2020, the organization revamped its youth programming, refreshed its website, and purchased adjacent land for an outdoor venue that will debut in 2021. 

CazaTeatro Bilingual Theatre Group hosted more events and activities and attracted more creative volunteers (musicians, storytellers, dancers, etc.) in 2020 than it has in any other year in the organization’s 14-year history.

Additionally, the organization: 

Ballooned its Facebook connections to more than 50,000 individuals internationally. 

Enhanced its video production and virtual event capacity with support from emergency response funds, and Grantmaking and Capacity Building–sponsored training and peer networking.

Reimagined several of its key events, including: 

The annual Día de los Muertos Parade, which shifted to a “reverse parade” format where more than 200 carloads of audience members were able to drive  the Overton Park parade route.

Latin Fest 901, which shifted from a one-day outdoor family festival to a 16-day virtual event that engaged more than 41,000 audience members from all ages and from around who honored and celebrated the contributions and culture of the Hispanic community.

 

By the Numbers

Memphis Music Initiative strives to be a careful steward of our resources on behalf of the youth, musicians, educators, and organizations we serve, with an eye toward long-range sustainability. This includes a commitment to competitive compensation for all employees and artist work.

Memphis Music Initiative maintains favorable ratings on Charity Navigator and GuideStar. We are happy to provide 990 filings and annual audit information upon request. 

Percentages below are unaudited.