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Our Team

  • Lawrence Blackwell
    Director, In-Schools Programs

  • Chastity Blair
    In-Schools 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

  • Mike Mosby
    Fellowship Coach

  • Jen Prince
    Communications and PR Manager

  • Victor Sawyer
    Senior Fellowship Coach

  • Serena Snyder
    Office Assistant

  • 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

  • Joey Beckford
    Board Member

  • Sarah Lockridge-Steckel
    Board Member

  • Jennifer McGrath
    Board Member

  • Charles McKinney
    Board Member

  • Jeff Rhodin 
    Board Secretary

  • Tuwisha Rogers-Simpson 
    Board Member

  • Christy Valentine
    Board Member

  • Cecilia Walker
    Board Member

  • Tarik Ward
    Board Chair


  •  

Our 2021 Supporters

Foundations and Corporations

  • 200 S Linden LLC

  • Amazon Smile

  • Anonymous

  • ArtsMemphis

  • The Assisi Foundation

  • AutoZone

  • The Blues Foundation

  • Thomas W. Briggs Foundation

  • The D'Addario Foundation

  • Ebert-LeBlanc Family Foundation

  • ELMA Philanthropies

    FedEx Credit Association

    FedEx Logistics

    The Hershey Company

  • William and Flora Hewlett Foundation Matching Gift Program

    Hyde Family Foundation

    The Lewis Prize Foundation Inc.

    LYRASIS/Performing Arts Readiness

    NBA Foundation

    Network for Good

    United Way of the Mid-South

Individuals

  • Andrew Grissom and Stephen Ash

    Joey and Neal Beckford

    Kayla Bell

    Sarah Borthwick

    Tawanna Brown

    Iryna Butsky

    Albert Chow

    Lydia Colin

    Ina Federal

    Dorimar Ferrer

    Emma Finder

    Teresa Fleece

    Thomas Flippen

    Jean Goldstein

    Mimmye Goode

    Amber Hamilton

    Susan Harris

    Tomeka Hart Wigginton

    Victoria Hester

    Montana Higgins

    Iris Hollister

    Katelyn Jones

    Natalie Jones

    Ron Jones

  • Myrnie Van Kempen

    Katie Kirkpatrick

    John Lang

    Sandra Lawrence

    Kathy Lindenmayer

    Sarah Lockridge-Steckel

    Richard Marshall

    Donna and Tim McCarthy

    Elizabeth McDonough

    Jennifer McGrath

    Charles McKinney

    Pamela O'Connor

    Cardell Orrin

    Jennifer and Robert Ott

    Brent Owens

    Abby Phillips

    Patricia Remmert

    Courtney Robertson

    Tuwisha Rogers-Simpson

    Kelly and Jim Rowan

    Jack Rowe

    Jamie Rowe

    Ron Schultz

    Zoe Scott

  • JMatthew Shanks

    Sophia Shao

    John Shepard

    Jeramie Simmons

    Catherine Simpson

    Lauren Taylor

    Donald Terry

    Lucie Thompson

    Diane Thornton

    Emily Troiano

    Katherine Tyler

    Christy Valentine

    Carol Vanhoozer

    Cecilia Walker

    Tarik Ward

From Our Executive Director

An open letter to MacKenzie Scott, philanthropist who made a seven-figure investment in MMI in 2021.

Dear Ms. Scott,

What do you say to someone whose investment and commitment to trust Black leaders has changed the game for several organizations and thousands of young people with one gift? If this ever reaches you, I’d like to spend a moment talking about not just gratitude and impact, but feelings.

I’m sure you know, as countless studies and think pieces have quantified, that Black nonprofit leaders very rarely get the investments of capital we need to scale great work. We see white leaders repeatedly getting six- and seven-figure gifts while we use our time scrambling to cobble together low-level gifts into a real budget. It’s extraordinarily difficult, but beyond that, it can be demoralizing, humiliating, and disempowering. We know that we are doing true engagement work, but we also know that you will never have the instant credibility or resources of other “legacy organizations.”

In 2021, MMI focused on innovative program delivery in response to the ongoing global pandemic. In March, we hosted our first-ever virtual HBCU music audition day, at which every student who auditioned received a scholarship. We took the 2021 MMI Works student intern cohort on a retreat in Gatlinburg, and watched them create incredible art in community with one another. And we’ve had a group of committed donors and supporters who have helped us achieve these programming wins.

As we worked hard to retool our programming and be responsive to youth voice and youth needs, we spent a lot of time and energy worrying about fundraising. We tried hard to stick to our values and not pursue funding that did not align with who we are as an organization. At MMI, we are committed to disruptive philanthropy; it’s hard to make decisions to engage with what we consider to be harmful philanthropic practice just to keep the lights on. It feels like we are selling our integrity, swallowing our tongue by not speaking truth to power. We know we need money to better serve the young people in our community, who deserve world-class music engagement programming, but too often, we feel obligated to chase low-dollar/high-bureaucracy funding that feels performative and inauthentic. 

So many nonprofit organizations are caught in this starvation cycle, but the statistics tell us that the financial disparities are greatest in nonprofit work led by people of color.

So, with this high-dollar unrestricted pool, we can breathe. We can dream. We can invest in other Black- and brown-led work, because these leaders absolutely deserve the same sense of freedom. We can use our energy to shape new programming, instead of watching legacy organizations continue to be fed by a machine that privileges them.

And we can rest. This is what we really need.

We humbly accept this gift, and would be remiss if we didn’t express how much it has catalyzed our dreams and renewed our spirits. This hit different—down to our souls. We are going to take this money and pour it into our young people, so that they are fortified to dream the biggest dreams possible and carve clear pathways leading to their goals. And we’ll be humming a tune of gratitude and unity as we do it.

Amber Hamilton
Executive Director

In-Schools Program

The MMI In-Schools program places professional, working musicians in school music programs across Memphis. Throughout the school year, our music engagement Fellows work closely with school partners to enhance and tailor curricula and field experiences to the needs of the students served. 

Our In-Schools Fellowship allows students to engage with and learn from a diverse group of world-class musicians (80% people of color), each equipped with a wealth of musical know-how—spanning genres from jazz to hip-hop to classical—and a passion for music education. Throughout the school year, MMI Fellows work with students in orchestra, band, choir, and general music programs requiring additional support, forming important mentoring relationships and interventions at critical junctures in the lives of Memphis' Black and brown youth. They also provide students with a model for being a music professional in Memphis—whether it’s a career in performance, production, education, or business. Not only do MMI Fellows lend their expertise to Memphis’ young musicians; they support and sustain our city’s legendary arts ecosystem through their independent projects as well.


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. 

For the 2020-21 school year, all instruction was delivered virtually, using platforms such as Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom, and Zoom.  At the close of the 2020-21 school year, youth who were part of our program demonstrated high levels of music engagement; school music staff reported a 20% increase in student participation at school performances as a result of the Fellows’ presence, and a 4% increase in participation at local performances. Students who worked with Fellows were also more prepared to pursue higher education—100% of eligible students in the In-Schools program were provided with opportunities for college scholarships, including audition opportunities, summer enrichment programs, internships, and festivals. Music teachers also reported a 15% increase in the number of students who auditioned for a college music program.

While the pandemic presented new challenges, it also taught us to identify creative new solutions. Engaging virtual technology allowed MMI to partner in 2021 for the first time with six Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) to hold a day of virtual music auditions for musically gifted high school students from 12 school music programs across Memphis. Over the course of one day, band and choral directors representing Rust College, Jackson State University, Tennessee State University, Fisk University, LeMoyne-Owen College, and University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff heard vocal and instrumental performances from 24 student musicians from schools MMI works with across the city.

Following the auditions, all 24 students who auditioned received partial or full college scholarship offers. 

 

Creative Liberation:

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 2020-21 school year, Fellows incorporated creative liberation learning modules—including modules on Memphis Music, Memphis Soul Connections, Memphis Music Studios, The Impact of Church, Music and Social Justice Movements, and more—with music skill development. MMI Fellows introduced students to a variety of genres and musical traditions, while also highlighting the many contributions Memphis' musicians make to music and culture in Memphis and beyond. Building on the foundation of past creative expression curricula—as well as curricula inspired by the Fellows themselves—our teaching artists 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 use their voices as tools for change. 

Through their studies of Memphis music, students are also exposed to practical pathways for art engagement. In addition, through our partnership with the Blues Foundation, students are also receiving education in training in blues music and Memphis blues history. 

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.

During the 2020-21 school year, over 90% of Fellows and music teachers observed student social emotional growth across all areas of confidence, teamwork, challenge, engagement, and care.


MMI provides Fellows with year-round coaching support and monthly professional development opportunities to help them navigate a sustainable career as a working musician, teaching professional, or organizational leaders. 

The 2020-21 school year was one marked by rapidly shifting school and safety guidelines, uncertainty, and compromise, with students experiencing virtual, in-person, and even hybrid learning during the year. But for the MMI In-Schools team, it was also a year spent carefully laying the groundwork for the future, remaining flexible, and pivoting when necessary to continue offering engaging learning experiences for young musicians. When the Covid-19 pandemic shut down schools in 2020, MMI began providing training for Fellows in ACEs (adverse childhood experiences)-informed approaches, a trauma-informed curriculum to help youth experiencing unprecedented challenges as a result of the ongoing pandemic. In the 2020-21 school year, MMI provided training for Fellows in the use of videography, social media, and virtual education platforms. 

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 with community partners. Through the PTP engagements, schools were connected with Hattiloo Theatre, Young Actors Guild, Stax Music Academy, and other organizations hosting virtual work for students.


Testimonials

The Student Perspective: 

"My MMI Fellow has played an instrumental role in my success in Band this year. [Fellow] offers a unique perspective and bountiful knowledge in the classroom, allowing me to constantly improve and add meaning to my music. Even in a virtual setting, [Fellow] takes his time to carefully identify ways to improve and praises one when there's success. I believe [Fellow] effectively embodies MMI's principles and goes above and beyond to improve the lives of [Fellow’s] students through music.”

From a Music Educator:

“Through working with [our Fellow] the students engaged in weekly lessons on Arts for Equality, experienced the songwriting process, and engaged in the Stax Academy Field trip resources. [The Fellow] also engaged with the students by means of sharing his experiences in music business and coached students vocally. He is also playing for the school’s in-person graduations, and aiding in the virtual performances.”

From a Fellow:

“The 2020-21 School year has been interesting...A lot of my students did not have access to equipment or instruments. To substitute, the students and I used practice pads and books a majority of the time...To give a sense of playing together, I had the students record videos and we would evaluate them as a group. The Liberation project allowed my students not only to express their feelings about present and past Inequalities, but also a chance to learn from one another in a new way outside of Music.”

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 ongoing Covid-19 pandemic. In Memphis, there simply aren’t adequate internship and apprenticeship opportunities for young people to gain professional skills and build their 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.

The 2021 summer program took place over the course of six weeks, with 28 student interns working at eight partner arts organizations across the city, and attending a full week of personal and professional development (PD) during a in-residence cabin retreat in Gatlinburg, TN. The PD sessions provide tailored curricula that help 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. 

During each PD session, participants weave together their creative disciplines to create vibrant and transformative art. They practice effective collaboration across creative genres and/or performance frameworks by completing their cross-collaboration project—this year our project was to create five original music videos. While planning for the music video, participants were invited to incorporate aspects of creative liberation into their final product. They collectively developed the music production, writing, directing, filmmaking/editing, and visuals alongside a “creative coach” for each video.

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. 

MMI Works Takes Gatlinburg

“Every journey begins with a single step.” –Maya Angelou

In 2021, the MMI Works team, like so many in the creative youth development space, was forced to reconsider the summer internship program as usual. In planning for the 2021 experience, the team considered many possibilities and one important question: What does it mean to be well, physically, mentally, and emotionally? One of the core tenets of the MMI Works program is social-emotional wellness, and it’s never been more important than it is right now. But for the 2021 program, the team sought to go beyond traditional practices, creating a “bubble” where participants could fully be in community with one another, to learn about themselves and each other away from their everyday surroundings. They settled on a weeklong mountain retreat in Gatlinburg, TN. By the end of the summer, interns got up-close and personal with a bear, hosted a talent show, hiked the mountains of Tennessee, and took over MMI’s Instagram account (with our blessing) to document their journey. They also developed five incredible, original music videos. 

During the retreat, interns brainstormed about what stories they wanted to tell in their videos, creating mood boards and drafting storyboards scene by scene. When they arrived back in Memphis, they spent the next two weeks producing their songs, writing lyrics, developing choreography, making countless edits, and shooting five wholly unique, high-quality music videos, covering topics ranging from lost love to growing up, from taking risks to finding yourself. Click here to watch the final videos!

It was a summer of firsts and never-befores. It was a summer none of us will forget.

 

 

What Students Are Saying:

“The creative liberation [curriculum] gave everyone a chance to be who they are without being judged.”

“Creative liberation comes in all forms…it is [every individual’s] own way of expressing themselves and their lives.“ 

“Collaborating with my peers was very exciting. As an introvert, I didn’t think I would bond individually with everyone the way that I did. Collaborating with my peers was really fun and gave me a chance to really know everyone.”

“I can see myself actually pursuing a career that involves working in a recording studio.”

"I learned how to be more social again. After being stuck in my home for a year it was amazing to be with like-minded peers. I benefited a lot from the retreat, and I learned how to live better mentally and make better achievable goals. I learned how to have fun again, really!”

 

Grantmaking & Capacity Building

The MMI Grantmaking and Capacity Building program invests in local arts and music nonprofit organizations through operational grant funding, technical assistance, and other supports to strengthen Memphis’ vibrant Black arts community. MMI aims to enhance the capacity of grassroots organizations to achieve sustainability, implement high-quality arts programs, and improve existing programs so that Memphis’ young people always have access to arts engagement opportunities. We also provide our partner organizations with information and strategies to help them secure funding and operational resources beyond those provided by MMI. Since the program’s inception, MMI has invested just over $2.3 million to nearly 30 music engagement nonprofits and programs impacting well over 15,000 youth. 

The local 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. Drawing on what we have learned from working with Black and brown leaders for the past five years, MMI’s Grantmaking and Capacity Building team is focused on providing a robust suite of wrap-around professional service and skill-building supports for leaders of grassroots, community-based arts and music nonprofits. We are leaning into new initiatives that address pay and capital funding inequities so that grantee partners can leverage cash grants for sustainability, rather than simply make up deficits due to past systemic underfunding.

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
Blues City Cultural Center
Harmonic South String Orchestra
Memphis Black Arts Alliance
Memphis Jazz Workshop
Raising the B.A.R. Memphis

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 supports 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

INSTITUTE FOR NONPROFIT EXCELLENCE

$219,500 granted to 5 organizations
1047 youth engaged
$547,063 new funds raised outside of MMI
200 program manager support hours

PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE

6,494 youth engaged
200 program manager support hours

CAPACITY BUILDING

$7,400 in monetary support to 3 organizations
$29,400 in in-kind professional service grants to 14 organizations
296 consultant hours total

SUMMER BEATS OVERVIEW

$19,000 grants to 3 organizations
Approximately 160 youth engaged

DEMOGRAPHICS

92% Black- or brown-led partner organizations
62% Partner organizations led by women

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

Our Partners: 
CazaTeatro Bilingual Theatre Group
Memphis Youth Arts Initiative
Memphis Youth Symphony Program
Perfecting Gifts, Inc.
Princeton James Project (The Cooler)
Successful, Inc. 
Young Actors Guild

As our grantmaking has evolved, we have become more aware of the challenges small nonprofits face as they grow to sustainability. While their programmatic offerings may be experiencing growth and acclaim, their donor base and revenue is not yet sufficient to sustain the administrative burden of running an organization. As a result, many small nonprofits with revenues under $500K rely on consultants to perform key financial, compliance, communications, and other “back office” functions. When revenues shrink suddenly, these contracts can produce a significant drag on the organization. The Covid-19 pandemic has only heightened these challenges.

Based on our experiences over the last four years, early results from the assessments and feedback from partners, we decided to expand our support for capacity building professional services. Where possible and feasible, workshops are incorporated as preparation for in depth work with consultants.

 

GM/CB partner highlights

While the pandemic has been difficult for organizations, some, like Memphis Jazz Workshop (MJW), have emerged with a revitalized mission. As MJW prepares for its fifth anniversary, the organization is working to regain ground lost to the pandemic. The organization has grown its Master Class series, started during the pandemic. Students are also returning to in-person instruction, following heightened safety procedures—Fall 2021 registration surpassed Fall 2020. MJW has also developed new school partnerships and is working to expand its work in schools. In addition to cultivating new funder relationships, MJW parents and board members implemented new fundraising events. As the organization continues to rebuild, the leadership is confident that it will be able to secure a location in the next two to three years. 

 

In 2021, Princeton James Project (PJP), launched as a 501c3 not-for-profit organization. Through its Summer Arts Enrichment Camps, weekend outreach activities, and other partnerships, PJP engaged approximately 120 Shelby County and Mississippi Delta youth in creative arts and career development experiences. PJP leverages the work and resources of Princeton James Productions, a limited liability corporation, to provide industry-quality training and networking for youth (ages 6-18)  in the areas of television, film, and theatre. The goal is to build talent within the region and then to leverage relationships and platforms so that young people can use their talent to access college, careers and more. Led by founding Executive Director, Princeton James Echols, young people learn all aspects of the entertainment industry (writing, photography, makeup, wardrobe, etc.) and gain transferable life skills. One middle school youth spent a portion of her first day at camp hiding in the restroom. By the last day, she had found her calling—directing, writing, and working behind the scenes. The film she supported (written, directed, and performed entirely by youth participants) premiered at Memphis' Malco MIdtown Theatre. It was one of the 12 youth events that PJProject hosted in 2021, reaching an audience of more than 1,200 people.

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.