I'm going to tell it like it is. I hope you can take it like it is.
—El Hajj Malik El-Shabazz/Malcolm X
One year ago today, MMI launched Call & Response: The Sound of a Black Arts Revolution. The campaign is just that—a call to funders in the creative youth development nonprofit space to do better by the Black and brown leaders who give so much of themselves to their communities, and the young people they serve. And it's been quite a year! Read on to learn about the three core campaign initiatives, and how we've been working to transform the way Black creative youth development is centered and funded. Click here to download the full manifesto.
Black Pay Matters.
Last year, MMI created a Black Pay Matters funding pool, supporting 13 nonprofit leaders with restricted grants (that they can only use to pay themselves) to meet a baseline salary of $41,128 (the median Memphis metro area income for a single adult, per the U.S. Census Bureau), for a total investment from MMI of over $400,000. MMI intends to grow its resources in this area, to both provide this critical gap funding, and to continue to assist executive directors and boards in identifying and gaining resources to fully cover the costs of their operations, including equitable salaries for staff.
Black Legacy Matters.
We've made large investments in capital campaigns and infrastructure building (ranging from $70,000 to $200,000) for three local Black- and brown-led arts organizations—Young Actors Guild and two other organizations to be announced soon. We're also helping to identify new funding at the city, state, and national level to help organizations build the kind of stability they deserve. Stay tuned for more on this!
Black Rest Matters.
In August MMI organized a retreat for Black and brown creative youth development leaders, to thank them for their extraordinary hard work and ensure they feel seen and valued. MMI's Grantmaking & Capacity Building team invited nine arts leaders at eight grantee organizations for a three-day wellness retreat to encourage true rest and relaxation.
MMI also contracted the services of Jackie O, holistic wellness coach, to lead various exercises in self care including light yoga, meditation, breathwork, and a sound bath. It was a beautiful weekend full of love and community—and a much-needed break. Arts organization leaders give so much of themselves to their communities, and MMI was delighted to facilitate some space for those leaders to pause and to breathe. A few kind words from attendees below!
Affirming and Amplifying Youth Voice and Power
MMI remains focused on providing high quality music instruction and music engagement through our In-Schools and MMI Works direct service programs, using a curriculum centering creative expression and creative liberation. We aim to create spaces for Memphis' young people to realize their hopes and aspirations for themselves and for their city—and we're using new investments to sustain and expand our programming.
For our In-Schools program, we have deepened our work around creative liberation (read about our HBCU student auditions here) using anti-adultism practices by expanding our music fellowship program to include graduate music education students from local universities.
For our MMI Works program, we have acknowledged that our young adults need support and resources beyond our core programming years of ages 16-18. We officially launched our brand-new MMI Works Alumni Program in the fall of 2022, so that young people can continue to lean on us for support, grow their ideas and networks, pursue their passions, and learn how to make their dreams a reality. And in December, we held our first ever Alumni Program Pitch Fest, at which 12 former MMI Works interns presented inspired and creative entrepreneurial pitches to a panel of judges for seed money (click here to read more).
When we speak we are afraid our words will not be heard nor welcomed, but when we are silent we are still afraid, so it is better to speak.
Soundtrack to a Revolution
Music and the arts are powerful tools for revolution. Memphians come from a long line of artists and thinkers who penned soundtracks for social change, created art that changed the way people see themselves and each other, and fought for collective liberation through art and activism. So you know we had to make a playlist! Take a few minutes to enjoy some Memphis music, compiled by MMI Fellows Coaches Victor Sawyer and Mike Mosby.
Call & Response Episode One: This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things
In March we released episode one of our Call & Response web series, and the response was incredible! Thank you to everyone who worked on this project (shoutout to Princeton James and co.) and everyone who watched and shared the video. If you haven't seen it yet, you can check it out below.
We can't wait to drop episode two next month. Be sure to follow MMI on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube to catch the next one as soon as it's live!
The 2015 documentary film "The Invaders" is now available to stream online (Google Play, Vudu, and Apple TV). The film tells the story of a group of young Black activists—namechecked in our manifesto—in late 1960s Memphis. From the press release: "'The Invaders' follows the rise and fall of a militant Black power group based in Memphis, Tennessee in the late 1960s, from its creation to their final negotiations with Martin Luther King Jr. minutes before his assassination. The film touches on themes of race, government surveillance and economic injustice." Read more here.
What Is the Blackest Thing We Can Do In This Situation?
That's the question guiding everything we do. And our answer is this: We will use all of our influence, voice, and dollars to seed power and institution building, creative liberation, and organizing and mobilizing through advocacy. We will be twice as dogged as the vestiges of white supremacy operating in systems of oppression in this, Memphis, our city. We remain serious about our mission, but we will operate with love and joy as our guide. And we will be a mirror, a milepost, and a microphone for our young people, highlighting who they really are, showing them the history that has informed the conditions that brought them here, and preparing and encouraging them to fight with vigor for the lives and city they want to see.
Call & Response is the beginning of a Black arts revolution, but it doesn’t stop here. Your help amplifying this message is key in building momentum for change. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org to connect, learn more about our work, and find out how you can join the revolution.
No matter where I go, I'm still Memphis.
—Young Dolph, Real Life