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Press release, April 18, 2023 -- Memphis Music Initiative (MMI), a leading creative youth development organization that invests in Black and brown youth through music and the arts, is honored to announce that it has received the 2023 Institutional Award from ABFE: A Philanthropic Partnership for Black Communities. The award recognizes organizations modeling effective, responsive grantmaking practices as a means for social change in Black communities.

MMI received the Institutional Award at last week’s James A. Joseph Lecture and Awards ceremony, which takes place during ABFE’s Harambee event, the largest annual convening of Black philanthropic professionals in the US.

“This is what it looks like to give Black women the resources they need to coalesce power in the South,” said MMI Executive Director Amber Hamiltlon in her acceptance speech. “We are the wealth we’ve been looking for; we have the answers for change. Our vision is to invest in Black-led work, for us, by us. Nothing is impossible, especially with Black women at the helm.”

Acknowledging the long-standing commitment of MMI staff in this effort, Hamilton continued: “This win would not have been possible without the groundbreaking work of ABFE Fellow [and MMI Director of Grantmaking and Partnerships], Dr. Rychetta Watkins, who dug into that delta mud and built our successes day by day, relationship by relationship, and the thorough and brilliant capacity building and support of [MMI Institute for Nonprofit Development Program Manager] Brianna Harrington.”

MMI received this award for its transformative grantmaking and capacity building work supporting Black- and brown-led and -serving youth arts organizations in the Memphis area through operational grant funding, technical assistance, and other supports. In 2022, thanks to a donation from philanthropist MacKenzie Scott, MMI poured financial resources into its Call & Response campaign seeding power and institution building via three core initiatives: 

  • Black Pay Matters: MMI created a funding pool of $400,000 to support 13 nonprofit leaders with restricted grants to meet the median Memphis metro area income. 

  • Black Legacy Matters: MMI invested in capital campaigns and infrastructure building (ranging from $70,000 to $200,000) for three local Black- and brown-led arts organizations. 

  • Black Rest Matters: MMI organized a wellness retreat for nine Black and brown creative youth development leaders.

“The Memphis Music Initiative is a great example of what transformative and responsive leadership looks like at an institutional grantmaking level. The Memphis Music Initiative continues to illustrate how grantmakers can meet the unique needs of Black communities, when you have thoughtfulness and innovation at the forefront,” said ABFE President and CEO Susan Taylor Batten in a press release. “Preserving the arts is critical to maintaining the creativity and legacy of our people.”


ABFE is a membership-based philanthropic organization that advocates for responsive and transformative investments in Black communities. Established in 1971 as the Association of Black Foundation Executives, the organization was credited with many of philanthropy’s early gains in diversity. It has since evolved into an influential network.