What can a community music school do to make things better?

June 6, 2020

Dear Friends,

I have been thinking a lot lately about the role of our school at a time when our country has erupted in protest over the violence against black Americans. The question that keeps recurring to me is, “What can a community music school do to make things better?” I have shared a few of my answers below.  But I do so with humility because there is much more for me, and all of us, to learn and understand about our role in making the world better.

What can a community music school do to make things better?
We have a platform with which to communicate. One does not have to be overtly political to say that as an institution we are appalled by the senseless killing of George Floyd and we condemn the outrageous violence which has been exacted upon black people by the police for generations.

What can a community music school do to make things better?
We can let our community know that we are listening carefully. There are individuals among us who have regularly experienced racial bias in their interactions with law enforcement. The anxiety of their direct experience is something that we must hear and strive to understand. We can resoundingly affirm to them that black lives matter.

What can a community music school do to make things better?
We can educate our community about police brutality. These issues have been tragically common, named by many but rarely addressed adequately by people in power. A recent study noted that about 1 in 1,000 black men and boys in America can expect to die at the hands of the police. To put it another way, for black men and boys, the odds of being killed by the police are better than winning a prize on a scratch-off lottery ticket.

These problems are deeply rooted in American culture. Hundreds of years of oppression and economic injustice for black Americans has created a crisis for every American.  Society’s response has been to treat the discontent of black Americans as a criminal justice issue. It may be partly that, but it is more so a problem of inadequate education, economic disinvestment, and a severely tilted playing field in matters of employment, health care, home ownership, political power, and countless other areas.

What can a community music school do to make things better?
We can become more proactive in our corner of the world. The Music Institute of Chicago was founded in 1931 and in the coming year we will honor our history and plan an exciting future for our school. We can be aware of our privilege and acknowledge that our future must include a commitment to attracting people of color to serve as Trustees, to employing people of color across our staff and faculty, and enthusiastically expanding our embrace of music by black composers.

What can a community music school do to make things better?
Perhaps most importantly considering our mission, we can teach our students well and inspire them to love the art of music and respect its power as a means of communication.  This includes reaching out to students in neighborhoods we do not currently serve. Music and musicians have always played a role in advancing issues of social justice and civil rights. We can encourage our students to use their music to express concern, provide comfort and inspire change.

What can a community music school do to make things better?
This is an open question and I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the answers >>