Summer music engagements offer options for Memphis youth

This summer, high school musicians are getting early work experience through new fellowships and arts-based internships that offer the opportunity to work in arts institutions, earn supplemental income, develop professionally, and expand their social and professional networks.

On May 27 students attending Shelby County Schools sat through class for the last time this school year.

Three days prior to that the Metropolitan Policy Program at Brookings Institute issued a report ranking Memphis 98th of the 100 largest metropolitan areas in terms of disconnected youth age 16 to19 from 2012-2014. Over 5,000 youth in that age range were estimated to be "disconnected," a share of nearly eight percent.

Disconnected youth are defined as youth who are neither working nor in school, separating them from key educational and employment opportunities and making them statistically more likely to be affected by long spells of unemployment, poverty, criminal behavior, substance abuse, incarceration, and other negative outcomes.

“School is the primary activity for teens until high school graduation, but early work experiences (part-time and in the summer) can provide valuable opportunities for teens to learn new skills, gain experience, expand their networks, and develop positive relationships with adults,” the Brookings report read.

In response to these realities, there are new initiatives and programs in Memphis aiming to better the opportunities and options for youth during the summer season.

In mid-May the White House announced Memphis as one of 16 “Summer Impact Hub” cities to receive robust coordinated support from 16 federal agencies to expand and refine their summer jobs, learning, including exposure to local innovation and entrepreneurship opportunities, meals, and violence reduction programs.

As a part of the program, Memphis was paired with a federal “Summer Ambassador” whose task will be helping Memphis to meet locally-driven goals by leveraging existing federal resources, breaking down agency silos, and building new local and national partnerships.

And already on the ground on the local level, the Memphis Music Initiative added apprenticeships through its new MMIWorks summer employment program and has been working to bolster summer programming and camps for its partner organizations.

The 17 students hired to participate in MMIWorks started their assignment on June 1; most students going to MMI-affiliated summer camps began June 6.

MMIWorks is a summer youth employment opportunity that allows high schools students with a music performance background the opportunity to work in arts institutions previously unknown to them and learn the ins and outs. Students also get the chance to earn supplemental income, develop professionally, and expand their social and professional networks.

Through the MMI in-school musician fellowships, the initiative recruited students, targeting those in band or choir, and with at least a sophomore standing. Those students went through an application process and then an interview. Students selected represent high schools like Overton, Douglass, White Station, Melrose, Southwind and Ridgeway.

As part of the six-week program, the selected students will work 40 hour weeks; 32 hours of those weeks will be spent at the organization, the other eight will be spent in professional development training. While on the job, a student may learn about the industry via music production, concert management, or stage production.

In March MMI hired Brittney Boyd Bullock as Youth Program Manager. Bullock manages the MMIWorks program, and has both an arts administration and youth development background with prior stints at the UrbanArt Commission, Crosstown Arts, and Crosstown Concourse.

When asked what she hopes participants get from the program she said, “I hope students feel confident to define success for themselves. That they feel confident in leveraging relationships they build in the program for their next step.”

By helping to support, strengthen, create programming at existing organizations, MMI is also working to serve about 320 youth ages seven to 18 in a variety of camps in areas such as Downtown, East Memphis, and South Memphis.

Camps include Harmonic Strings, a youth orchestra camp providing instruction on string instruments from beginner to advanced students; Olivet Baptist Church sponsored Outpour Music Academy, which will provide provide percussion instruction, arts and crafts, and piano with the end goal of creating a music and dance production by the end of the summer; Memphis Black Arts Alliance, which will put on two stage productions at the end of the summer featuring music and dance; PRIZM Ensemble, a chamber orchestra that does several performances throughout the summer; Streets Ministries’ Music Factory, which will allow students to develop skills in areas like music production, songwriting, filmmaking, performance, and graphic design; and Visible Music Academy; which will include one and two day activities, such as a gospel camp, percussion, and saxophone camp with Kirk Whalum.

“We have youth development goals, and music is our tool,” said Darren Isom, MMI Executive Director.

Read more articles by Elle Perry.

A native of Memphis, Elle Perry serves as coordinator of the Teen Appeal, the Scripps Howard city-wide high school newspaper program. 
Signup for Email Alerts