Memphis nonprofits partner with national foundation to provide musical instruments for area youth

Music is an essential part of the fabric of the Bluff City, but many students cannot afford the instruments that they need to develop their craft. Three nonprofits have partnered to address the issue.

Successful Inc. is a local philanthropic organization dedicated to providing musical instruments to students in-need, and organizations promoting education and the arts. It also works to establish trusted networks of music teachers, parents, educators, and other organizations.

Since its founding, Successful Inc. has been getting support from Memphis Music Initative, another local nonprofit which supports music organizations through grantmaking, capacity building, in-school programs, and paid summer programs for youth.

In early 2021, Save the Music Foundation, a national nonprofit which provides grants for local music programs and supports music teachers, joined forces with Successful, Inc. and MMI to help even more of the deserving students.

Since this partnership started, they have helped numerous students with even more in store.

Here’s How It Works

“We have kids that can't afford musical instruments, and some of their programs can’t afford to provide them,” says Erskin Mitchell, founder of Successful Inc. “You need a three-headed monster. You need collective effort to tackle these challenges.”

As part of their role in the partnership, Successful Inc. advocates for local music programs and delivers instruments.

Erskin Mitchell, founder of Successful Inc. (Photo: Successful Inc.)“What we try to do is build relationships with the band directors so that when there's a need, we can have a good line of communication and figure out how to help,” says Mitchell. “The band directors and music teachers know best, so we don't train or instruct, musically. But we advocate for band directors and music teachers and we provide them with instruments if they don't have them.”

As it does for organizations across Memphis, Memphis Music Initiative (MMI) supports Successful Inc. with capacity building, administrative support, and relationship building.

“When you start a nonprofit you discover a lot things that you did not anticipate,” says Mitchell. “With MMI, you have a great nucleus of people who can provide training for you, your organization, and even your board.”

Save the Music Foundation provides grants and instruments to further this work. 

“I have been involved with the Shelby County Schools for almost 15 years,” says Jaclyn Rudderow, Senior Director of School Programs for Save The Music Foundation. “In around January of 2021, I was looking for ways to include Memphis in our latest efforts in the Mississippi Delta, and Dru Davison told me that I had to meet Erskine Mitchell.”

Success to Date 

Already, this partnership has helped Sucessful Inc. establish relationships with several local high schools and middle schools including Melrose High School, Cordova High School, Overton High School, and Bellevue Middle School. The nonprofit is also in talks with Power Academy and Jeter Middle School.

In total, there have been around $20,000 in instruments provided to local students. The partnership has also provided nearly 700 instrument bell covers, which are instrument “masks” made of durable, machine-washable fabric designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to local programs. 

Now the three organizations are looking to build on their success and help even more students.

“We're going to be engaging and supporting music programs in Shelby County Schools, Memphis-Shelby County Schools moving hopefully, starting in the fall of 2022 and engaging Memphis Music Initiative in that work,” says Rudderow. “And with Erskin (Mitchell) on the ground, it’'s sort of that collective impact focus where we all are contributing to one aligned mission: giving students everything they need to be successful.”

Mitchell is equally as excited.

“We're a finely-tuned machine if you ask me, and we're only gonna get better.”
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Read more articles by Chris Jones.

Chris Jones is an attorney, community and non-profit strategist, and freelance writer.  Originally from Starkville, Mississippi, Chris has lived in Memphis for over 25 years.  In his spare time, he loves traveling, learning about history and society, and playing the guitar.