NAfME’s Transformation

Mackie V. Spradley • February 2024NAfME Neighborhood • February 19, 2024

Prior to 2018, the music education community often articulated the need for NAfME to address topics centering diversity, inclusion, access, and equity; however, none of the previous actions created an impetus toward “doing the work” to make equity a foundational principle of NAfME’s identity. As an organization, NAfME kept “kicking the can down the road.” In other words, the Association rarely reaped outcomes from discussions about equity. We engaged in dialogue—but with little follow through. 

Even with Vision 2020, NAfME leadership realized the association was still much in the same place as when the vision was authored. Little was done to promote or advance significant change. 

But, as we all know, 2020 brought with it unforeseen change. COVID-19 and a series of injustices revealed unheard of disparities and violent acts of dehumanization against hundreds of people. It was time to stop “talking about equity” and to start “being about equity.” That was a tall task to ask an organization with a history of 113 plus years of doing things the same way. 

NAfME’s equity journey was not an easy one. As with all equity work, it required a willingness to take on a personal and collective journey inward before the Association was able to actualize equity to any degree to impact change.

The journey started with very basic questions; however, the questions required a personal and collective community response. 

– Who are we? 

– What is our purpose?

– Why do we exist?

– What do we know about our history? 

– How has our history informed and shaped our existence as an association?

– What narrative do we most often use to conceptualize our identity as a music educator?

-How do we show up or present ourselves? 

It took NAfME over a year to answer these questions, which are the foundation of our strategic plan and equity work.

In discovering our why, we also found a path forward. It is important to note NAfME’s journey was not one in which anyone simply picked up the mantle and ran with it. It took effort. Lots of effort. It took commitment, patience, forgiveness, grace, courage, humility, and the willingness to be vulnerable. These were some of the experiences of NAfME members, the National Executive Board, and NAfME staff. What was unique about this process is everyone started their journey in different ways and from different perspectives. No one started from the same place. Everyone had varying degrees of knowledge and experience. However, central to the experience was the sense of building community through collaboration. Everyone had and continues to have a voice in this work. Each experience is different, which allows everyone to listen and learn from those with narratives and stories unlike their own. 

In 2021, NAfME’s journey led to the conceptualization of the association’s identity through three cornerstones—advocacy, professional learning, and music teacher education and music research, and one keystone, equity in music education. Over the year, a myriad of emotions and thoughts engulfed the NAfME membership, including fear, doubt, excitement, nervousness, and at times, intense dislike. However, I can speak with certainty that NAfME’s equity work continues to consider the concerns and voices of all its members. 

With the NAfME keystone in place, the association now has a lens through which to consider all matters regarding NAfME, including practices, policies, organizational and power structures, use of space, time, language, symbols, rituals, celebrations, and resources such as allocated funding, and staff time. 

To learn more about the conceptual framework for the 2022 NAfME Strategic Plan, please visit the NAfME website.

At present, the NAfME Equity Committee and Equity Leadership Institute are developing an Equity Resource Center slated for launch in the spring of 2024. 

The first phase of the Equity Resource Center includes articles from professional journals and resources, an overview of the Divisive Concepts Laws by state, personal stories centering equity, testimonies, definitions, and other references. 

For equity work to become an element of strength for the organization, the work must reflect the people and their voice. Equity work reflects all of us through ongoing dialogue and collaboration. You can do this work too! Start with the heart.

Anyone interested in learning about equity in music education is welcome to attend the Equity Leadership Institute meetings. These monthly meetings are open to anyone who desires to grow opportunities and expand equitable access to music education. Information about NAfME’s equity work can be found on the NAfME website.

Mackie V. Spradley is NAfME Immediate-Past President

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