By Mackie V. Spradley, NAfME National President 2020-2022

This article first appeared in the June 2022 issue of Music Educators Journal.

I feel certain that every NAfME president approaches their years of service with sheer excitement, a bit of anxiousness, and a long list of things they want to accomplish while in office. We take months to prepare by having conversations with members, thought partners, leadership, and staff, along with studying current status reports on the health of the association, data, research, educational trends, implemented and pending federal legislation, and so forth. Last but not least, we conduct a self-assessment. Do I have what it takes to do this? We consider our knowledge, skills, background experiences, personalities, leadership and management skills, and so much more. In the end, it’s a bit like—ready or not, the job starts today!

My presidency encountered endless unknowns. Although I wanted to have face-to-face meetings, that was not my reality. The high tides altered my reality. I had no idea that this would actually benefit our Association in a number of ways. The circumstances required that we share resources, significantly increase our level of collaboration, and foster a stronger community. The National Executive Board (NEB) assumed a more active role, which transformed us. Just thinking about how our ways of thinking and being so quickly changed still gives me chills and causes my eyes to tear up. It was one of those moments that I will never forget! But this was just the beginning.

Early on, we talked a great deal about difference and diversity. Simply put, our greatest human needs are to be seen and heard; to be recognized, appreciated, and valued; and to feel like we belong. Not many of us feel good about serving or remaining in places where our basic human needs aren’t being met. Not only does this drain you, but it also kills creativity. One of my favorite quotes by Maya Angelou says,

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said,

people will forget what you did,

but people will never forget how you made them feel.

To move forward, we (NAfME) had to better understand our past. The past decisions of the Music Educators National Conference (MENC) and the implications of those decisions on NAfME had to be placed front and center. The purpose was not to shame any person or group of persons but to highlight the fact that our system in many ways still reflects the laws, social behaviors, practices, beliefs, and attitudes of those times. Many were unaware of our history and unaware that NAfME had and continues to have the reputation of being a “white” organization. To learn more, please visit the National Association for the Study and Performance of African American Music (NASPAAM) website and explore the beginnings of NASPAAM and the National Black Music Caucus.

As such, my presidency began with an exploration of our history then, an honest assessment of our systems, policies, and procedures that continued to solidify racial barriers within our Association. I understand that everyone did not agree with this approach; however, to be true to “advancing music for all students,” we needed to become the Association that we claimed to be.

Our lip service was shallow and disingenuous. My efforts reflected those outlined in the Vision 2020: The Housewright Symposium on the Future of Music Education and the Cook Ross Study. It was time to stop talking about it and time to start being about it. As the largest nonprofit national music education association advocating access to music for all students, change was necessary. Systemic change would not appear overnight but would be a slow process. Our work would take time and would need to be done intentionally, honestly, and with authenticity, humility, profound courage, and amazing grace.

Here are some of the systemic changes we accomplished during my presidency:

  • NAfME Equity Committee: In the fall of 2020, we established a NAfME Equity Committee that focused on every aspect of the Association. The Equity Committee worked in collaboration with the NEB to implement high-impact changes to advance music education for all students and to help us become a national association that is representative of the students in our schools.
  • Professional Learning and Growth: Another monumental change was reframing the leadership structure for professional learning and growth (also known as professional development). Elevating Tri-Chairs, including Societies and Councils, members focused on equity, and staff, we saw our vision of how to support teachers shift in its scope and impact. This collaborative work continues to lead the way toward providing educational opportunities for our teachers. More is to come in this area!
  • Evaluating Policies: During my presidency, we critically evaluated and analyzed how our policies and practices posed barriers to participation, especially in the areas of state and national leadership, professional learning, and student programs. Much more is yet to be done in this area.

Here are some of the new practices embraced during my presidency:

  • Town Halls—To learn more about the varied needs and interests of states, teachers, and students, I launched a series of open Town Halls, in which we engaged people from all around the United States in dialogue about barriers to access within NAfME—including access to NAfME leadership. Town Halls have become an effective practice.
  • Virtual Division Meetings—Due to COVID-19, the entire National Executive Committee attended each Division meeting virtually. We used the time to meet the leaders and to listen and learn about the concerns of and work within the states. This was one of the highlights of my presidency. I’m hopeful that this practice continues.
  • MEA Equity Leadership—Over half of our State Music Education Associations (MEAs) have established a committee structure through which to advance equity in music education.
  • Equity Leadership Institute—The Equity Leadership Institute (ELI) was established, which is open to all leadership, especially to those individuals leading or interested in leading the work in our state MEAs.

I am most proud of the passage the NAfME Equity Bylaw Amendments, which created a Standing Equity Committee, added two Equity-Committee-nominated appointments to the NEB, and gave a voice to Division Presidents-Elect. I understand that everyone did not vote in favor of this bylaw change, but it is my hope that we continue discussing ways to advocate for all students with the understanding that there are wide disparities between schools, districts, states, families, teachers, and students.

I will forever be exceptionally grateful for the opportunity to have been your president.

Music changes hearts and minds.

Music has exponential power to heal.

Our future should not replicate our past.

All of us play a part in our future.

There is greatness in NAfME because I am NAfME, you are NAfME, we are NAfME!

Believe! Nothing is impossible if we believe!

As we continue to create spaces for healing and reconciliation, join us in recognizing NASPAAM for their 50th-year celebration during our National Assembly and our National Conference this November.

April 2024 Teaching Music


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April 2024 Teaching Music
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