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Home » Diversity Report » A Brief History of the AFM Diversity Committee and Its Achievements

A Brief History of the AFM Diversity Committee and Its Achievements

  -  AFM Diversity Committee Chair and Member of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX)

As I began to ponder what my article on diversity would be for this month, the history of the AFM Diversity Committee came to mind. In 1996, President Steve Young appointed the Diversity Council. The steering committee at that time was: Alfonso Pollard (AFM staff), Deacon John Moore of Local 174-496 (New Orleans, LA), Tammy Kirk of Local 94 (Tulsa, OK), Bennie Keys of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI), Debbie Dansby Wells of Local 389 (Orlando, FL), Pat Majors of Local 82-545 (Beaver Falls, PA), John McCutcheon of Local 1000 (Nongeographic), Michael Muñiz (AFM staff), and Stanton Davis (AFM staff). Their mission was to “increase membership, service musicians, and raise the level of participation through affirmative means.” This would be accomplished by educational outreach, recruitment, officer training, and increased leadership opportunities at all levels. “We aspire to these goals by including all musicians while focusing on minorities, women, and youth.”

The steering committee held a two-day retreat at Communications Workers of America Headquarters in Washington, DC, where several representatives of other trade unions met with them as a resource for this newly formed Diversity Council. Representatives from the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance, A. Phillip Randolph Institute, Pride@Work, AFL-CIO Civil Rights Department, AFL-CIO Department for Professional Employees, as well as the NAACP, the Labor Heritage Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts shared their insights. Each organization pledged to work with the AFM on a continuing basis, and the committee promised to encourage mutual involvement on the national, regional, and local levels.

In 2001, AFM President Tom Lee appointed a new Diversity Council, chaired by Otis Ducker, of Local 161-710 (Washington, DC). The Diversity Council met for two days with discussions from Communications Workers of America, National Education Specialist, and the AFL-CIO deputy director of civil and human rights. The committee members were: Sahid Fawaz, AFM presidential assistant; Madelyn Roberts, president, Local 586 (Phoenix, AZ); William Marszalek, secretary, Local 60-471 (Pittsburgh, PA); Charles Walton, AFM delegate, Local 10-208 (Chicago, IL); Chair Otis Ducker, AFM delegate, Local 161-710 (Washington, DC); Ginger Shults, vice president, Local 433 (Austin, TX); Michael Muñiz, AFM director of Latin Organizing & Education; Tina Morrison, president, Local 105 (Spokane, WA); Charles McDaniel, secretary, Local 15-286 (Toledo, OH) and Phil Bowler, president, Local 52-626 (Norwalk, CT).

In 2003, at the 95th AFM Convention, the Diversity Council was given official status as a standing committee and was renamed the AFM Diversity Committee, which meant it would have the authority and privileges of other AFM standing committees. Three committee members were added to the Diversity Committee: John Alphonse, president, Local 571 (Halifax, NS); myself, then-president of Local 65-699 (Houston, TX); and Michelle Jones, youth subcommittee chair, Local 389 (Orlando, FL).

In 2004, the Diversity Committee took the mission statement established by the 2001 Diversity Council and updated it to the current mission statement for the Diversity Committee:

“Our mission is to reflect the diversity of our musical community and further the goal of the AFM to recognize and celebrate the diverse nature of our organization. With the assistance of our International Executive Board, we seek ways to better represent and increase membership by raising the level of participation by all, through affirmative means. This can only be accomplished by organizational educational outreach, recruitment, officer training, and increased leadership opportunities at all levels. The American Federation of Musicians of the United States and Canada is committed to creating an inclusive environment where diversity will be valued and celebrated; where members, leaders, rank and file, and staff are inspired to contribute to the growth of the Federation. We envision our organization as one where the leadership reflects and affirms the diversity of our membership.”

So, what have we accomplished?

The inaugural AFM Leadership Program was held at the George Meany Center in 2000 and the second was held in 2001. In 2003, the AFM Leadership Program was held at AFM headquarters. The first advanced officer training seminar, sponsored by the AFM Education Committee, was held in St. Louis; this was presented by Damone Richardson of Cornell University.

In 2001, the Diversity Council presented the Digital Conference in the Desert, which focused on youth and technology in the digital age.

The AFM Diversity Awards were created in 2005 to recognize outstanding examples of diversity in the Federation. They were based on the idea that “For every action there is a reaction, which over time becomes our history.” Starting with the 2005 convention, local officers have been encouraged to submit applications for the diversity awards as a means of inclusion and recognizing members of their respective locals.

Las Vegas Live 2019, a project initiated by the Diversity Committee, was a live music performance opportunity for Las Vegas rock, jazz, country, folk, and R&B instrumental artists. The goal was to develop a project that could be used by any local to recruit new members, showcase the various genres of music within their local, and present workshops to educate musicians on the value of being a member of the AFM.

I was the first African-American female to be elected as president of an AFM local in 2003. John Acosta, Tina Morrison, and Terryl Jares bring diversity to the current membership of the International Executive Board (IEB). Over the last 15 years, we have seen more local boards reflect the diversity of their memberships. Our player conferences—ICSOM, ROPA, TMA, RMA, and OCSOM—are now discussing concerns over DEI (Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion) in our various orchestras.

Even though we still have work to do, I wanted share how the AFM has been addressing DEI. Even though we come from all walks of life, we are all musicians, wanting better working conditions, better wages, more benefits, and, most of all, to be accepted as who we are.

The AFM Diversity Committee is presently pulling together and organizing all respective diversity committees across the country. For us to work together as a group in building collective union strength, we have developed a one-page committee profile and a checklist for starting a diversity committee so that our efforts will become more unified. 

Let’s work together to find solutions to help everyone achieve their goals and aspirations as musicians, teachers, composers, singers, or whatever is your special gift. Diversity is already a part of who we are as a union, and God created us to be a blessing to those around us. Accepting our differences will help us to be more inclusive and equitable towards one another.

The AFM Diversity Committee at the 2019 AFM Convention, from left: John Acosta, Deacon John Moore, Tina Morrison, Bennie Keys, Beth Zare, Keith Nelson, Madelyn Roberts, Lovie Smith-Wright, and Alfonso Pollard. Not pictured: Doug Robinson.