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AFM Diversity Programs—Consolidating Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Accessibility

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.

The above statement has been a guiding principle for the AFM Diversity Committee since the inception of the Diversity Committee. However, since the COVID-19 pandemic and the murder of George Floyd, we have had to rethink what diversity truly means and how it is perceived in terms of the current events. The union and its local officers, regional conferences, and player conferences have been challenged with finding solutions to make sure all of our musicians are being hired and represented, in regards to inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA).

With this in mind, the Diversity Committee spent the past year creating a uniform guiding checklist for locals and conferences to use in organizing and creating diversity committees. We discovered that many people perceived diversity as referring to race alone, not realizing that diversity also includes gender, sexual orientation, culture, age, disabilities, and genres of music. The union believes that IDEA should be a daily topic of discussion for our locals and conference leadership, educating our members about the downside of passivity/inaction and how, over time, it can have a negative impact on organizing, union growth, and solidarity.  

Over the last few months, the Diversity Committee has made presentations at several regional conferences and participated in discussions with AFM locals, the Regional Orchestra Players Association (ROPA), and the Theatre Musicians Association (TMA), about setting up equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) committees.

The checklist includes suggestions for committee focus, goals, community investment, training/learning about us, administrative training, and project descriptions. We have a Diversity Committee Profile Sheet that we would like the committees to use and send to the Diversity Committee so that we will have a resource center for sharing information with each other. We hope to soon have a Diversity Committee button on the AFM website. It will link to a site where we can gather and share information from various diversity and EDI committees to help others looking for solutions and ideas for their local or conference.

After we created the checklist for locals and conferences, we realized that we needed to have a better understanding of what our union membership truly looks like. In the past, the Diversity Committee has done surveys, but they did not give us the information that we needed to address the concerns of all of our members. We decided it was time for a more comprehensive survey of union membership that would give us a better snapshot of the diversity within the union. We would like to thank the player conferences and locals that provided input to help us create a more inclusive survey.

Knowing more specific information about our union membership will enable us to design tools to address the concerns of IDEA in the union and to develop programs for the union, in accordance with AFM operations and AFL-CIO Civil and Women’s Rights Committee guidelines. Your participation in the survey will be crucial to helping us move forward in addressing your concerns. We realize that some of the questions may seem too personal, but the survey is not intended to offend anyone. The survey is about inclusion so it is important that we acknowledge every member of the union. It will be totally anonymous and confidential, and we will not ask for any identifying information. For questions about race, ethnicity, and gender, we have followed the new federal definitions of race and ethnicity categories.

Going forward, we, as a as a part of the labor movement, must be vigilant and proactive for the sake of our industry and our members. Last year showed us that racial injustice still exists in our communities, and how a few inappropriate phrases can spark the flames of intolerance. We will not wait for the next national crisis to compel us to act. Keep your eyes out for the forthcoming AFM Diversity Survey, we hope everyone will help us move forward with IDEA for the American Federation of Musicians.

A Brief History of the AFM Diversity Committee and Its Achievements

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.

The SphinxConnect Phenomenon: Leading with Intellect to Advance the Value of Inclusion

by Alfonso Pollard, AFM Legislative-Political Director and Diversity Director

For the past 20 years, the Sphinx Organization has played a quintessential role in moving the US, and in some instances the global cultural community, toward a more enlightened future that exudes cultural inclusion. The moral and philosophical underpinning of the artistic institution’s work proves that the payoff of inclusion far outweighs the “poison pill” of cultural exclusion. The achievements of this organization’s leadership, grounded in strong musical and philosophical reinforcement, prove to supporters and funders alike that diversity brightens the latent moral groundwork upon which classical performance can grow.

It’s clear the Sphinx Organization’s influence goes far beyond community values and the classical artist of color’s need for mere involvement. The SphinxConnect conference, held in Detroit, Michigan, in early February, brought together musicians, industry leaders, educators, funders, diversity advocates, and more.

In his opening remarks, Sphinx founder and director Aaron Dworkin took the more than 500 registered SphinxConnect participants through the matrix that formed the basis for his initial journey in founding the organization. Combining his philosophical framework with his multicultural background, he saw that his pathway to success, and the pathway for hundreds of other young minority artists, didn’t lay solely in the thirst for recognition of their abilities to perform successfully. He saw the need to shine a light into a dark tunnel fraught with twists and turns. In doing so, he knew there were likely obstructions, not yet evident, which he would confront in the unexplored passage into an uncertain future.

Recognized as an international speaker and social entrepreneur, Dworkin has now significantly, if not fully, executed his journey. He continues to rely on his faith that well-trained young artists, regardless of background, when given the right tools and motivation, can perpetually hold their own. By surrounding himself with strong, forceful advocates of his project and people trained to exact his high standards, Dworkin is able help committed young performers and institutions lift the talents and human spirit of young artists of all socio-economic backgrounds.

AFM representatives at the SphinxConnect conference included (L to R): AFM Legislative-Political and Diversity Director Alfonso Pollard, Diversity Committee Member and Local 5 (Detroit, MI) Secretary-Treasurer Susan Barna Ayoub, International Conference of Symphony and Opera Musicians (ICSOM) President Paul Austin, Symphonic Services Division Director Rochelle Skolnick, AFM IEB Member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi, and ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow.

With this philosophical foundation driving Dworkin’s efforts, the 2018 annual SphinxConnect gathering was clearly designed to give participants a measure of confidence in their performing and networking ability, as well as to act as a forum to express their inner most concerns about successfully navigating the symphony world. Dworkin lays out a tangible philosophical and artistic path toward a life-changing journey.

I represented the AFM at SphinxConnect, along with Director of Symphonic Services Rochelle Skolnick, ICSOM Chair Meredith Snow, ICSOM President Paul Austin, AFM IEB Member and Local 802 (New York City) President Tino Gagliardi, and AFM Diversity Committee Member and Local 5 (Detroit, MI) Secretary-Treasurer Susan Barna Ayoub. Skolnick also served as a panelist. There were many AFM members in attendance. The workshops and panels set the stage for enhanced skill building in performance and teaching, developing a clear artistic vision, building careers around adventuresome instrumental platforms, defining a musician’s mission in the community, understanding politics and policy in the arts, and entrepreneurship. The presentations reflected how artists should hold themselves accountable in the dynamic and constantly changing music environment. Last, but not least, participants learned the value of networking, and when necessary, how to speak truth to power.

From the 2018 attendance record, it was obvious that the Sphinx “phenomenon” has a steadfast following. Its participants look forward to attending every year. The event makes a profound statement about inclusion and the need to move the ball forward on symphonic career opportunities. From the point of view of this director, AFM 2018 SphinxConnect participants and representatives, and members of the AFM Diversity Committee, our organization is set to bring vital resources and advice to help make a positive difference.

bennie keys

My Musical Roots in the AFM

by Bennie Keys, AFM Diversity Committee Member and Vice President of Local 56 (Grand Rapids, MI)

bennie keysI am happy to write this article on behalf of the AFM Diversity Committee. I have been an AFM member since 1989. I feel proud to be a member of this organization. I was exposed to unionism early in life. My father was a proud member for more than 50 years. This is why I am so passionate about being a member. He made it very clear that the union was the best thing to belong to as a working musician. He and his friends were served well by the union. As black people, it was one of the first organizations that helped minorities achieve equality in the workplace.

Even as a child in 1960s, I understood the difficult circumstances we faced as a family. He would always say to me, “You should get a union contract with anyone who hires you; even if your mother wants to hire you, make sure you have a contract for your protection.” These words have proved to be solid time after time when I hired bands.

Now, let’s get down to some important things for everyone to learn. I have been a local officer and board member for more than 20 years. So, I want give some insight to younger people and anyone who might benefit from this information. When I first ran for office, I was mentored by an older member who took me under his wing to help me have a stronger voice for musicians. He felt that I could represent everyone.

Let me make this perfectly clear, I see every member as important. It is my goal to represent them and to give them the best service the union can offer. I have had the opportunity to serve the minority community in the Ann Arbor local and as a Diversity Committee member. Working with the minority community, especially young people, and promoting progress in the music business is often complicated.

I urge anyone who wants to help make a difference to go to local meetings and possibly run for office, if they feel inclined to do so. Then, you will be in a position to move the agenda forward for all of us. When I first began to serve on the local board, I had no idea what to do. At the time, people gave me a lot of opinions about the leadership. That made me overreact when getting my point across. This I found was not necessary. Everyone helped me and welcomed me with open arms. I have found that same love throughout the country.

I believe that the key to the union’s success, as AFM President Ray Hair often says, is unity. Members of the Diversity Committee are working toward solutions to improve and strengthen the bridge for all musicians to reach their potential in music, no matter the genre.

I want to thank Alfonso Pollard for sharing his column and Diversity Committee Chair Lovie Smith-Wright for this opportunity to share with all of you. In solidarity.