If you haven't already done so, please flip back to the Letters to the Editor in this issue of the Flyer and read the heartfelt message from Stax Music Academy student Mikaela Allen. She voices her concerns regarding program cuts at the academy due to the current economic crisis. (Full disclosure: I am the communications director for the Soulsville Foundation, which operates the academy, along with the Stax Museum of American Soul Music and the Soulsville Charter School.)
All of us who work at the Soulsville Foundation and have read Mikaela's letter are extremely proud of her for taking the step, on her own, of reaching out to the community via this newspaper and other media outlets for support. We are encouraged by her sense of ownership in the Stax Music Academy programs, her appreciation of them, and her desire to see them remain intact. This is what our mentoring effort is all about: working with high-school-aged youngsters to ensure they become responsible adults who respect themselves and others. Mikaela is well on her way (if not already there). We know that Mikaela has a bright future, and we are proud to take a little credit for playing a role in that.
Mikaela's concerns about Stax Music Academy programs being cut are valid, and those of us who oversee those programs are reeling at the loss as well. The uncomfortable reality is that we are indeed in an economic crisis like none I've seen in my lifetime, and we are being forced to reexamine the way our nonprofit organization functions. If the profit world is feeling the heat of the financial crunch, many in the nonprofit world are feeling a scorch. But our spirits are high, and we want Mikaela and all of the students at the Stax Music Academy to know that although we are tightening our belts, we have faith that we will prevail. This is a time for patience and faith under pressure. It's also time, perhaps, to view this as an opportunity to learn valuable life lessons about difficult situations. That is part of mentoring, and we have never run from that.
I was fortunate enough to have accompanied Mikaela and 14 other Stax Music Academy students on the Summer Soul Tour to which Mikaela refers in her letter, a concert tour and cultural exchange trip to Australia last summer. And yes, it was life-changing, not only for the students but also for the adults. In fact, it was sheer magic. For many of the students, it was their first time to fly, their first time to see the ocean, and definitely the first time to have tea with the United States ambassador to Australia! It was also an expensive per-student experience. And therein lies the problem.
The Stax Music Academy's mission is to mentor primarily at-risk young people through music education and performance opportunities. Within that mission is the idea that we should mentor as many young people as possible to make the greatest impact in the community. To that end, in this time of financial crisis, we are looking at creative — however difficult — ways to reallocate funding to help as many young people as we can with the resources we have.
Would we like to take another trip this summer to expose a group of teenagers to fantastic musical experiences and other cultures? Of course, we would. Would we want to do that at the expense of not being able to mentor additional young people who need and want what the academy has to offer? It's a tough question for all of us.
To Mikaela and the other students of the Stax Music Academy: Let's hang on tight to each other and make the best of things in these lean financial times. Let's continue to be thankful that the academy provides a nurturing, safe, and positive environment for lots of young people who might not have that otherwise.
On June 5th, we're traveling to Indianola, Mississippi, and you and the other students are going to open for B.B. King at the B.B. King Festival. Festival organizers are paying all of the expenses. I think that speaks volumes not only about the Stax Music Academy but also about the talented, dedicated young people who are carrying the legacy of Stax Records into the future. With the community's support, which we need now more than ever, we will prevail.
Tim Sampson is a former editor of the Flyer and often writes the Rant.