The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) is focusing on diversity after former CEO Michael Butera’s alleged comments provoked outrage and led to his leaving the organization.
At a meeting of the heads of national arts organizations in April, multiple attendees reported that Butera said he would be unable to increase diversity on NAfME’s all-white elected national executive board, that “blacks and Latinos lack the keyboard skills needed for this field,” and he believed music theory was too difficult for those racial groups. When blog posts surfaced describing the incident, NAfME issued a statement that they would investigate and later announced that Butera and NAfME had decided to part ways, with Michael Blakeslee promoted to fill the vacancy.
When reached for comment, Butera said his parting agreement with NAfME meant he could only say, “I wish them the very best of luck to all of them and all music educators across the country.”
Regarding the incident, now-CEO Blakeslee says, “I wasn’t there, so I can’t really comment on that. We understand that this is an incredibly important issue, and we’re turning that incident into a way to have some real conversations and action on this. We fully believe in diversity inclusion, equity, and I think we’re going to come out stronger as an association.”
NAfME and Blakeslee have formed a committee task force to investigate the issue of diversity on the board and among the elected state delegates. They hope to offer mentoring and assistance to new candidates.
“[We want] music educators of all backgrounds and in all ZIP codes to feel welcome to be a part of the leadership of our organization,” Blakeslee says. “I think that it’s not something that’s going to create a solution overnight, but I hope we can make a structural change in the field as a whole and to our organization.”
According to Blakeslee, NAfME will also work to make sure that its programs and services continue to benefit a diverse array of students, especially by increasing their work in underserved communities.
“Our service should be to all kids because the shorthand for our mission is, “Music for all,” and there are ZIP codes in this country that sometimes service minority students in particular where we don’t have a very strong presence,” Blakeslee says. “So I think we need to do some outreach to try and help all kids in America get the benefits of music education.”
NAfME also recently co-sponsored the Committee for Education Funding’s Presidential Forum where famed journalist Candy Crowley moderated a discussion featuring representatives from the campaigns of Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders. Donald Trump’s campaign was invited but did not attend.
Although music education was not specifically discussed, the federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) now includes music as an official part of a well-rounded education. “It was a good discussion; both of those candidates are quite supportive of education,” Blakeslee says. “The candidates were by and large quite favorable to the idea that’s very important to us.”
While NAfME does not officially endorse any candidate, Blakeslee encourages supporters of music education to get involved in their local politics and school boards and to look for candidates that support a well-rounded education for all students. For more suggestions on how to get involved, visit the Take Action section of nafme.org for a guide to “Everything ESSA.”