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Why We Need Nonprofits

By Nylah Bradshaw

My life has always been divided in two: music and science. 

I’ve been a musician since I was six years old, learning clarinet, flute, trumpet, and violin over the many years. I was also involved in musical theater and dance as well, both in and out of school. I’ve continued to prioritize music as a college student by taking voice lessons, learning piano, and writing in my free time. 

Science was just as influential to my childhood. Growing up, I consistently took advanced classes and was challenged with independent projects instead of the core curriculum. I was a mathlete for seven years, staying after school to learn new concepts and competing against students across my state. Now, I am a neuroscience major at Temple University and was recently hired as a tutor for STEM classes this fall as an incoming senior. 
So, it is likely no surprise to you that my work experience thus far reflects my two different worlds. In addition to serving as the Programming Intern for Maestra this (and last) summer, I also work for a science museum in my hometown called Discovery World.

Through my involvement this summer, I’ve been able to observe the impact nonprofit organizations have on the communities they serve as effective catalysts for social change. In addition to the incredible work done by both Maestra and Discovery World, the overlap in their missions and values has enabled me to give back to the communities that shaped me while keeping a hand in both of my passions. 

Despite the differing industries, both nonprofit organizations prioritize community engagement, creating equity, and amplifying the visibility and voices of historically- excluded groups.

Community engagement

One positive result of nonprofit work is community engagement. Bringing people together benefits not only each individual, but the organization as a whole. In addition to the overt perk of meeting new people, community engagement also works on a deep level to break down separations between social groups and create more diversity in historically-undiverse fields.

In science, encouraging participation from the neighborhood is important because it motivates the general public to get educated about the world around them. One way Discovery World is able to bring people together is through events like the The Milwaukee Makers Market: a chance for independent vendors to gather and sell their products, which are often homemade, sustainable, and eco-friendly. Not only does this build relationships between the vendors and the general public, but it still prioritizes science and the health of the environment. 

I attended my first Makers Market this year, and it was incredible to see and support so many local artisans. One of the businesses I bought from was Kale + Honey, which sold (amongst other products) handmade femme-themed pins with uplifting, timely messages like “My body, my choice” and “Mind your own uterus.” Seeing everyone together, connecting over their shared interests, and supporting local business owners (especially in these unprecedented times) was a memorable and encouraging experience. 

As a musician, community engagement is just as crucial due to the collaborative nature of our work. One of the biggest ways Maestra prioritizes community engagement is through our Regional and Affinity Groups, as well as through our volunteer-based committees. Maestra has 16 groups which serve to connect people based on geography, demographics, or musical expertise. Being a part of a few of them myself, I’ve especially appreciated learning about the resources and opportunities taking place in the Midwest, where I hope to return after college. 

It has also been inspiring to see all the incredible works done by Maestra members. As the Programming Intern for Maestra, I’ve been able to watch members find friends and future collaborators in our groups. In July, the Maestra Nashville group, for example, hosted their own in-person meetup, and in June, there was a Maestra Picnic in Central Park! These supportive networks are so important, especially for underrepresented people in the music-making space.

Instances like these prove community engagement is critical for enacting social change, as activism requires all hands on deck. It is through the connections we form with each other that we will be able to dismantle the systems keeping us down. 

If you aren’t already a part of any Regional and/or Affinity Groups, click here to find one that fits you! And if you’re in the Milwaukee area, check out an upcoming Maker’s Market.

Creating equity

Another commonality I’ve noticed between Maestra and Discovery World is the prioritization of equity demonstrated through dedicated provision of resources to underrepresented communities. In white, male-dominated fields where one of the greatest exclusionary forces at work is a lack of access to education and experiences, this work is essential to leveling the playing field.

Discovery World does this by hosting weekly summer camps from June to August to simultaneously provide childcare for working parents during the summer months and encourage children to keep up with their academics in an engaging way. These camps teach topics such as biology, chemistry, robotics, and anatomy. They even have a camp teaching musicology that allows kids to create their own instrument, learn about sound vibrations, and explore DW’s Les Paul’s House of Sound exhibit. 

Arguably the most important aspect of these summer camps is that Discovery World offers scholarships to allow kids to attend for free. This enables more young minds to have access to this science education that would otherwise have provided unequal academic opportunities. Having had the pleasure of working with the summer campers myself and seeing the incredible creations they’ve engineered, I can attest to how enriching this experience is for them. 

One of the ways Maestra promotes equity is by offering Virtual Technical Workshops taught by industry professionals throughout the year without a cost barrier to attending online. As a college student studying music outside of my degree, these workshops have been invaluable to me and have offered me insightful information that previously felt inaccessible. I still have the notes from the first workshop I ever watched (Self-Educating and Skill-Building From Home with Mary-Mitchell Campbell) on my iPad! 

Additionally, Maestra’s mentorship program creates connections between a diverse group of women and nonbinary mentors and mentees through one-on-one pairings that meet over the course of six months. This, again, emphasizes the impact education, guidance, and support networks have on a musician’s career, especially in early stages. 

It is impossible to level the playing field if all groups don’t have the ability to participate in career-defining opportunities. The reach of these programs and the opportunities they provide can help bridge the gap between the inequalities created by the systems in science and music fields, as well as our society at large. 

Building visibility and voice

Lastly, nonprofit organizations have the opportunity to amplify the visibility and voices of those from marginalized backgrounds. This holds an important role in social change as it allows individuals to speak out about their experiences and be a part of the change they wish to see in the world. 

Holding space for these historically-excluded groups ensures the system that created these inequalities will be held accountable for dismantling oppressive frameworks to create more positive power balances. Prioritizing the ability for people to be seen in industries they have been left out of in the past is a way of creating equity as well. 

An example of this can be seen in Discovery World’s Heroes of Science exhibit, which highlights scientists from diverse backgrounds who persevered against racism, misogyny, and homophobia to make incredible strides in the scientific field. For example, Claudia Alexander was a planetary scientist who was instrumental in the Galileo mission to Jupiter and mentored young Black girls in her free time. Additionally, Discovery World hosted a PRIDE in STEM event at the end of June which allowed guests to learn about the scientific achievements of LGBTQ+ scientists and test out their experiments. It is especially heartwarming to see younger kids experience these exhibits and learn about scientists that look like them that may have been overlooked in the past! 

One of the ways Maestra works to build visibility in the music making space is through our Directory which helps women and nonbinary people be found for job opportunities, and recently reached 1500 members! A crucial aspect of social change is ensuring that people from historically-excluded groups can be found, so that no one can say they tried to hire a woman or nonbinary person and “couldn’t find anyone.” Taking up more space is necessary to correct the inequalities we see in the music industry. 

Additionally, this blog helps to give voice to people from our community on topics that they are passionate about. Diversifying the voices we are hearing from online is a major way to get the needs of the people in our industry heard. I know I have had a wonderful time writing both of my blog posts and I’m so grateful to have been given the opportunity to talk about my experiences.

Amplifying the voices of people from the community you hope to serve is necessary to enact social change. The perspectives of these people are invaluable and creating space for them to be heard is one way to uplift your network. Showing examples of talented and successful people from the networks we are a part of making an impact in the industry serves as wonderful inspiration and representation for all, and I am proud to be a part of trailblazing organizations that do this so well in their respective fields.  

As my time in my summer jobs comes to a close, I’m so grateful to have been a part of such meaningful work. I have learned so much about myself, my community, and the fields I am so passionate about. Working at Discovery World, I’ve gained an appreciation for robots and technology, and have developed a new love for aquatic animals. Through my work with Maestra, I’ve learned so much about writing from the Virtual Technical Workshops I’ve attended, and I have really enjoyed the network I’ve connected with since becoming a part of this organization. 

In the future, I hope to see Discovery World engaging in partnerships and outreach with diverse organizations in the Milwaukee area to support the science education of those unable to visit Discovery World in person. I hope to see Maestra start programs that engage with and support music education for young musicians. I talk more about music education in my blog post from last year: “Creative Inspiration Starts in Our Classrooms”

Both of these organizations have inspired me towards my long-term goal of starting a nonprofit of my own some day. 

If you also want to get involved in nonprofit work, there are so many ways to help out! Both Maestra and Discovery World have volunteering opportunities for you to donate your time. If you haven’t already, join the Maestra Directory and, for those in the Milwaukee area, become a member of Discovery World. Whether it’s these organizations or others impacting positive change in their communities, there are so many opportunities and benefits from getting involved, like exclusive access to events, possible job opportunities, and a network of people who share your interests. 

At first glance, Discovery World and Maestra couldn’t be more different in their diverging fields and approaches. However, their similarities stem from a shared dedication to uplifting marginalized voices of the past, present, and future in their fields and empowering participants through access, inclusion, and education. I never could have imagined the part I’d play in each organization simultaneously, but I am overjoyed that I have been able to sustain a career split between these two worlds so far and uniting, rather than choosing between, my passions.

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