Recording Academy Partners With Color of Change to 'Elevate Black Music Creators'

"[There is a] need for us as an academy to improve and build trust with the Black music community."

The Recording Academy has partnered with Color of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization, to promote social change within the music industry. To kick off the partnership, the Recording Academy has made a $1 million donation to the non-profit.

The organizations will work together to identify key opportunities to drive change in the music industry, and will be specifically dedicated to building power for Black music creators and professionals. This work will include the creation of a Black music advisory group, an industry-wide (virtual) diversity and inclusion summit, a Recording Academy membership campaign focused on the Black music community and partnership in advocacy and legislative efforts. Additionally, Color of Change will advise on the development and implementation of an “Inclusion Rider and Toolkit,” which the Academy plans to introduce later this year.

Valeisha Butterfield Jones, was began as the academy’s first chief diversity & inclusion officer on May 11, said, “We are honored to partner with Color of Change as we work together to set new standards to elevate Black music creators and build a more diverse and equitable industry.”

Butterfield Jones told Billboard that the academy chose to partner with Color of Change in large part because of the organization’s online presence and ability to organize. “We’ve seen the great work that they’ve done in Hollywood with TV and film and saw the opportunity to extend that to music.”

The executive says the academy is trying to drive change not only within its own organization but throughout the industry.

“[We want] to set a base line across the music industry that starts at the Recording Academy on our diversity and inclusion numbers. From there it will be launching an inclusion rider with Colors of Change that the Recording Academy will take on to set clear goals and metrics around hiring, representation and amplifying the voices of creators…We will be making an appeal to the music industry to consider also hiring and appointing chief diversity and inclusion officers within their own organizations as well as considering this inclusion rider as a necessary tool to track, measure and drive change.”

Butterfield Jones says that the academy is working on the details of the inclusion rider. “We’re setting our numbers, setting our goals, and most importantly really making sure that we’re doing it from the inside out—both taking a look at our own organization, our membership composition, our trustees composition and really thinking critically about where we are, but also where we ago over the next five years.”

The academy is also working on setting up the Black music advisory group. “We are hopefully getting the leaders in Black music to join forces with us and lock arms; be our thought leaders, thought partners and to educate the academy on how we can be better partners to the music community,” Butterfield Jones says.

Color of Change has grown significantly in the past two months during which the country has been experiencing a reckoning on matters of race. “About a month and a half ago, we had 1.7 million people who had taken action with us in the last few months,” says Rashad Robinson, the organization’s president. “We’ve since grown to over 7 million people who have taken action with us.”

Robinson acknowledges that the academy’s $1 million donation “is significant to any non-profit.” He says Color of Change has an annual budget of more than $30 million.

“This will be important to us but we’re going to be doing a lot of work with the academy. Part of this will help us cover that work and that partnership. [We and the academy both want to] meet the goals and aspirations of this moment.”

Robinson notes that his membership is mostly the music-loving audience, while the Academy’s membership is mostly artists and creatives. “My people are the folks in the community,” he says. “…They want to be part of making a world that is more human and less hostile to Black people.”

Color of Change’s past work has ranged from challenging police budgets to working with unions. “In Hollywood,” Robinson adds, “[it has included] pushing studios and networks to do more, [pressuring networks to] cancel some [shows] that should be cancelled, or its larger work that we’re doing to push corporations and governments who speak out in favor of Black Lives Matter to do the work to make Black lives matter through systemic change.”

Robinson says that the group has had various campaigns in what he calls “the culture space.”

“We’ve worked with a number of artists over the years, especially artists who have spoken out on criminal justice [reform]. We have done partnerships with folks like John Legend and Common and others to do work to build awareness and do education work. We’ve done a lot of work at pushing media houses, corporate media and networks on TV and movies. This partnership [with the Recording Academy] is sort of an extension of that. It is an extension to do the work we’re been doing to push industries [on the subject of] inclusion; to shift the rules; to ensure more voices are heard.”

“The work is ahead of us,” says Robinson. “We look forward to using their incredible megaphone to expand the conversation and be part of the change that is needed all around the country.”

Color of Change was founded in 2005 by James Rucker and Van Jones to replicate the email list model among African American Internet users. Its motto is “changing the color of democracy.” It is based in Oakland, Calif.

Butterfield Jones began as the academy’s first chief diversity & inclusion officer on May 11, with the academy’s stated goal of building “inclusion and representation for underrepresented communities and creators.” The partnership with Color of Change is specifically focused on Black communities and creators, but Jones says her mandate remains to boost all under-represented groups.

“My mandate remains the same, which is equitable outcomes for everyone,” says Butterfield Jones. “…It is centered around underrepresented groups across gender, sexual orientation, race and ethnicity, but also genre and region. This [initiative] is very much centered around the moment and the movement for racial justice. This is part of a very comprehensive, multi-year, strategy. The data will inform that strategy and in this moment, at this time, the data has very much centered us around the need for us as an academy to improve and build trust with the Black music community, so that’s the focus [in this partnership], but certainly not [the academy’s] only focus. We will be having a very comprehensive strategy that centers around all underrepresented creators, so there is inclusion and belonging and respect for all music creators.”

Butterfield Jones says that when she talked with Harvey Mason, Jr., the academy’s chair and interim president/CEO, about her job, he told her the academy was serious about its commitment in this area. “When I came on board, he reassured me we were ready to take bold action and to really do our part to be leaders in the industry.”

The executive acknowledges that the Recording Academy was rather late in hiring a chief diversity and inclusion officer. She notes that the academy is not intending to lecture other companies in the industry.

“The goal is to bring together the music community and to share what we’re working on but more importantly to listen and to build partnership and community together. I don’t think we want to assume a [lecturing] position at all. But if the work that we’re doing hopefully inspires change, we certainly welcome that.”

Later this week, the academy plans to reveal details about its new membership class and surrounding insights and data.