Sometimes you can never dream what your life will become. My band opened for Heart outside of Chicago a few days ago. I was pinching myself. Those girls rock as hard as anyone on the planet, and Ann Wilson is absolutely one of my favorite singers of all time. What inspiration to share the stage with them. I grew up in a tiny beach town in St. Petersburg, FL…. no famous musician parents and no trust fund. I truly had to find my way myself. But I loved music, and that love was enough to drive me to play with anyone who would let me, or sit in practice rooms for hours a day instead of going out to party, or playing on the street in Los Angeles to “do what I do” instead of get a day job “not doing what I do” to pay the rent. I look back to all those inspirations and decisions and think how they shaped my life, and what they led to. This week I served as a National Trustee on the board of the Recording Academy, the company that puts on The GRAMMYs in their annual meetings. What an honor. My love for music has led me to The Recording Academy, getting uber involved because I recognize how many resources they pour into music education and care for musicians. I’m now on my way to play with my band in Maine. Sometimes I look around and realize that my love for music has taken me a long way. It’s pretty amazing that a dream and a very true love of music has brought me here. Music is not everyone’s true love, but I do believe if you find that thing that moves you, and let it inspire and lead you, it’ll take you where you really want to go.
Right after I graduated from college (Howard University and Carnegie Mellon Conservatory of Music, where I studied Classical Voice, Piano and Business), I became the youngest Director of Outreach Programs at a performing arts center in Maryland. I was bringing at‐risk youth with addicted mothers and incarcerated fathers into the facility and watched them transform right before my eyes. My soul was on fire! That position reaffirmed 2 things for me ‐ 1) I wanted to do this work for the rest of my life, but 2) I had to do it on terms that felt right to me. There’s a lot of bureaucracy even in the world of global aid (that’s an entirely different blog entry by itself) and I wanted no parts of it. It wasn’t acceptable for me to say that I was producing outreach programs and not work in communities with the very people that I needed to trust me (but my colleagues often tried to discourage me from doing that). It was certainly unacceptable for me to travel to the developing world first class and stay in 5‐star resorts when I was there to work with orphaned children that had no shoes (but that was government policy). If I was going to do this work, then I had to do it my way, but how would I execute this grandiose mission of mine and survive? I became a social entrepreneur. By 2004 I had developed my first business – the Global Institute for Diversity and Change (then known as the Change Rocks Institute) – which produced a series of diversity and multicultural lectures at colleges and universities across the country. Continue reading “Yewande Austin – Part 2”
As long as I can remember I wanted to change the world. I think that’s difficult for most people to believe but it’s true. I was born to be an activist. While most girls aspired to be like Whitney or Mariah (who I also admired), I wanted to free people just like Harriet Tubman did. Josephine Baker’s story led me to fantasize about traveling the world and spreading love through my music (and maybe adopting a “rainbow tribe” of my own orphaned children one day). The story of Nat Turner taught me that I didn’t have to accept the rules that had been “assigned” to me because I was a Black girl living in America. I was absolutely consumed by the stories of Frederick Douglass, Paul Robeson, Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr – each heroes that had overcome seemingly insurmountable odds and committed their lives to fighting for justice and freedom. Their missions ignited my spirit and I wanted to be just like them. But like most people that dream about changing the world (and have no foggy idea of where to begin), I remained stealthily quiet about my dream. Continue reading “Yewande Austin – Part 1”