When was the last time you belted a ‘90s ballad with your bestie just to feel some type of way? Or lost track of time dancing to one of the Memphis classics? There’s just something about music that brings us together. And by “us” I mean everyone from your bff to the music fans of generations past. Music brings communities together. It’s a bridge between generations, and a cultural time capsule we can open and add to, creating our own history for generations to come.
At Stax Music Academy, they’re all about building those musical bridges from generation to generation. They provide the mentorship young Memphians need to pursue their passions and become the next generation of musicians, culture-makers, and local leaders.
It’s that culture-creating, history-preserving, generations-of-impact work that inspired Gary Dickinson to donate to Stax Music Academy (SMA). Gary is a Florida man with the heart of a Memphian—he was so inspired by the work happening at SMA that he decided to match the investment Justin Timberlake (that’s right, the international pop star) made in the org. Gary is one of those people who exudes his passion—in this case, for music—with every word. But what was it that inspired his generosity towards a very local Memphis nonprofit, hailing all the way from Florida? We sat down with Gary to find out:
When did you first discover SMA? What inspired you to donate to their work?
I could tell you the exact date, the 25th of September, 2016. I was watching the news one night and toward the end they did a profile on Stax…I thought ‘wow that’s amazing to take kids at such a young age and develop and grow their talents through music’…I really wanted to focus on giving in a few smaller organizations where I could make a larger impact at a local level. So I gave [Stax Music Academy] a call.
You once flew all the way to London to watch the SMA kids perform. Clearly, you have a real heart for this organization. What about SMA motivates you to action?
It’s an incredibly professional organization, and you can also feel the family warmth, the connections, and the community. They don’t just teach [the students] how to play an instrument, they teach the structure…the talents that are brought out of them and nurtured and trained—it’s like an incredible flower blooming.
What is your hope for the future of SMA students?
I want to see them be successful in building a life-long connection with SMA so that when they matriculate and get into the working world, they maintain a really warm, strong feeling about their musical connections with Stax, and hopefully get more involved with SMA as they get older.
You are starting your own mentorship program to provide additional support for SMA students as they near graduation. What do you hope it will accomplish?
This mentoring program is meant to create a support system where [SMA graduates] can call someone up…for an empathetic ear, a sounding board that isn’t going to be judgmental, but a safe place of encouragement and advice… It will help reinforce that post-grad connection throughout the years, and hopefully keep them engaged as alumni…so they can stay connected and give back.
If you could persuade one person to join you in supporting SMA, how would you persuade them?
I’d want to show them these kids abilities…and what a really unique opportunity SMA kids have to become productive, talented, supporting members of our society. In addition to that, [SMA donors] are contributing to the field of music…and music is an incredible part of life.