I have never been much for New Years’ resolutions. Too much pressure not to break them. And in times like these, who needs that?
But 2023 will be different because 2020 – 2022 has been so radically different. A worldwide pandemic that required strict isolation. I didn’t see that coming. Then, the racial reckoning in the aftermath of the George Floyd murder. While not all that surprising given our history, it was mind-bending in its naked illustration of how much further we must go to achieve some semblance of social justice for people of color. Throw in the increasingly toxic impact of social media, and you have a world in tremendous flux and upheaval.
That said, the greatest opportunity for growth and impact occurs when things are in flux. Upheaval challenges you. In a world in flux, you suddenly find yourself outside your comfort zone. On the other hand, a static, status quo world is just that…static and status quo. It’s hard to grow and even more challenging to impact change in a numbingly familiar, unchanging world. Or, in the words of David Byrne of the Talking Heads, in a world where everything is “same as it ever was.” But between 2020 – 2022, our world was turned upside down. We were navigating new territory.
Yes, change and upheaval can be challenging, but it also provides opportunities to look at the world differently. During Covid isolation, I did an enormous amount of thinking, researching, writing, painting, playing music, and work related to navigating MFE through a world turned upside down. I have learned a lot with many new experiences and material to draw from. At my core, I am an educator and, as such, want to share those lessons, ideas, and realizations.
So, I’m doing something different this year. I am making a New Years’ resolution. I’m going to blog at least twice per month in 2023.
Here are some of the activities and experiences I will be drawing upon.
I have been doing a ton of writing and will have two books published this year. The Journey of an Old White Dude in the Age of Black Lives Matter will be released in May. The book is the story of two journeys. One is my personal journey to understand issues of race, justice, and equity, my role in perpetuating racist practices, and my efforts to learn, grow and become a more effective force against racism. The second is the journey Music For Everyone embarked upon after the Floyd murder to become a more diverse and inclusive organization and, as a result, more effective and impactful as a force for social justice.
The second book, Lights on Lancaster: How One American City Harnessed the Power of the Arts to Transform Communities, will be released in the Fall. This is a book I edited, which means I have spent an enormous amount of time “herding” thirty-three artists and creatives of all types to provide essays on how they leverage the transformative power of their art form and the creativity it inspires to make an impact in our community.
Meanwhile, the past three years have been very challenging for MFE. From having to pivot from in-person learning to delivering music education content virtually to adjusting our community-building programming in the age of social distancing. From finding ways to apply music as an individual therapeutic and public health tool amid a public that is still struggling with isolation, depression, and lack of connectedness to figuring out how to engage with our community as it applies to leveraging music as a social justice tool in the aftermath of the Floyd murder. The pandemic placed a myriad of challenges on MFE’s plate.
In 2018, I began taking painting lessons. I have painted so much that, by November 2022, I was able to stage an art exhibit at a local gallery. Taking on the craft of painting has taught me a lot about the creative process and the discipline and hard work required to produce art on a regular basis.
Also, shortly before the pandemic, I began recording a 12” vinyl record under my stage name, Willie Marble. This was a bucket list moment for me as I collaborated with my daughter, Wallace, and her band (under the name of The Gritty Pearls for this project). The limited-edition record explores the nexus between Willie’s old-time Delta Blues and the Pearl’s driving rock and roll Philly sound. Copies will be available beginning in early 2023.
These challenges and experiences have also caused me to think more critically about leadership, particularly as it applies to volunteerism and community service. Specifically, how to inspire others to take those first steps to follow their passions and, in the process, change the world. Or, if not the world, maybe their city, neighborhood, or block. To that end, I have been thinking and writing extensively about leadership, drawing on lessons learned from my parents and family, on basketball teams and in Blues bands, and my work in founding, building and running MFE.
Finally, I will continue to draw on my experiences as an athlete and athletic administrator at the NCAA and Southeastern Conference and as a musician and non-profit entrepreneur at MFE to write about a major focus of much of my work over the years, the role of sports and the arts in our schools, communities, and society.
If interested in any of this stuff, periodically check out JohnGerdy.com. Many more blogs will come as I plan on resisting the pressure to break another New Years’ resolution.