Some people spend their free time on their hobbies. Some like to travel. Others read or watch movies. I tend to binge-watch television series on my favorite streaming services, but that’s a different column. My more productive free time activity is teaching. It’s something I was drawn to, trained to do and love…. and while I am no longer on campus fulltime, I always feel the pull to work with students in the classroom environment. So last year when I was asked if I would teach the inaugural class on arts, management, and the community at UC Riverside, I couldn’t resist.
The course was created to offer humanities students with creative arts majors – writing, film, theater, music – an opportunity to build professional skills, prepare for life after college, and connect with the community by, among other things, introducing them to local arts organizations and entrepreneurs. Last week our special guest was Josiah Bruny, founder of Music Changing Lives, an organization whose mission it is to mentor underprivileged youth, helping them improve their lives and expand their own vision of themselves through high quality music and art enrichment programs.
I had heard so many positive things about Josiah and the work he is doing in multiple cities throughout our two county region. Born in Southern California to Haitian immigrant parents, Josiah is one of 18 siblings, he explained to the class, who work together on various business ventures. Working with his older siblings is how he got his start in the music promotion business, work that served as the impetus for his music education and mentorship program. What began as a private music production studio in his home has turned into a large scale arts tutoring and mentoring program and international talent showcase.
Josiah encouraged my students to think about their passion and talents and then develop entrepreneurial endeavors that allow them to be self-sufficient. His own road to independence started when his older brother, rapper Won-G, started his career as an independent artist. Bruny shared with the class that he begged his mom to allow him to promote his brother’s work and after months of convincing her, he won her support and perfected a street team method that resulted in $2 million in record sales for his brother. Eventually big labels also utilized his marketing skills and hired his street teams for their own artists.
It was during the height of his success as a music marketer that he had the vision for Music Changing Lives, and the City of Redlands was the first city he approached who saw the vision as well. Today, this social entrepreneur has programs running in six schools in Moreno Valley, two community centers – one in each county, an orphanage in Haiti, reaching 500 students annually, and he’s looking for funding to launch programs in Mexico and Brazil. The program is also branching out globally through his Changing Lives Showcase, an “American Idol” style arts competition.
The quarter is almost over – just in time for Netflix’s House of Cards – but I will miss my Wednesday evening class. Josiah was impressed that this type of course is even being offered at the university. He told the class that he dropped out of college because courses like this weren’t available to him. As I think about my motley crew of diverse students, I wonder which one might be the next Josiah Bruny. Which one will create positive organizations that improve the local community or companies that help build the local economy. Perhaps all of them will. As the Music Changing Lives motto reminds us, “Together we can be the change we would like to see in our community.”