It was lonely at times in the music industry, because I was the only Black woman I saw, other than Advance co-founder Vivian Barclay, and she predates me by a few years. Were there times when derogatory statements were thrown at me? Yes. Were there times when I was presumed to be a secretary or administrative assistant? Absolutely. Was I mistaken for other Black people? Yes. But did that tarnish my experience? No.
Taking opportunities when they’re presented to you is really important, because there are barriers in everybody’s path. And if we become consumed by those barriers, or if we don’t find ways to navigate them or open our mouths and say, “Hey, there’s a problem here,” then we not only potentially sell ourselves short and, through no fault of our own, fail to get to the next level, but we also leave those barriers in place for somebody else.
Advance was created to address the lack of diversity in the industry, especially at the decision-making level. Black professionals were the only ones in the room in many, many spaces. And the popularity of Black music was bringing in large amounts of revenue that hadn’t been seen here before—but who was speaking for these Black artists and professionals? It was highlighted by the murder of George Floyd, when the entire world said, “Oh, wow, inhumane things are happening to Black people, and to Black men especially.” Advance is the Canadian music industry’s friendly accountability partner.
We’re coming at the work from a variety of angles. We focus on advocacy to address systemic change, working with organizations in the music ecosystem, along with federal, provincial and municipal governments, to remove barriers for Black music professionals. One big success is in Bill C-11, the Online Streaming Act—we were the initiators and major proponents of indicating Black as a unique group within the legislation. We’re also looking at building the pipeline to ensure students have pathways to success through education with no financial barriers. And we’ve continued to work with the industry to ensure they’re paying for internships, because that’s definitely more of a barrier for underrepresented communities. And we’re addressing it through knowledge sharing, best practices and capacity building, so those who are currently in the industry have the tools they need to further succeed.
Have we seen changes since Advance was created three years ago? Yes. Are there more changes to come? Absolutely. Leading Advance is about ensuring there’s sustainable growth. I’d rather have a slow burn into something that’s going to be positive and ongoing than a knee-jerk reaction that falls off of your plate as soon as it’s not trendy. And the big success is that Advance is here, and it’s supported by so many other organizations, because that allows us to look at sustainable growth and goal setting, rather than a black square that’s in it for the moment. We have to continue to have the conversation and remember to think not just about who we’re seeing at the table, but to empower them, as well.
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