First on the program was a performance by 11 members of the Detroit Children’s Choir, a group established in 2006 and dedicated to bridging social gaps by bringing children in grades 3 to 8 together to gain self-confidence, social awareness and musical skills. Interspersing readings from the writings of Dr. King, the group performed a variety of numbers, including a stirring rendition of "We Shall Overcome."
In introducing the evening’s speaker, Aaron Dworkin, president and founder of the Sphinx Organization, Chancellor Tim Meyer characterized Dworkin as "an arts entrepreneur, performing artist, poet, film director, and youth advocate – a true Renaissance man."
Dworkin began his presentation by recounting his remarkable life story as the child of a Black Jehovah’s Witness father and a White Irish Catholic mother, adopted by a Jewish couple who were university professors – thus the title of his biography, A Black, White, Jewish, Jehovah’s Witness, Irish Catholic Adoptee’s Journey to Leadership." It was his adopted mother’s amateur violin playing and an early exposure to the work of violinist Isaac Stern that ignited his lifelong passion for music, Dworkin said.
Dworkin moved on to provide a historical overview of the role of Black classical performing artists and composers, citing the career of concert violinist Frederick Douglas’s, Jr., son of the great 19th century abolitionist and social reformer, who also was an accomplished violinist.
Looking at the contemporary scene, Dworkin analyzed the percentages and numbers of Black/Latino participants in classical music, including audiences, orchestra administrators and players – a figure ranging from two to four percent.
Dworkin closed with an overview of the mission of Sphinx, which features the only Black/Latin classical orchestra in the country, and works to widen the reach of music education, as well as significantly increase the role and numbers of Black and Latino artists in classical music.
Summing up his organization’s role, Dworkin observed, "Sphinx has been at the forefront of the battle to build diversity among young people."
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In recognition of Black History Month in February and parallel to Mr. Dworkin’s comments on diversity and inclusion, we share an article submitted by Dr. Tony Ingram, "The Origins of Black History Month."