Stanford Thompson is a musician and educator who serves as the Founder and Executive Director of Play On, Philly! an El Sistema inspired program bringing music education to students in underserved areas throughout Philadelphia. Recently recognized as a TED Fellow, Stanford believes that music education is a powerful tool for social change and that symphony orchestras offer us important lessons in diversity and inclusion. As a professional trumpeter, Stanford has performed as soloist and section member with major international orchestras and continues to perform chamber music and jazz. Stanford currently serves on the boards of the American Composers Forum and the Philadelphia Wind Symphony, and was previously a board member for the Curtis Institute of Music, Interlochen Center for the Arts, and El Sistema USA. Stanford is a native of Atlanta, GA and holds degrees from The Curtis Institute of Music and the New England Conservatory’s Abreu Fellows Program.
Agnes Wielgosz: Your purpose is to create an inclusive society where all the children have an equal opportunity to success. Implicit bias misreads these attitudes and limits the chance that every child has the right to live a fully engaged life. How can we close the gap between good intention and actual behavior?
Stanford Thompson: We need more training in equality competency, encouragement to make different decisions and high standards of expectations to be able to evaluate one’s effectiveness. Behaviors can change, but only when everyone insists that it must be so and they have the tools to make change.
AW: In your latest blog post, you said:“Very few understand how white supremacy and unconscious bias have not allowed the percentage of musicians of color in American orchestras to grow above 4.5%” You have dedicated your professional career to “providing an unbiased music education experience to those who face barriers to receive it.” Why should we care about implicit bias?
ST: I believe that most people I surround myself with are good people who often times do not realize that their understandings, actions and decisions towards ,and against women are disrespectful and harmful. There is a two-way street that needs to be developed: where women feel safer to voice their concerns when they know they aren’t being treated fairly and everyone else (women included) who need to be open and aware of their actions.
AW: Men and Women perceive gender equality differently. How can we establish a constructive dialog between two genders? Isn’t gender sensitivity important?
ST: More men need to speak up against it. Those in power need to question their colleagues and themselves. For some, it will be a moral imperative to make change and others it may be an economic imperative. The dialogue is widely here, but I believe the conversation now needs to be focused on making change and focusing on people who desire to make the change but don’t know where to start.
AW: How Does Play on, Philly! community perceive women/girls in power?
ST: The majority of our students and staff are women/young women and we work hard to ensure that staff are well compensated and have opportunities to grow, in addition to our students being encouraged to play instruments that a “stereotypically for boys”. It is clear that women can do anything they dream up and that they have ample opportunities to have their voices heard and responded to appropriately.
AW: The concept of gender equality has been part of your organization. If you could COMMUNICATE one thing to the listeners what would it be?
ST: Creating better gender equality will come from men relinquishing their power and making different decisions. I don’t think it is any more complicated than that. Not everyone will change, but progress is being made and continuing to question, encourage and support the change will be the best things we all can do.
AW: What is one area where we can EDUCATE people to improve gender equality?
ST: I don’t think most people truly understand the gender gap and I feel that is the first place to start in educating people about gender equality. Not only are women not encouraged to go down certain paths, but they are often not given the opportunities for development and growth.
AW: Tell me one thing that has INSPIRED you?
ST: My mother. It was a dream of hers to attend Stanford University’s business school, but completed her MBA at Indiana University. From a young age, she believed in my entrepreneurial spirit and no matter how silly my idea was, she would be next to me helping me make it happen. That was the support I needed to turn into the professional I am today and I am glad that the person who knew me best, encouraged me to reach dreams of my own. That is the main reason why I feel compelled to give back today.