CMA Launches Inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Fellowship With Three Universities
"There's been a push for more artists of color within country music, but they also need the opportunity to team with people behind the scenes who look like them," says CMA senior director Mia McNeal.
The Country Music Association will soon launch its inaugural Diversity & Inclusion Fellowship, which will provide a select group of BIPOC students with an immersive educational experience leading up to the 2023 CMA Fest in June.
The CMA has partnered with the University of Alabama, Nashville’s Belmont University and Knoxville’s University of Tennessee. Six students (two from each university) will be selected to take part in the fellowship, launching this spring. Students must be an incoming junior or senior majoring in public relations, advertising, journalism, business or a related field. Each student will also receive compensation for their work, as well as a stipend to cover living expenses while in Nashville.
“As we look at our industry and how we can drive country music into the future, it’s being thoughtful about who is part of it and who feels like they can be part of it,” Mia McNeal, CMA senior director, industry relations and inclusion, tells Billboard. “Working with all three of these universities has been incredible, thinking strategically and intentionally about how we can engage the student body in a way that is very direct and making a pipeline of talent.”
McNeal adds, “There has been a push for more artists of color within the country music industry, but they also need the opportunity to team with people behind the scenes who look like them.”
In April, the students will begin working remotely with the CMA’s communications team, participating in planning meetings with cross-departmental teams and various industry partners. They will then join CMA team members in Nashville in the weeks leading up to and through CMA Fest, June 9-12. Following the event, the students will take part in a six-week assignment with a country music publicity partner, offering the students additional real-world PR experience.
“They get the 360-degree view of exactly how public relations and communications is central not only to the CMA, but to the industry at large,” says Tiffany Kerns, CMA vice president, industry relations and philanthropy.
“The idea for this fellowship came out of having significant conversations with several artists and a wide variety of industry professionals who really felt that publicists are part of the storytellers of our business,” Kerns adds.
The University of Alabama’s Dr. Kenon Brown, who was previously the faculty advisor for the UofA’s CMA EDU chapter for about three years, serves as the fellowship’s managing faculty member. Brown along with faculty representatives from the university partners and CMA staff will review applications.
“We felt the one thing that would help students be exposed to the industry would be to give them first-hand experience,” Brown tells Billboard. “We wanted to also give them mentors to give them a more realistic viewpoint of how the music industry works. Hopefully this helps make them more excited about not just working in music but working in country music.”
In describing the types of students they are looking for, Brown says, “We want students who recognize the opportunity they have here to become a leader in this industry and a voice for promoting diversity and inclusion in the country music industry. We want students who can look at the country music industry and see the strides that they have made and see the advantage that they have to really add a unique voice to the genre.”
The CMA is also working with the Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations on the fellowship, as well as with Trell Thomas, a public relations executive and co-founder of My Publicist is Black, to match each student participant with an industry expert to serve as a mentor throughout the fellowship.
“At CMA Fest last year, we had diversity on all of our stages,” McNeal says. “Our fans are diverse and that representation matters so much. It’s hard to be something you cannot see.”
The application to apply for the fellowship is open today (Jan. 9) through Feb. 24 at cmaworld.com/fellowship.
The fellowship is one of multiple recent initiatives the CMA has launched to support leadership, education, and diversity. The CMA previously teamed with Discovery Education for a series highlighting STEAM careers within the country music industry. In 2022, the trade organization also launched a 16-week training program to support women in leadership throughout the country music industry.