Jubilation Fellow Nicole Williams

Nicole Williams

Mishiwaka IN
Fellowship: 2015

“Turn off the device and let’s drum,” says Nicole. “We’re building unity in our community!” A self-described music educator and world changer, Nicole dedicated almost 20 years to public school teaching. “I was the only music teacher of color for the entire district.” 

Frustrated and disturbed by the high level of violence committed by and against youth, coupled with the disproportionate suspension/expulsion rate and treatment of minority students, one day she asked herself, “Why can’t I bring the transformative power of music to a broader scope? To the ones who are often neglected and marginalized? What about those in juvenile detention centers, mental health facilities, rehabilitation treatment centers, homeless shelters?” 

The vision was clear and she ran with it. She quit her full-time job as a classroom teacher and became a community educator. Trained in cross-cultural and social-emotional curricula, she uses group drumming as an intervention with at-risk students. 

“Drumming can be a springboard for candid conversations in a safe and fun environment,” says Nicole, “while creating powerful connections. Drumming can help break down racial, socio-economic, and gender barriers by bringing awareness to the power of diversity and inclusiveness. Those with feelings of insignificance, low self-esteem, and powerlessness become part of a community of respect, trust, teamwork, acceptance, and success. Children labeled as problematic, unfocused, and in jeopardy become engaged and committed. The power of music can change lives.” 

Passionate and determined, Nicole founded One Love Community Circle, a drumming, music, and movement program. “We want to help youth and young adults gain the knowledge and skills that will promote emotional, physical, and mental health, and improve attitudes and behaviors necessary to become contributing members of their community.” 

Teaching philosophy:
“There are moments in our lives that are life-defining. Mine, as an educator, came when a parent proclaimed, ‘Teachers are nothing but glorified babysitters.’ Those words are etched on my heart, and serve as a personal challenge and charge as an educator to never live up to that description. A teacher must honor and respect the knowledge that each student brings, attach worth to it, and use it to bridge the personal to the academic. Modeling and fostering a learning community of respect, accountability, and empowerment is essential. Students need to be given a platform to creatively express themselves and their viewpoints. 

“By providing creative arts instruction, youth and adults learn how to turn barriers into opportunities, to persist in the face of challenges, and silence those who doubt their ability, success, and value. In one program, there are parents struggling with various forms of abuse, but they are able to put that aside for a moment and sing and dance with their children. That’s the power of music. That’s transformation.” 

How do you produce a vibrant learning environment?
“The kids are my teachers. I’m tuned into what students are going through. If someone is homeless, I don’t ignore their reality or be fake. I watch and listen, and am prepared to change things up. I always go in with a plan, but always have a bag of tricks and am ready to adapt to whoever’s in the room. I trust the power of music.” 

How do you encourage youth leadership?
“I’m here to facilitate, not dictate. I tell them, ‘It’s not my music class, it’s our music class. You are part of the process, what we learn is up to you.’ I also have teacher cadets. I never, ever, think that I have it all together. No one knows it all. Ownership is transferred to students, they create the rhythms. We’re always in a circle, to show no beginning or end.” 

How have you evolved as a teacher?
“The percussion world blew the roof off of my teaching! I trained as a singer, but my musicality has evolved. I still bring the party, but I became a community teacher, not just a classroom teacher.” 

Link: www.onelovecommunitycircle.org

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