Education & Youth

Former Brooks band director Roosevelt Griffin now leading VanderCook College jazz and diversity efforts

"It is only appropriate that our students enter the profession with an in-depth appreciation, understanding, and commitment of Diversity and Inclusion. Especially considering they will be in front of our future leaders on a daily basis," Griffin said.

Roosevelt Griffin is taking his talents to Vandercook College where he will lead the school's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Provided by Roosevelt Griffin
Roosevelt Griffin is taking his talents to Vandercook College where he will lead the school's diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts. Provided by Roosevelt Griffin

The former director of Brooks Middle School's revered jazz programs is heading back to college.

Roosevelt Griffin announced last Monday that he will now serve as the Walter Dyett Chair of Jazz Studies, Diversity, and Inclusion, at VanderCook College in Chicago. He told the HWH that while leaving Harvey School District 152 was one of the hardest decisions he’s ever made, he has garnered a skillset to “share with the passionate music educators of tomorrow, better equipping them to make a difference in the lives any child, no matter their age race, gender, or socio-economic status” at VanderCook.

"It is only appropriate that our students enter the profession with an in-depth appreciation, understanding, and commitment of Diversity and Inclusion. Especially considering they will be in front of our future leaders on a daily basis," Griffin said about his vision for his new role.

The new role compliments his ongoing VanderCook efforts. Since 2018, Griffin’s acted as co-artistic director of One City, a program at VanderCook that offers free music lessons and supplies to youth from neighborhoods on Chicago's South Side. He also taught at the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic’s Jazz Academy, which will relocate to VanderCook this fall.

"We couldn't be more pleased to welcome Dr. Griffin to our collegiate teaching faculty. With his incredible expertise, experience, positive energy, and consummate musicianship, Dr. Griffin is the perfect fit for VanderCook College of Music,” said Roseanne Rosenthal, VanderCook College President.

The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated long-existing education issues like mental health needs amongst students and created new challenges, like the quick shift to remote learning. But, the pandemic also created opportunities to try new methods to solve some of those problems, Griffin said. “I have known for many years that the arts could play a greater role in education, a role that would assist with many of the institutional ailments in education.”

Griffin was named a Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2014. Earlier this year, Griffin was named the John LaPorta Jazz Educator of the Year from Berklee College of Music and the Jazz Education Network. He was also named a 2019 Men of Excellence Award from the Chicago Defender/Real Times Media, a 2018 Award for Human and Civil Rights from the Illinois Education Association, a 2018 Men of Excellence Award from the Illinois Education Association, and a 2017 Jazz Educator of the Year from the Jazz Institute of Chicago.

He has performed with world-renowned musicians like Luciano Pavorotti, Diana Ross, and Jimmy Heath.

Griffin joined Brooks in 2004, coming in as band director after the exit of John Weber, who served as director for 36 years. He also runs the Griffin Institute of Performing Arts, a Harvey-based nonprofit organization that offers dance, theater, and music courses to young people, with a focus on those from underserved communities.

After helping educators nationally and worldwide develop more accessible arts programs, it was time for the next step, Griffin said. “I needed to position myself to make a greater impact on the world at a time that it is needed the most,” he said. “I am on a mission to make certain that any educational institution desiring to improve the educational experiences of their students, no matter of their demographic or economic status, can have access to it.”

Different schools have different needs. But, moral support, coupled with asking arts educators what it is that they need to serve students, is critical, Griffin said.

“I will be the first to say that Harvey has always, and I mean always, made band a top priority,” he said. Even in times when band programs had to be scaled back, Griffin said, moral support remained. “The programs have survived for so long because there were always people who understood the importance of these programs and the role they played in uplifting the entire community. We must make sure that those who look to serve in any role that requires decisions to be made about the arts are, at the very least, are clear on the history, research, and the power of the arts.”

The Harvey native added he won’t stray too far away from District 152.

“I will always love the families and teachers of Harvey 152. If they ever need my help, all they have to do is call and I will be honored to assist.”

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