An Open Letter to My Students

The Ensemble seeks to connect and inform all people who are committed to ensemble music education for youth empowerment and social change.

An Open Letter to My Students

Joseph Conyers, Assistant Principal Bass, Philadelphia Orchestra; Music Director, Philadelphia All City Orchestra; Executive Director, Project 440


As an educator, I am a role model for young people. In the wake of the social unrest following the death of George Floyd, my students made it clear: not only did they want me to amplify their voices, but they implored me to amplify my own as well. Below is an abridged version of an open letter I wrote them immediately following our discussion. The complete letter can be found at

Dear Students,

I’ve never been a fan of using social media to “make statements.” My statements are lived daily; action is how I respond to adversity. That said, I’m not blind to what’s going on in our country, nor am I surprised by it. It’s why I write you now.

As a Black man, I’ve had my share of experiences that have upset me and a few that have scared me. When faced with challenges, there are many ways one might respond. I’m certainly not going to tell you how you should feel or how you should react. We all grieve in different ways.

I’ve been actively protesting for years. The sign I carry is the color of my skin, and my message to the world has been my advocacy for you.

We want the world to be perfect. It isn’t. We want the world to be full of love; sometimes all we might see is hate. But stand firm.

To my black students, don’t be discouraged. Our ancestors survived the un-survivable, and their blood runs through our veins. Let your light shine as a daily reminder to all. Our lives do matter.

Let music be your inspiration. Bring your authentic, unabashed selves to the concert hall. Music-making is a celebration of our shared experiences. You have a place on that stage. Claim your spot; own it.

You can’t make others love you, but you can inspire them with how you love others. Provide pathways for those who can’t forge a path of their own. Advocate for each other. Be a good person.

When feeling powerless to make change in the world, start by sowing your own seeds of goodness for the future.

You can make a difference.


Mr. Conyers


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