YouTube Black Voices Adam McFarland: ‘For Black Folks, Music Is Our Place of Reconnection’

I’m a classically trained violinist and country boy from Keithville, La. Monday nights were spent studying the piano. Tuesday and Friday were dedicated to the violin. On Wednesday, I gave my time to the church choir. Early mornings and afternoons were spent feeding the animals on our farm. I never considered my particular Black experience “unique” because, like the predominantly white classrooms in which I spent my remaining time, being the “other” was simply normal.

My earliest memories of Black History Month came in these classrooms. I presented a book report on the life of Frederick Douglass. He, too, was “othered,” a Black face in a sea of whiteness. But, through his resiliency and keen intellect, Douglass achieved excellence. Telling his story made me feel seen.

It’s commonplace during Black History Month to celebrate our most famed historical Black figures. While we relate to these heroes, it can be difficult to actualize the near-mythical grandeur we’ve bestowed upon them. Coming from a family that includes courageous military veterans as well as prominent educators, I saw Black excellence in my everyday life. My father — a physician, preacher, and cattle rancher — taught my siblings and me to stand outside of societal norms. Our ancestors’ stories became ours, and he dictated that we, too, were meant to eschew normative tropes and stereotypes. My unique sense of Blackness, while often siloed, was not only affirmed but normalized.

My story led me to a historically Black institution, Morehouse College. I was no longer the “other.” However, within each beautiful Black person that I came to know, they brought with them their own set of cultural references, dialects, and perspectives that felt new but distinctly familiar. While at Morehouse, I traveled the world through its Leadership Center, further expanding my worldview. I realized that what mattered for me in my newfound home of Atlanta, Ga. wasn’t necessarily a priority for those abroad. Their experiences informed their perspective, and learning their stories expanded my own.

I’ve always wanted to impact Black lives. That desire was instilled in Keithville, expanded in Atlanta, and after many travels and experiences, led me to forgo medical school to educate students through Teach for America. After two years, I began serving as deputy finance director for U.S. Senate candidate Michelle Nunn. Through this campaign, I was introduced to Usher Raymond’s artist management team and, after working my way up, eventually connected with music industry veteran Corey Smyth and his Blacksmith label imprint. During this time, I came to an important realization: for Black folks, music is our place of reconnection. From the London Grime scene to the re-emergence of West African Afrobeats, music is the primary vehicle through which we tell our diverse stories, all rooted in a common Black experience. And just like that, I was back to living music every day.

For someone looking to impact Black lives on a larger scale, working at YouTube has been a dream. I’ve been fortunate to help oversee the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund, our multimillion-dollar commitment to supporting, celebrating, and uplifting Black artists. My favorite part of this initiative is our Future Insiders program, through which we provide Black youth from across the globe access to music industry leaders and workshops geared to introduce them to career pathways in the music industry. We want them to understand what is possible, that their stories matter because Black stories matter.

As any classically trained musician knows, a single instrument is just one part of the larger orchestra, but if that instrument is silenced, the entire composition is noticeably incomplete. Your greatest instrument is your story, and without it, we cannot be whole. For me, Black History Month means another opportunity to do what I love: amplifying the Black experience.

Adam McFarland is program manager for Black Music & Cultures at YouTube, helping to lead the #YouTubeBlack Voices Fund initiative.

Throughout the month of February, Variety will publish essays from prominent Black artists, artisans and entertainment figures celebrating the impact of Black entertainment and entertainers on the world at large.

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