By Stacy M. Brown | NNPA Newswire Senior National Correspondent
(NNPA) – Valeisha Butterfield Jones has always lived by the creed of her historically Black alma mater, Clark Atlanta University.
The prominent HBCU’s motto remains “find a way or make one.”
“That stuck with me for probably the last 24 years. I moved to New York City with big dreams of working in entertainment,” Butterfield Jones related during an interview at the National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) headquarters in Washington, D.C.
The interview will air later this year during a special segment of The Chavis Chronicles on PBS-TV and the PBS-World stations.
“I remember pounding the pavement, working the phones, and then I found my way to RUSH Communications and being inspired by Dr. Benjamin Chavis, someone from my state who was doing it at a high level and with integrity,” Butterfield Jones stated.
While the fight for equal rights and equal pay in corporate boardrooms continues for women of color, Butterfield Jones reflects that it shouldn’t have been difficult to achieve.
Now the co-president of the Recording Academy, in charge of the Grammy Awards, Butterfield Jones remains in a position to effect change.
Through her nonprofit Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network, Butterfield Jones and her colleagues have helped to inspire more than 85,000 women over 15 years to obtain active work in show business.
During the 2022 Grammy Awards, Butterfield helped layout the first significant music award production committed to inclusion riders.
The riders count as an accountability tool to foster an inclusive environment throughout the production during the hiring process.
“The rider was groundbreaking for us in music,” Butterfield Jones stated.
“We have a tool to ensure that we are ensuring gender diversity and diversity amongst creators with disabilities because there was an accessible ramp, and we had LGBTQIA inclusion.”
She also noted the new “Women In the Mix” report that spotlighted women’s experiences in the music industry.
Born in Wilson, North Carolina, Butterfield Jones became an activist early.
Her parents, U.S. Congressman G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.), and North Carolina State Rep. Jean Farmer-Butterfield instilled in their daughter a desire for public service and giving back.
“I remember as a young child the importance of civic service. As early as I can remember, my grandfather was the first Black elected official in the eastern part of North Carolina. Eventually, my father ran for Superior Court Judge and now sits on the U.S. Congress,” Butterfield Jones remarked.
“Even as a child, my mom had us knocking on doors talking about the importance of voting and going to every business to discuss access to capital for minority-owned businesses.”
Married to NBA star Dahntay Jones, Butterfield Jones said her dedication to community service and women empowerment helped her to put family life in a better perspective.
“So often we have unrealistic timelines,” she insisted.
“At 30, I said that I don’t have a husband or children, and I don’t have the big house with the picket fence. So I went through an experience to have what I believed at the time was a full life.
“I know now, at age 44, that the timelines aren’t real. Your life is full with or without a mate. So when I met Dahntay, who is now my husband of over ten years, it felt natural and real.”
The couple has two children, Dahntay Jr. and Dillon, and Butterfield Jones said she’s already given them the talk that most Black mothers have with their sons.
“The conversation of what happens if the police pull them over, or if they’re on the playground and someone bullies them, how do you respond?” Butterfield Jones said.
“They are 9 and 4, but I have to prepare them for the reality of being Black men.”
She added that African Americans in leadership positions like her must not waste those seats.
“We have a responsibility to drive change from the inside out,” Butterfield Jones asserted.
She insisted that women, particularly those of color, are not just opening doors but kicking them down as they take their rightful seat at the table.
“My goal is to make sure we drive change tangibly and measurably,” she stated.
“We still have a long way to go. It’s not a level playing field yet, so we have to be honest and move with a sense of urgency and intentionality.
“So often we assume the roles not designed for us can’t be changed. Whenever I see an obstacle or a role traditionally not for me, I see it as an opportunity to take on that role.”
In her current role, Butterfield Jones realizes that many have yet to understand that the Recording Academy does so much more than produce the Grammy Awards.
“We have the Grammy Museum, we have MusiCares, an amazing health and human services organization,” Butterfield Jones continued.
“We have our advocacy department, ‘Grammys on the Hill,’ where we advocate for creators’ rights throughout the year and make sure we show up on Capitol Hill for them and the engineers, producers, and writers to make sure they also have equity.”
“My mentor, Kevin Liles, said ‘I’m not in the music business, I’m in the business of music,’ meaning that there are so many opportunities – thousands of jobs – that you don’t hear about,” Butterfield Jones remarked.
“There are so many people involved in the creative process and so many behind the scenes who are not getting their fair pay, so we are making sure that every person gets compensated fairly for their work.”
While Butterfield Jones advised that she couldn’t promise what the future holds, running for public office isn’t off the table.
“I have a lot of work to do, so I embrace the present and believe that I have a true sense of purpose and responsibility where I am now,” she insisted.
“I’m not done. I have a few more doors in me to knockdown. I’m optimistic. The more we see people we trust who look like us in positions of power, we will see change. I take this responsibility seriously, and I won’t rest until I get the work done.”
The National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA), known as the Black Press of America, is the federation of more than 200 Black community newspapers in the United States.