Build up the body of Christ. Support the Pentecost Offering.

‘A call to imagine the change we want to see’


Composer, musician, bandleader and futurist Nicole Mitchell Gantt is the guest on the second installment of a Matthew 25 webinar series

July 16, 2024

Nicole Mitchell Gantt

Flautist, futurist, bandleader and composer Nicole Mitchell Gantt recently joined the Rev. Jermaine Ross-Allam for the second installment of the Matthew 25 series, “Imagining a Future Beyond Systemic Poverty and Structural Racism.” The 75-minute webinar included a time of improvised music and, in the style of Sankofa, a look at the past to help build a hopeful, more joyous and inclusive future.

Read about the first webinar in the “Imagining a Future” series here.

Ross-Allam directs the PC(USA)’s Center for the Repair of Historic Harms. Mitchell teaches composition and computer technologies at the University of Virginia. For more than 20 years, Mitchell’s critically acclaimed Chicago-based Black Earth Ensemble has been her primary compositional laboratory with which she has performed at festivals and art venues throughout Europe, Canada and the United States.

Ross-Allam said his interest in Mitchell’s music began while he was still in graduate school. “I love these great musicians,” he said, mentioning legends including Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane and Billie Holiday. “But who is living, working and thinking right now at that level of transformational capabilities?” For him, Mitchell fit the bill.

“Thanks for tying all those parts of myself into one expression,” she told Ross-Allam. “I know a challenge we’re facing is, how do we dream in a world like this?”

“I know art sometimes feels like a privilege that is not for everyone. Maybe it’s something people can’t afford, or the time it takes to develop an idea to share with others,” Mitchell said. But “it’s the small things, like being together in this moment, that are powerful. When we make the connection art helps us to make, it does have an impact on our hearts and what’s happening around the world.”

“What is progress? I ask this question a lot,” she said. “I feel this question is key to the kind of change we want.” To Mitchell, progress is connected to collective well-being. “It matters if people have enough to eat and safe places to be and to thrive. … We know what we need, but there’s this belief that we can’t get there. That’s what imagination is for, and that’s why I love music.”

The Rev. Jermaine Ross-Allam (photo by Rich Copley)

Whether it’s the process of writing her acclaimed memo/manifesto “The Mandorla Letters,” published in 2022, or helping create songs such as “Dance of Many Hands,” Mitchell said she embraces the ideal of “together/not together.”

“In unity, we need to have space to be ourselves,” she said. “It’s about leaning into the uncomfortable. There’s space for everyone to do their thing.”

“I try,” she told Ross-Allam, “to connect my philosophical ideas with what I make sonically.”

Asked about themes like Afrofuturism present in works including “The Mandorla Letters,” Mitchell called it “centering the Black imagination in futuristic ideals.”

“A lot of our energy as Black folks has focused on reframing our history in our own voice” and “reclaiming our narratives, which have been misconstrued,” she said. “It embraces the past with a lens toward the future” so that “we can have optimism while we’re going through the dystopic challenges we’re going through.”

“It can be inspiring for all of us, no matter our background,” she said, naming jazz as “an African American freedom vehicle that has become a global vehicle to share stories through music. Afrofuturism is a call to imagine the change we want to see.”

She said music “has challenged me to do things I am not comfortable with.” After Mitchell attended all-Black schools in grades 1 and 2, her family moved to California, where the schools were, at the time, mostly white. “I was met with hostility, racism and sometimes violence. I endured it all day long,” she said of her school years in the mid-1970s. “The laws had changed, but the people hadn’t.”

“In a sense, it gave me a head start expressing my own voice,” she told Ross-Allam. “It made music a space where I had a feeling of love and acceptance.”

“I did music because it was in my heart,” she said. “For whatever reason, this is who God made me to be.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Nicole Mitchell Gantt is guest on the Matthew 25 webinar series

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
James Martin, YAV Site Coordinator, Presbyterian Mission Agency (Term)
Neal Martin, Desktop Support Analyst I, Technology, Administrative Services Group (A Corp) 

Let us pray

Almighty God, giver of all good gifts, bless our efforts to provide to the people of this world. Through these efforts, may more of your children know the abundant life that Christ came to bring us. Amen.

Creative_Commons-BYNCNDYou may freely reuse and distribute this article in its entirety for non-commercial purposes in any medium. Please include author attribution, photography credits, and a link to the original article. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDeratives 4.0 International License.

  • Subscribe to the PC(USA) News

  • Interested in receiving either of the PC(USA) newsletters in your inbox?

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.