Music In Common: Funding pulled from music nonprofit inspired by Daniel Pearl

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SHEFFIELD — A local music nonprofit whose mission it is to sow peace between cultures and religions has suffered a devastating financial blow as one of 11 groups recently stripped of promised federal anti-terrorism funding. 

Music in Common, which was inspired by the journalist and musician Daniel Pearl, lost a $159,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security's Countering Violent Extremism program after the department took a sharp turn under the Trump administration, pulling funding from some organizations and redirecting it to law enforcement agencies.

The department had awarded a total of $10 million to 31 recipients in early January under the tenure of former Secretary Jeh Johnson.

Later that month, President Donald Trump appointed John Kelly as secretary.

A statement by the department said Kelly had reviewed awards made under the previous administration. Previous recipients were replaced, mostly by law enforcement organizations, or an increase was made to some of the previous awardees.

"The money never came," said Music in Common Founder and Director Todd Mack, who started the organization in response to the murder — by Islamic extremists — of his friend and bandmate Daniel Pearl, a former North Adams Transcript and Berkshire Eagle reporter who at the time of his death was working in Pakistan for The Wall Street Journal.

"This was the lifeline that we were looking for that would allow us to expand," Mack said of funds that would have helped continue the work of reaching into diverse communities with Pearl's spirit of merry music-making and goodwill. 

Mack said in anticipation, the nonprofit had hired people and mapped out two years of programming, essentially paying itself forward. 

Music in Common runs songwriting and multimedia programs for young people from different cultures and faiths. The organization has touched over 250 communities around the world since its founding in 2005, according to Mack.

For Mack, a lifelong musician who also owns a recording studio here, it all started at annual backyard jams with local musicians to honor Pearl. The work and mission grew, and the organization's financial need with it. Music in Common's primary funding for it's $100,000 annual budget comes mostly from donations and small grants, said Director of Outreach Lynnette Najimy.

The Countering Violent Extremism grants were established by Congress in 2015 for "community-driven" approaches to preventing radicalization and terrorist recruitment. 

In a February email exchange with David O'Leary, of the Homeland Security's Office of Community Partnerships, Mack asked where the grant was, since the money hadn't been distributed by the 30-day goal after the announcement, and told O'Leary the nonprofit was "at a standstill" without it.

O'Leary said the agency was working through "delays," and Mack heard no more until June 23, when O'Leary said the department had made "additional reviews."

According to O'Leary, the agency had, since January, changed its standards for the grant award, saying it now looked at whether the organization would partner with law enforcement "and other frontline defenders," and could continue after the grant was spent. 

O'Leary could not be reached for comment Monday.

Mack said the work of using songwriting and other projects to bridge divides between young Jews, Christians and Muslims — immigrants and American-born — is critical to making headway into the dark waters of Islamic extremism. 

"There's a lot of research in the field, a very specific methodology, that shows that people-to-people [work] is very effective in changing perceptions and behaviors," Mack said.

And Mack cites a handful of supporting research, including a U.S. military and government report that examines the impact of music in promoting and countering terrorism. 

This grant would have supported an expansion of programs and participants within the U.S., mostly in the Berkshires, nearby Pioneer Valley, a program in Springfield, Atlanta and Los Angeles. 

Not all the organizations that will get this grant funding are law enforcement agencies, however. Listed is the Hartland Democracy Center, Peace Catalyst International and Global Peace Foundation.

And while two of those dropped from the funding list are Muslim organizations like the Muslim American Leadership Alliance and Ka Joog, the one that remained and was given an increase from the original award was Masjid Muhammad Inc., the nation's mosque in Washington.

Mack said the funding loss is devastating to the group's mission of "empowering youth against hate," and the group is now trying to raise the money through its website and on Purecharity.com.

"Not only are we out of money, but it threatens the future of these programs and our work as a whole," Mack said.

Reach staff writer Heather Bellow at 413-329-6871.


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