Our History

MISSION and VISION

 

United Jazz Foundation (UJF) is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization dedicated to elevating the aspirations and economic conditions of underserved youth on the United States Virgin Islands (USVI) through music literacy, performance, and mentorship.

Located on the US Virgin Islands and guided by the awareness of the positive impact of community-based, targeted educational activity and the premise of self-empowerment, UJF administers music education programs that incorporate cultural heritage and community-building and helps provide a safe, progressive, and encouraging atmosphere in which pre-k students through college graduates can learn.

Founders Dion Parson and Nicole Parson both hold firmly to the belief that to empower children and adults, we must provide them with the essential tools they need to help navigate and improve their individual lives and the community. UJF’s music education programs provide the necessary knowledge and skills students need to compete in today’s professional world and to become more confident and responsible individuals who ultimately benefit the USVI community by giving back and/or supporting education as well as the arts and culture of the USVI.​

 

THE BEGINNING

 

​Founded in 2013, United Jazz Foundation originated as Mentoring Through the Arts of Music (MTAM), a personal initiative by co-founder and US Virgin Islander Dion Parson. A drummer, composer, and educator, Dion was born and grew up in St. Thomas, where he was fortunate to be around adults that taught him how to rope in his wild energy and use it to achieve his dreams.

“There was no coddling and no making excuses. Everything I achieved, I gained through hard work, persistence, and the help of the adults who took me under their wings. My experiences have taught me that with the support of your community, the acknowledgment of your own deep-seated passions, and the application of inner strength, you can achieve anything.” – Dion Parson

As an adult, Dion saw that there were many teens and pre-teens on the USVI who needed a similar support system. This awareness prompted him to pledge that he would do as much as he could to ensure that these teenagers were able to find the support they needed…and so Mentoring Through the Arts of Music was conceived. The initiative began with minute steps—a few private conversations with young teenagers trying to find themselves, bits and pieces of musical coaching, a few impromptu jam sessions after a performance, and a great desire to give back to the community.​

DION'S VISION

 

Based on his own background and the support he received, Dion pledged to:​

  • Create a nurturing environment in which the children of St. Thomas, St John, and St. Croix can experience and learn about their own local heritage and other aspects of life outside of their community.

  • Present alternatives created and shared by the community—teachers, students, parents, workers, professionals, and businesses—that will help children blossom and become more confident as they focus on the learning process and on achieving their dreams.

  • Build a network of musicians who will remain committed to giving back to their community and helping the musicians of the next generation achieve their goals.

With this pledge in mind, Dion developed programming for Mentoring Through the Arts of Music and, working without any dedicated funds, he distributed gently used instruments to students and schools and encouraged some of his professional musician friends to return with him to the island to speak with, teach, and provide advice to some of the students.

After a long, invigorating, revealing, and challenging journey, Mentoring Through the Arts of Music was sanctioned by the Government of the US Virgin Islands, and in collaboration with United Jazz International, the program was officially launched in the US Virgin Islands in 2009.

From then, the program rapidly expanded and in 2013, Dion and his wife Nicole Koerts-Parson launched the non-profit United Jazz Foundation to enable the initiative to expand and receive additional financial support.

Under the auspices of United Jazz Foundation, MTAM has now expanded into the Caribbean Music Institute that offers broader programming and is open to all students in public elementary, junior high, high school, and college, including college graduates on the USVI, as well as financially underserved students who are interested in a music career. Each program works with professional musicians and offers master classes, workshops, private instruction, and opportunities for live performances—ensuring that students have access to the tools they need to build successful careers in music and an opportunity to grow creatively and reach their full potential.

UJF's programs also encourage cultural inclusion and community building. Students are provided with opportunities to engage with professional musicians in the classroom, on the stage, and in their everyday lives. These musicians serve as mentors to students—from elementary school through college—helping them to understand their own local musical traditions, while introducing them to or broadening their concepts of all music, including jazz, the American musical heritage.

As part of Community Building efforts, UJF also organizes free community performances that highlight talented students, local musicians, and neighborhood businesses. These efforts also include the VI Smiles initiative that encourages tourism on the USVI while supporting youth education.

United Jazz Foundation helps produce the next generation of musicians by challenging students to achieve a level of excellence that surpasses general expectations and serves to build local communities and new audiences for jazz while providing quality music education and developmental opportunities.