Since her first days in college, Valeisha Butterfield Jones has lived by the creed of her historically Black alma mater, Clark Atlanta University, which simply advises, “find a way or make one.”
“That has 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 Northwest.
“I remember pounding the pavement, working the phones and then finding 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,” she said.
While the fight for equal rights and equal pay in corporate boardrooms continues for women of color, Butterfield Jones believes it shouldn’t have been so difficult to achieve.
Now the co-president of the Recording Academy and in charge of the Grammy Awards, Butterfield Jones stands in a position where she can effect change.
Through her nonprofit, Women in Entertainment Empowerment Network, Butterfield Jones and her colleagues, over a span of 15 years, have served as sources of inspiration for more than 85,000 women hoping to secure work in show business.
During the 2022 Grammy Awards, Butterfield helped lay out 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 said. “We have a tool which makes sure we’re ensuring gender diversity and diversity among creators with disabilities because there was an accessible ramp and we had LGBTQIA inclusion.”
She also made reference to the new “Women In the Mix” report which spotlights 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,” she said. “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. And 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 former NBA star Dahntay Jones, Butterfield Jones said her dedication to community service and women’s empowerment helped her put family life in a better perspective.
“So often we have unrealistic timelines,” she insisted. “At 30, I said, ‘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 realistic. Your life can be full, with or without a mate. When I met Dahntay, who is now my husband of over 10 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 only 9 and 4 but I have to prepare them for the reality of being Black men.”
She believes that African Americans in leadership positions must not waste their seat.
“We have a responsibility to drive change from the inside out,” she said before emphasizing that women, particularly those of color, continue to not only open doors but to kick them down as they take their rightful seat at the table.
“My goal is to make sure we drive change tangibly and measurably,” she said. “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 that 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,” she said.
In her current role, Butterfield Jones has observed that many have yet to understand that the Recording Academy does a lot more than produce the Grammy Awards.
“We have the Grammy Museum and we have MusiCares, an amazing health and human services organization,” she said. “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 so they all 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.” Bu
“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,” she stated.
While Butterfield Jones knows she can’t predict the future, running for public office isn’t completely 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 said. “But I’m not done. I have a few more doors in me to knock down. I’m optimistic. The more we see people we trust who look like us in positions of power, the more we will see change. I take this responsibility seriously and I won’t rest until I get the work done.”