Universal commits $25m fund to support the black community in ‘first phase’ of global company Task Force


On the music industry’s ‘Black Out Tuesday’ (June 2), Canadian star The Weeknd, aka Abel Tesfaye, revealed that he had personally given half a million dollars to causes that protect and improve the lives of black people in America and around the world.

Tesfaye used his vast social media platform to call on major music companies to “go big and go public” with donations of their own.

On Wednesday morning (June 3), Warner Music Group did just that, announcing a $100m fund via Len Blavatnik and his Blavatnik Family Foundation. (Later that day, Warner floated on the Nasdaq, raising approximately $1.9bn for Blavatnik’s company, Access Industries).

Yesterday (June 4), Universal Music Group also met Tesfaye’s call, in a big way.

As part of initiatives tied to its new Task Force For Meaningful Change (TFMC), Universal pledged to invest a $25m ‘Change Fund’ into supporting the black community both within and outside its company walls. (This $25m is coming from within the music company, rather than UMG’s majority parent Vivendi or its minority investor Tencent.)

A significant portion of the $25m money, said UMG, is being distributed as an initial round of grants to several organizations including: Black Girl Ventures, Black Lives Matter, Black Mental Health Alliance, Colin Kaepernick Foundation, Color Of Change, Equal Justice Initiative, National Association of Black Journalists, Silence the Shame, Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of California, The Bail Project, and When We All Vote.

The UMG Task Force is being co-Chaired by Jeff Harleston (UMG EVP, General Counsel & Interim CEO of Def Jam) as well as Ethiopia Habtemariam (President Motown Records & EVP Capitol Music Group). According to a a memo sent to UMG staffers by Harleston and Habtemariam yesterday (June 4), the $25m commitment is the “first phase” of an ongoing investment.

The memo said that the money would aid the UMG Task Force’s work across the following six areas of focus (wording below taken directly from Harleston and Habtemariam’s memo):


1) Aid/Charitable Giving

On behalf of UMG’s family of labels and companies including Blue Note Records, Bravado, Capitol Music Group, Capitol Christian Music Group, Def Jam Records, Interscope Geffen A&M, Island Records, Motown, Republic Records, Universal Music Enterprises, Universal Music Latin, Universal Music Group Nashville, Universal Music Publishing Group and Verve Label Group. TFMC will pursue initiatives with, and fund charitable contributions to organizations that are focused on providing support in the following areas: economic empowerment and business development; housing; legal services and bail; mental health services; physical health services; legislative reform; and voting resources and education.

Effective immediately, the TFMC will provide support through an initial round of grants to several organizations including Black Girl Ventures, Black Lives Matter, Black Mental Health Alliance, Colin Kaepernick Foundation, Color Of Change, Equal Justice Initiative, National Association of Black Journalists, Silence the Shame, Sickle Cell Disease Foundation of California, The Bail Project, and When We All Vote. This list will be updated on an ongoing basis as the TFMC continues to identify, review and assess potential beneficiaries.


2) Global

Acknowledging that racism, intolerance and bias know no borders, the TFMC is focused on adoption of global policies and initiatives to address equality, bias, equity and inclusion efforts for all UMG offices around the world. While the TFMC’s efforts have an initial focus on police brutality and government sponsored discrimination, the mission is to identify and address all issues of inequality, racism and bias.


3) Internal/Institutional Change

We know that we have work to do within our own company and the TFMC will examine UMG’s policies, procedures, work environment as they apply to our workforce. This includes identifying issues of bias, discrimination and inequality and design initiatives to improve access, advancement, recruiting and retention of diverse workforce at all levels within the company. In particular, we will focus on leadership positions and other senior level roles. For much of this effort, the TFMC will work closely with UMG HR’s Diversity & Inclusion team to continue their ongoing efforts and build upon the partnership with USC Annenberg’s Inclusion Initiative.


4) Legislative/Public Policy

The path to long-term sustained change must involve reform of legislation and public policy. The TFMC will work to engage lawmakers and officials at the Federal, state and local level to pursue reform designed to bring about social change. In addition, the TFMC will explore opportunities to pursue legal action to challenge existing laws and regulations that promote bias and systemic discrimination. The TFMC will also focus on voter education, voter registration and voter participation (e.g., “Get Out the Vote” drives).


5) Partners

UMG has a history of investing in and partnering with entrepreneurs who have grown their business out of community, building some of the most impactful and dynamic voices in entertainment today. We will work alongside our partners in their focused efforts to support and insight change in their communities. Their thoughts and ideas will help us continue to grow our own efforts in the fight for justice and equality.


6) Programming/Curation

Music is the heart of culture, connecting people around the world. Our goal is to highlight and curate conversations around the intersection of Black Music, art, lifestyle, fashion, technology and creators along with thoughtful discussions on current event. This committee will celebrate the contribution of Black artists, creators and entrepreneurs throughout time and promote dialogue, counseling, educational and creative programming around the topics of tolerance, equality and inclusion. The committee will continue and expand upon UMG HR’s Diversity & Inclusion programming including their Belonging Table and other external series bringing experts to talk about relevant topics such as economic empowerment and business development, mental health and voting.


Harleston and Habtemariam introduced their memo with the following statement:

We are living through some of the most challenging times in recent history.

While the Black community has long lived with the reality of police violence, the events of the past several weeks have been devastating. From the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd to the senseless killing of numerous protestors fighting for justice, and the appalling, racially charged confrontation in New York’s Central Park, we all have had a front row seat, once again, in the theater of racism, hatred and intolerance.

“The problems we are addressing are not new and they certainly do not have easy solutions, but we are dedicated to fighting for real, lasting change.”

The problems we are addressing are not new and they certainly do not have easy solutions, but we are dedicated to fighting for real, lasting change. As Lucian wrote, UMG has committed resources and empowered us to create a task force to be both a resource and ally to our internal and external community.

Task Force for Meaningful Change (TFMC) was created as a driving force for the ongoing fight for equality, justice and inclusion. We are charged with reviewing the company’s commitment to addressing and promoting tolerance, equality, and elimination of bias, within UMG, the music community and the world at large. It is our mission to identify the gaps and deficiencies and to strengthen UMG’s plan with new initiatives.

And EVERYTHING is on the table.


The duo encouraged UMG staff worldwide to engage with the Task Force, in order to identify priorities and “driving both urgent/immediate as well as long term initiatives”.

Some of the first initiatives launched by Universal’s Task Force include an ongoing series of Town Hall Meetings for employees.

These have included a forum hosted by UMG HR’s Diversity & Inclusion team and the company’s Black Label Group. Panelists included Arisha Hatch, VP & Chief of Campaigns of Color of Change; Dr. Steven Jones, CEO & Founder of Jones Inclusive; and Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, Licensed Psychologist & Founder of Therapy for Black Girls, among others.

UMG is also providing all employees with what it calls “an easy-to-use system to help you write your Member of Congress and U.S. Senators periodic emails, demanding serious reform”.

For staff who wish to make a personal contribution to related causes, UMG is directing employees to a All Together Now Employee Matching website, where all individual contributions are being matched by UMG itself.

Furthermore, a group of the company’s legal staff is is organizing to do volunteer (or pro bono) legal work for social justice and criminal justice reform organizations.

Harlseton and Habtemariam signed off their memo by stating: “We know our community, colleagues, artists and partners are suffering. We feel it and we’re living it but we’re also energized to fight for change. We’re asking for you to lock arms with us – we want to hear your voice. Now is the time to be heard!”

The full list of UMG’s global Task Force members can be seen below.

  • Alex Boateng, UMG UK
  • Amaiya Davis, Media Manager, Republic Records
  • Amber Grimes, SVP Global Creative, Capitol Music Group
  • Annie Imamura, VP Global Communications, UMG
  • Bill Evans, SVP Urban Promotions, Capitol Music Group
  • Brian Nolan, EVP, Capitol Music Group
  • Britney Davis, VP of Artist Relations, Marketing & Special Projects, CMG
  • Cara Donatto, EVP Head of Media Strategy, Interscope Geffen A&M
  • Damion Presson, SVP Artist Relations, Republic Records
  • Darcus Beese, President & CEO, Island Records
  • Don Was, President, Blue Note Records
  • Jeff Burroughs, SVP Marketing, Def Jam Recordings
  • Jeff Vaughn, President, Capitol Records
  • Joie Manda, EVP, Interscope Geffen A&M
  • Kardinal Offishall, Sr. Director A&R, UMG Canada
  • Katina Bynum, EVP Urban, UMe
  • Latrice Burnette, EVP & GM, Island Records
  • Magda Vives, SVP Legal & Business Affairs for Latin America
  • Marc Byers, GM, Motown Records
  • Marleny Reyes, SVP Marketing Strategy, Republic Records
  • Naim McNair, SVP A&R, UMG and Def Jam Recordings
  • Natina Nimene, SVP Urban Promotions, Def Jam Recordings
  • Nicole Wyskoarko, EVP Head of Urban Operations, Interscope Geffen A&M
  • Rodney Shealy, EVP, Def Jam Recordings
  • Sam Taylor, EVP A&R, Republic Records
  • Sipho Dlamini, Managing Director, UMG Africa
  • Sickamore, SVP, A&R , Interscope Geffen A&M
  • Steve Carless, EVP A&R, President, Republic Records
  • Travis Robinson, VP Diversity & Inclusion, UMG
  • Tim Glover, SVP, A&R, Interscope Geffen A&M
  • Walter Jones, Head of West Coast A&R, UMPG

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