Jami Duffy’s message is simple: Career options exist outside traditional paths.
She should know. She’s taken traditional, wadded it up, kissed it goodbye and tossed it in the trash.
But back in 2000, when she entered the University of Denver, Duffy (BA ’03) admits she was on that traditional path. “I saw myself becoming this big-time, hot-shot political reporter on Capitol Hill,” she says with a laugh.
Made sense. She double majored in political science and journalism.
“But then something shifted in my mind about a year before I graduated,” she says. “DU opened my eyes to the injustices in the world, to poverty. I just started thinking about serving others in some way.”
After graduation, she spent three years in the Peace Corps, serving in a small Nicaraguan village where she taught preschoolers and raised $4,000 to build the only brick structure the village had ever seen. When she returned to Denver, she began working with DU’s social justice program, where she helped DU graduates identify their passions. While in that job, she met the lead singer of the Flobots, a Denver-based hip-hop-rock band that was gaining national popularity.
The singer, Jamie Laurie, told her about Flobots.org, a nonprofit the band had formed that taught kids about music and art. Within a few weeks, she ended up on the board. In 2010, she left DU to become the organization’s executive director — the position she holds today. (The organization has since been renamed Youth on Record.)
As director, Duffy has overseen the organization’s efforts to put musicians into area schools and residential treatment facilities to serve as role models, teach music and help young people achieve academically, artistically and socially.
Her latest project with Youth on Record is a state-of-the-art youth media studio where thousands of at-risk and underserved students will get a hands-on education in the musical arts from world-class musicians, including members of well-known bands such as the Fray, OneRepublic and Dispatch. At the new center, scheduled to open in August in Denver’s La Alma neighborhod, students can learn about audio engineering, spoken word poetry, individual and ensemble performance, audio recording and music production.
To date, Duffy has helped to raise $1.5 million and to develop a partnership with the Denver Housing Authority and Denver Public Schools that will put mill levy funding toward the studio.
The whole effort fits Duffy like a glove. “I think it’s a tragedy that we’re the most developed nation in the world, and yet we’re failing our kids,” she says. “Some areas in Denver have a 53 percent graduation rate, and where we’re building the studio, the graduation rate is only 12 percent.”
That’s an injustice she feels compelled to quell. And so far, she’s making great headway. The studio will open in September, just a few light rail stops from DU.
“It’s been my baby for three years, and it’s finally happening,” Duffy says. “I’m also a spiritual person and believe I was pulled here to do this work right now. Sometimes it’s not the most traditional path that will help you to be most effective.”