Imagine successfully petitioning your college’s president to start a music program, then being the first student to graduate from that program, then returning to the school six years later to be the assistant band director. That’s what Willie Snipes Jr. did! In April 2016 – on his birthday, no less – he was named the director of college bands at Miles College, becoming the youngest director in the HBCU band world. “To see music and music education majors graduate from the program that I helped start brings great joy to my heart,” Snipes said.
Miles’ award-winning bands has more than 200 members with an 85% retention rate. “I believe that my high recruitment and retention rate is due to the fact that I build a relationship of trust with my students,” Snipes said. “Many of my students are from low-income families, which I am from as well, or from broken homes — so that connection and trust are essential.”
Building and maintaining a strong music program requires support from the community, so Snipes shows local schools and neighborhoods that “Miles Cares.” Members of the band sorority and fraternity assist local middle school and high school music directors, giving the college students teaching and leadership opportunities. Snipes and the staff promote the “horns up, guns down” campaign in local neighborhoods, help with food drives, donate instruments to local school bands, and recruit students and award them band scholarships.
In one of his “40 Under 40” nomination letters, a colleague wrote, “Mr. Snipes and his students are not just champions in the band world, they are champions for education. He make sure no student is left behind by pushing education first and stepping in when a student’s grades are falling. Mr. Snipes is a teacher, leader, father, mentor, friend and a great asset to our community.”