I am not a fan of ice-breakers. I’ve never enjoyed the sort of forced interaction I’ve found to be part of them. When I attend a meeting or conference, I want to take my own time and observe the crowd; notice who is interacting in what way, and then I’ll start connecting with the people I feel drawn to. This is such a core belief for me that if I walk into a room and there are clear signs that an ice-breaker is coming, I’ve been known to go get a coffee or hang out in the hallway “on an important phone call” until that part is over.
So you can imagine, in February of this year, when I walked into a large room at FSU Jacksonville for the Jax Bold Goal meeting that I was not excited to see various percussion instruments in the center of all the tables.
WOW! Was I wrong on this one! When the organizer invited Alisha to come and do some drumming with us, we were all a little skeptical. She asked everyone to choose an instrument from the table and started walking us through various drumming activities. Regardless of your instrument, we all played the same beat in unison. This was true for three different rhythms. Then she assigned those rhythms to us based on the type of instrument we had chosen and walked us through playing three different beats in unison.
For anyone who might have taken music class in school or who has littles now that do, this might not seem ground breaking to you. For anyone who has attended a government/non-profit meeting about the social welfare of your city, you will feel as I did. We did not learn a few simple beats. We learned to find a common cadence; a common movement. Then we learned to express our own cadence, but to do it while other people were also expressing theirs.
And, as one would hope, this energy carried into the meeting. People were able to find common ground. People were able to say different things, but say them in harmony. Everyone was able to keep their eyes on the goal - a healthier Jacksonville by 2020.
I was hooked! Way more than an ice-breaker…way more than a get the blood flowing activity…this was setting our meeting up for success. I knew right then that I had to interview Alisha and learn more about how she started drumming and how she turned it into a business!
I hope that you will enjoy reading her story as much as I enjoyed drumming!
Tell us about your business. What do you do? Who do you serve? How long have you been at it?
Just Add Rhythm is a recipe for wellness and team-building through music. Our tag line is zero to drumming in 60 seconds because that’s how simple it is! We provide engaging team-building programs, employee wellness workshops, and community experiences using drumming as a tool for wellness. Since 2012, we've drummed with over 100,000 people in more than 100 organizations and businesses across Florida and Georgia. We bring the rhythm to companies, organizations, and events in innovative ways that are rooted in research. We offer a wide variety of options to serve many different organizations and organizational needs.
Why did you start your business?
I started my business because of my deep love and study of West African drum and dance. I started learning West African and other world music styles while an undergraduate at Berklee College of Music more than 15 years ago, and I continued my study while writing my master’s thesis at Tufts University.
After spending time doing research in Senegal, I developed a deep appreciation for the way rhythm was integrated into all parts of the community – that was unfamiliar to me, and I loved it. In the U.S., we don’t have a music culture that everyone participates in – we either perform or we watch; we never just do it. I wanted to introduce that experience (and all the wonderful wellness and community benefits that went along with it) to people and organizations in my corner of the world.
There is so much we can do for our physical, mental, and emotional health when we come together in rhythm. I knew there was research out there that confirmed this, and so I began learning all I could about the clinical evidence that was out there – reversing stress, boosting immunity and mood, facilitating bonding, enhancing focus and concentration, and so much more.
Rhythm is in us, from the beat of our hearts and our circadian rhythms to the way we dance when we hear a catchy beat. We all have rhythm!
What does "social good business" or "values based earning" mean to you?
It means that your income is not dictated by punching a time clock and putting in your hours just to work - it’s about starting a movement with your business; one that will do some kind of good for the world. Your success is determined by the level of positive impact you make with your clientele, and, as a result, others in your community, as the good ripples outward.
What is your favorite part about running a social good business or your favorite experience since you started?
The best part about my job is that I made it up because I had an unbridled passion for something that I saw my community needed. Although there are many other people worldwide who are rhythm facilitators for change like myself, I feel a bit like a pioneer in my community because the concept of rhythm for wellness and connection is so new to people here – most people try to frame it in terms of a ‘performance’ or a ‘class.’ It’s neither – it’s an in-the-moment experience.
I love seeing faces light up every time I get to introduce them to that amazing and empowering experience.
What is your biggest struggle in running a social good business?
It’s a bit like being an artist – people often want you to offer your services for free or at a reduced fee for exposure. While I do offer these services for free or at a reduced cost for some organizations who I believe need it the most, I also have learned to advocate for myself and my business. We are providing positive and transformational experiences that are based in real evidence, and the biggest challenge is educating people about the value of these services so they understand fully what it can do for their business or organization.
What would you like most to accomplish in the next year? 5 years?
This year I'm working on becoming a speaker in addition to being a facilitator. I see myself as an advocate for integrating rhythm-based programming into more corporate, educational, and community environments. In order to help make that happen, I need to build a platform with which I can share this information with a variety of industries and populations.
Within 5 years we will be expanding the depth and breadth of our services, including adding and training more facilitators in different regions in Florida, and offering online courses in rhythm and wellness, and in business development for facilitators.
Who are your business icons, heroines or mentors?
I have a lot of them. In the field of facilitation as well as business, I admire Christine Stevens and Mary Tolena. Both are accomplished facilitators who have built successful careers working with corporate and community populations in the U.S. and abroad. They both offer training and mentoring courses and programs to help others in this community to build their businesses and be successful at what they love.
I also greatly admire the empire of positivity that Marie Forleo has built.
Locally, Kristin Keen, Kathryn Thomas, and Kelly Youngs are female entrepreneurs who are on fire with their values-driven organizations.
What's your #1 tip for someone just getting started running a values-based business?
The phrase “start with why” keeps coming back to me over and over. If you don’t know why you’re starting your business, or if you forget along the way because you’re getting bogged down with the day-to-day grind, it will start to show. Keep your “why” foremost in your mind and let that be the starting point of all conversations with people when talking about your business.
What are your favorite conferences or retreats to attend?
Just recently I attended and presented at the annual Drum Circle Facilitators Guild conference, which is an organization dedicated to the professional development of – you guessed it – drum circle facilitators and people who use rhythm to create positive change in their world. I got so much out of that conference this year and the first year I attended 5 years ago. It really reminded me that I’ve chosen the right path for myself and my career.
I also attended and presented at PASIC 2018, the Percussive Arts Society’s International Convention. Both conferences gave me the opportunity to give some of my unique knowledge back to the community of facilitators, and also to meet and learn from the best in the business. This is a business of collaboration, giving, gratitude, and humility. I’m so proud to be a part of it.
What is the last book you read?
Well, if I’m being really honest, it was a Harlan Coben mystery thriller – I’m a sucker for a good mystery and page turner!
But at any given time, I have about 10 or so books in the rotation, including currently The Healing Power of the Drum by Robert Lawrence Friedman, From Chaos to Calm by Annelies Gentile, and The Science of Percussion Instruments by Thomas D. Rossing.
I also love historical fiction, so there’s always something in the rotation relating to old timey England, World War II, or a generational book set in a country I’ve never been to. I love to learn about the past through the eyes of a riveting set of characters!