If You Believe Education Is A Civil Rights Issue Don’t Just See About It, Be About It

I had the great pleasure of attending an education summit here in Nashville located on the beautiful campus of Fisk University in the historical Jubilee Hall. The summit host was the year old Tennessee Educational Equity Coalition, a group of education service providers from across the state seeking to support and advocate for equity.

But responsible for the Coalition is the very successful Conexión Américas, an organization founded by Renata Soto in an effort to support Nashville’s growing Latino population. Soto made a splash onto the scene 15 years ago and her “little” organization is now an integral part of the Nashville landscape providing a myriad of services to the largest Latino population in Tennessee.

Further, Soto identified gaps for other members of the international community and created Casa Azafran which can best be explained as the safe space for Nashville’s immigrant population. According to its website:

Casa Azafrán is both a beautiful event space and home to a collective of nonprofits who offer services in education, legal, health care and the arts to immigrants, refugees and the community as a whole.

The textbook definition of BE ABOUT IT!

Tennessee Has What It Takes to Be About It

There is no shortage of education advocates in Nashville and throughout Tennessee. There is no better illustration of this than the resource-rich attendees attending the two-day Summit. We are richer than I ever imagined.

The event’s keynote speaker, Kaya Henderson, former chancellor of Washington D.C. public schools, even noted in her keynote presentation to the coalition membership, “If you can’t do it Tennessee, I’m not sure it can be done.” It’s true. The partners in that room could propel Tennessee’s students into the education stratosphere forcing the world to come take a look at us.

Though, I can’t tell you how many coalition, collaborative, convening convener meetings I’ve attended over the past couple of decades, I can tell you, this one was different.

Here’s how:

In the tweets above: Kaya Henderson, Dr. Heidi Ramirez, Shelby County Schools; Dr. Nakia Towns, TN Department of Education, and Maya Bugg, Tennessee Charter School Center. Black and Brown women, highly accomplished in their respective areas, brilliantly doling out knowledge based on their successes. What?!

So now, the people publicly speaking out on behalf of Tennessee’s most vulnerable student populations are beginning to look more like the students in these groups. Let’s be clear, I am not presuming these leaders have intimate knowledge of being a member of a historically failing group, but the mama’s and daddy’s and grandparents in these groups will recognize them. And it matters.

A Different Kind of Hope

This is why I’m hopeful. I left yesterday’s Summit with a hop in my step because we are recognizing that black and brown women in this state have something to say, that they are thought leaders who can make it happen. And as Ms. Henderson so brilliantly quoted, “If you want to go fast, go alone, if you want to go far, go together.”

I believe the coalition will be going far. I believe they will do more than just sit on platitudes and watch from the margins. I believe they will be about it.

Thank you Renata Soto and Gini Pupo-Walker for kicking off this thing, this browning of education thought leadership in Tennessee. A brilliant example of “I can show you better than I can tell you.”

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Vesia Hawkins

Extremely passionate about education choices, fairness, and good football.

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