Keep Your Accolades, We’re Here For Our Piece of the Promise

It seemed like all of America voted in Alabama’s Senate election this week. Everyone had something to say about the decades-old Republican seat up for grabs. But in true cinematic fashion, Democrats pulled off a miracle and gained another seat in Washington.

We may never identify the magic that led to Democrat Doug Jones beating ultra-conservative Roy Moore in an equally conservative state. One thing is for sure — black people unexpectedly showed up and showed out in a way only we know how. If you are a Democrat in a contest against hate, we’re here for you. And black women? When America is against the ropes, with one hand lifted in praise and the other prepared for battle, time after time black women have carried this nation on our backs using our vote to restore America’s promise. And Tuesday night’s election was no different.

Sadly, for black women, America’s promise of equality, justice, and freedom for all is, at best, false advertising and, at worst, soul-crushing betrayal. Since the birth of this nation, black women have nursed and nurtured the soil and soul of this land. For this country, we have fought and died, marched and entertained, built and reconstructed, all without condition and with love and forgiveness.

Sick and Tired of Being Sick and Tired

As I think about our heroics throughout the generations, I declare that I am Fannie Lou Hamer sick and tired of the promise prostituted to secure our vote and then ripped from our fingertips post-election.

But not all of the blame falls on the shoulders of the politician or the party. No, voters too often believe their voice ends with the ballot. I’m here to tell you – hell to the naw! Casting your vote is only the beginning.

We can’t afford to do what we’ve always done by giving away our vote and our trust. Because how far has that taken us? Let’s see: black women are highly educated yet earn significantly less than men of any race and white and Asian women. No matter where we live in this country, large percentages of black children cannot read. In rapidly gentrifying cities like Nashville, black families are disproportionately squeezed outside of the core where affordable housing is at a premium and distant from vital services. Disparities in healthcare, loan acceptance, employment, and the list goes on…

With these irrefutable injustices looming over our lives we simply don’t have the luxury of walking out of the voting booth feeling satisfied. We cannot be satisfied until we are paid our worth. We cannot be satisfied until 100% of our children read at or above grade level. We cannot be satisfied until we make sure policymakers and shakers see us in every decision.

You’ve voted, now make good on your vote. Honor your investment by following the news, question decisions that don’t pass the smell test, and offer praise and gratitude at the appropriate times. Get your piece of the promise, sis.

And always stay woke.

black woman

Nashville Voices: “I’m Sharing My Story Because It Matters”

Toya Werkheiser is a career woman, wife and mother of four beautiful children from Dyersburg, Tennessee. Growing up with limited access to high-quality school options, it was only right that she become an advocate for her children to ensure they had access to the best education possible. As a Nashville Rise advocate, her goal is to ensure every child’s educational needs are met through empowering the child’s parents and leaving them feeling confident enough to elevate their voices around advocating for change.

As parent leaders, we need to build trust, inspire hope and move people to action. Personal stories are one of the most powerful ways to do this. They are how we communicate our shared values and build trust, how we express what is at stake and how we impress upon others the need to act with a sense of urgency.

I want to share a little bit of my personal story.

I was raised in Dyersburg, a small town in West Tennessee with limited school options. Private, charter, magnet—you name it—none of these school options existed throughout my K-12 experience. As a result, everyone attended the same traditional schools with the same “one-size-fits-all” education models. It was almost impossible to access a high-quality education without traveling outside of your district.

My husband and I have four children, ages 12 to 23, and we’ve been determined to make sure they benefit from the best schools possible. As it stands, our kids have attended 10 schools to date with two additional high schools to come.

By the time my last two kids graduate, we will have driven hundreds and hundreds of miles in a trial and error effort to access high-quality options—a major commitment to ensure that our kids get the best education possible.

HERE’S THE CHALLENGE MY COMMUNITY, OTHER PARENTS OF COLOR, AND UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES AROUND THE COUNTRY FACE: ACCESS TO HIGH-QUALITY SCHOOLS. Here’s the challenge my community, other parents of color, and underserved communities around the country face: access to high-quality schools. I know it’s a possibility but how do we make it happen?

I was introduced to Nashville Rise after seeking out education advocacy groups and engaging with other involved parents. I joined Nashville Rise because I wanted to be a part of a team working to improve the quality of education for students in my community. I wanted to be able to send my children to the school across the street and able to get the same quality of education as the school 30 minutes from my house.

I wanted to be able to sit down with our elected officials, parents and other community members and discuss problems related to education—not later, but now.

I want to talk about what we can do to resolve issues affecting kids in our community. This is not something we can wait for. If Nashville is the “IT” city and I don’t dispute that it is, we have to get IT…this…right. Right now.

Nashville Voices: “No matter what I had to sacrifice, my son was going to make it.”

Contributed by Teade Tagaloa, a single mother living in Nashville. She works with parents in the Nashville Rise network of schools to improve the education system for her son and all students.

In 2005, I had my son and I was terrified. I already knew that, because he was a Black male born to a single mother, society had already put a label on him. I wondered if I would be able to care for him, would he love me, how would he be when he grew up? What was I going to do with a child?

I didn’t want the world to see my son as a number, so from that day forth I vowed to myself that no matter what I had to sacrifice, my son was going to make it.

Once my son started school in Lexington, Kentucky, I saw that it wasn’t working—and I wasn’t satisfied. I thought to myself, “There has to be something better than this.”


The schools in our area weren’t getting better, only worse. So, I packed our bags and made the tough decision to leave everything in Kentucky behind. We were Nashville-bound.

Once we arrived, I realized that while Nashville was a much bigger city than Lexington, bigger doesn’t always mean better.

Every child in Nashville does not have access to a quality education, and the only kids who attended good schools lived outside the city.

There were no support systems available to help me navigate the school system, so I had to research and tour schools on my own. After months of research and trial and error, I found a school that fit all of my son’s academic needs. However I noticed that while my son loved the academic structure of his school, there was still something missing. My son enjoys playing basketball, but the school he attends does not have a strong athletic team.

My son began to get in trouble, which frustrated me a lot. I knew sports motivated him, but I could not (and still can’t) seem to find a school that has a great academic program and athletics.

This struggle made me feel defeated.


Being a single mother to a Black male is like a balancing act in the circus. You have to balance finances, education and a household, and you can’t let any of those fall. In doing all that, I lost myself. I got so caught up in trying to make it that I forgot to stop and spend quality time with my son.

I felt so guilty.

Until one day I had the opportunity to meet the Nashville Rise team.

Nashville Rise provided me with the opportunity to meet other parents who were facing the same issues. Through attending their meetings and engaging in community activities, I became empowered. I learned things about the school system I never knew. I became an even bigger advocate for my son’s school, as well as for schools in my area.

I started attending parent meetings at my son’s school and challenged other parents to think outside the box. I became a part of figuring out how to fix our broken system. Doing all these things felt good. Not only that, the good feeling trickled down to my son, who felt motivated as well.

Although I haven’t found that perfect school with the athletic and academic balance, I’m able to be a part of an organization that is advocating for change, elevating parent voices and empowering parents to grab a seat at the table during the conversation on reform.

And for that I will forever be grateful.

Do You Hear What I Hear? It’s The Sound of Fear-Mongering and Parent-Shaming

The Associated Press’ story blaming charter schools for re-segregating schools has the ed reform community in a tizzy. Thought-leaders, policymakers, and advocates have lit up Twitter, and rightfully so, crying foul about a story that supports the tragically irresponsible claim made by the NAACP and AFT (American Federation of Teachers union) last summer.

I get it. People are afraid. As more charters experience success, the greater the potential for the closure of traditional public schools, thus, job loss. So the strategy to label charter schools agents of segregation is a pretty desperate attempt to save jobs, maintain control of marginalized families, and protect the business of masking shit as free and appropriate education.

The AP story was careful to keep the premier teacher’s union and the NAACP out of the spotlight, but the remnants of this summer past can be detected in each line. Remember when AFT chief Randi Weingarten called charter schools and vouchers “slightly more polite cousins to segregation?” And the Reverend Al Sharpton had to chime in:

Maybe it’s a coincidence that the AFT, NAACP, and AP are all calling charter schools segregationists. I wonder if they also believe the audacious accusation that schools full of kids of color cannot succeed. “‘Desegregation works. Nothing else does,” said Daniel Shulman, a Minnesota civil rights attorney.”

Many of my grandparent’s generation lament desegregation as they blame it for breaking up the village. The tight-knit community of professionals and laborers and artists formed to defend the volatile world around them. Schools and churches were the beacons of these communities and no child was left behind. Enter Generation X, one generation removed from real segregation as Chris Stewart defines as “the state-enforced separation of races and the assignment of minorities into inferior conditions.”

As a Gen X-er, I was forced to attend schools in the suburbs with middle-class white kids and, in turn, forced my kids to do the same. I believed that black and poor kids could only succeed by attending school with white, wealthy kids in their neighborhoods.

But today’s parents of color have figured it out and those accustomed to controlling our narratives are terrified. Clearly, for charter school parents diversity is not the priority as they walk towards educational options that fit. Their steps are loud and the message is clear “This school meets my child’s needs. Period.” More importantly, with their feet, traditionally marginalized parents are sprinting from efforts that work to ensure they stay in the margins. 

There are so many shades of wrong coming out of this AP story, but the most egregious act committed is the attack on black and brown parents. Shamelessly shaming them for doing what every white and wealthy parent in America does – selecting the best educational situation for their babies.

The NAACP, AFT, and AP-types should be ashamed of themselves.

And, by the way, we cannot talk racial isolation and segregated schools without discussing housing patterns. So where do you live and how is that working out for your children?