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.

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