Breaking the School-to-Prison Pipeline: Excellence in 37208

Just as Nashville was shedding it’s “It” status and burgeoning as the Bachelorette Party Capitol of the world, the Brookings Institution released a report about Music City USA that sent shockwaves throughout the community.

Black men born between 1980 and 1986 in the 37208 zip code have the highest incarceration rates in the country. Let me paint a picture: 37208 known as North Nashville is in the heart of Nashville, walking distance from downtown, borders the state capitol property, and boasts neighbors-of-Black-excellence Fisk University and Meharry Medical College.

This zip code, Nashville’s Blackest, is a treasure trove of Black history, producing Perry Wallace, the first Black scholarship basketball player in the SEC, is home to historic Jefferson Street where Jimi Hendrix once played, serves as the backdrop for the Civil Rights movement and educated the likes of W. E. B. DuBois, Nikki Giovanni, Diane Nash, and Oprah Winfrey.

The juxtaposition of 37208’s history of Black excellence and the new tag of #1 incarcerated zip code in America is a talking point of nearly every discussion with Black native Nashvillians. Though the study was released more than a year, it still lives with me as I am a product of 37208. My mom and dad grew up in this zip code, attended high school in this zip code, and conceived me in this zip code. Though the rapidly gentrifying 37208 looks vastly different than it did just 3 years ago when my grandfather sold his home of 60 years.

For these reasons, I wanted to hold a discussion about Nashville’s literacy crisis in this zip code.

The process of choosing a venue included checking out a long list of churches, a visit to the Z. Alexander Looby library, and interrogation of a Fisk graduate about possible campus locations. But as luck would have it, a press release hit my inbox announcing the principal of Nashville’s Purpose Preparatory Academy, Lagra Newman’s recognition by the Congressional Black Caucus for educational excellence. Purpose Prep resides comfortably in 37208.

Thankfully, Ms. Newman agreed to serve on the panel and host the literacy-focused family discussion at her school where excellence is expected and reading scores far exceed district and state averages.

Excellence in 37208

I visited Ms. Newman’s school two years ago and her speech to the group of business and community leaders stayed with me. Referring to one of Nashville’s highest performing high schools, an academic magnet in 37208, the Vanderbilt graduate told us that this school enrolls few children from the neighborhoods immediately surrounding it. Central to this discussion is that the children are not required to lottery in, there are seats reserved for them and they need only to qualify academically. Ms. Newman promised to prepare her students to occupy those seats, if they so choose. Hero stuff.

Join us Tuesday, October 29th, at 6 p.m. for a powerful discussion with the goal of equipping students, families, and community with tools to flip the script on the sad state of literacy in Nashville. You are also invited to dine with us at 5:30 p.m.

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