Howard Fuller, Chairman Emeritus of BAEO, Graces Nashville’s Clergy with Unvarnished Truth

So this happened.

Thursday, November 17th, Project Renaissance and local Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO) organizer Neonta Williams invited Howard L. Fuller, BAEO’s founder and Chair Emeritus, to Nashville. The extremely well-organized breakfast was specifically for Nashville’s clergy, but other community leaders (mostly ed reformers) were sprinkled throughout the crowd, and at least one deplorable (me).

We were also fortunate to experience a dance presentation from the South Inglewood Community Center dance troupe. The young ladies hail from different East Nashville-area Metro Schools.


Howard Fuller’s reputation preceded him, but did the man little justice. The man has a vitae as long as constitution of the United States, but doesn’t see the need to smack you in the face with his credentials. Instead, he speaks both anecdotally and encyclopedically, (he can easily reference a book AND a chapter in said book) demonstrating his experience and education. And as the president of BAEO Jacqueline Cooper succinctly, but eloquently put it, “He is the truth!”

Yes, he IS the truth and drops truths bombs that cut to the quick forcing one to self-assess and, in some cases, warranting a self-imposed timeout. Mr. Fuller does not mince words so there’s absolutely zero opportunity to ponder intent. He says what he means and means what he says with little concern for the listeners’ feelings. For his bottom line is children’s success, specifically and unapologetically black children. You can take it or leave it.

I made a valiant attempt to live-tweet Mr. Fuller’s keynote, but my exuberance won out over professionalism. So I missed a few things between clapping and yelling amen. Apologies. Enjoy a few Mr. Fuller’s gifts to our group:

And I’ll end with this:

Amen and amen, again.

Sound Off: Sister Sandra Smithson, Founder of Nashville’s First Charter School

Volume and Light will produce a bi-monthly piece called Sound Off featuring a community leader dedicated to Nashville families and quality choices. The inaugural Sound Off honors the founder of Nashville’s first charter school.

On a unseasonably warm day in October, I visited Nashville’s first charter school Smithson-Craighead Academy. The Project Reflect school opened in 2003, situated on a large expanse in the rapidly-changing community of Madison, has seen it’s share of ups and downs. But, like its steadfast leader, Sister Sandra Smithson, the foundation is solid.

Affectionately known as Sister Sandra, the knowledge bombs dropped that fall day was inconsistent with how we typically view nuns. I guess when you’ve dedicated your life to the disenfranchised the realities of our society can’t be sweetened with honey-dipped words. Whether questioning the timing of prison privatization with the integration of schools (deep) or calling out the black community for abandoning inner cities, this is no traditional nun.

Surprisingly, or perhaps not, the Sister at 90+ years of age is still very involved in the school’s operations. Smithson Craighead’s executive director Allison Driver loves that the students have access to the wisdom and love the founder brings to the school named for older sister Mary Smithson Craighead.  Mary, whose picture greets every SCA visitor, taught 3 year old Sandra to read and became a nationally renowned educator.



We cover everything from prison beds to the breakdown of the black family and she has seen it all. I’ve taken an excerpt of our discussion for this installment of Sound Off. Enjoy!


Shelby County Tennessee Superintendent Offers Aggressive Proposal to Close Schools 

Chalkbeat’s Laura Faith Kebede writes about Shelby County School District superintendent Dorsey Hopson’s proposal to close and consolidate up to 13 schools affecting 4,600 students. 

The struggling district began the school year with 22,000 empty seats and the aggressive plan will eliminate roughly 9% of those seats. The proposal recommends closing schools with severe maintenance issues and opening 3 new schools combining several communities. 

I fully expect anti-reformers to blame charters for empty seats, closing schools, and disturbing communities. While closing schools is never easy and not my first choice, I will always side with families over buildings.

Still, the thought of closing so many schools tugs at the heart strings. I wish the children and families in Memphis great success. 

The Blog Post of a Mad Black Woman

Nearly 20 years ago, I met a Black woman in her late 40’s and listened to her spew hatred about America and White people who gain the world at the expense of minorities. I remember being so offended by her anger and latent bitterness that I moved away from her as soon as I could. How could she negotiate life anchored by such vitriol?

Fast forward a couple of decades full of harsh disappointments and a plethora of brutal reality checks and, voila, I am she. 
From earning 66 cents on the dollar to a white woman’s 86 cents to our absence on boards and higher ed to being called an “ape in heels” when serving as the First Lady of the United States. I’m an angry black woman. 
I’ve worked hard to keep it light, to play nice. Working for the Chamber of Commerce and Metro Schools to serve my community with unrelenting loyalty and for what?
Nashville’s children of color are vulnerable as ever to fall victim to gaps in education fitted with the pipeline to prison and poverty. The recent school board election illuminated this ugly reality when most of the city flipped a collective middle finger to families desperate for quality choices for their children. 

Then half of America did one better by hiring a man who spoke like a 5th grader. Coining the phrase “the blacks” while describing the war torn neighborhoods that we all live in — yeah, I’m mad as hell. 

I once believed education was the great equalizer, but, again, 66 cents on the dollar AND we are the most educated subgroup in America. So, yep, I’m mad.

I demand the America I deserve. 

The President-Elect’s School Choice Platform Aligns With His Own World of Grandeur

Less than a week after #Election2016, half the country sifts through the psychological wreckage resulting from the unexpected victory of political neophyte Donald Trump over career politician Hillary Clinton.

Although the decision to vote for Hillary caused many sleepless nights and her stance(s) on education was sound as whispers in the wind, I was prepared to continue my work fighting for school choice for families in the margins. Hoping that once in office the lifelong champion of families would return to her public service roots fighting for vulnerable children. There would be no shortage of blogging content and valuable information to  disseminate to Nashville families.

Boy, What a Dream!

Then I awoke the morning of November 9, 2016 to The News. The businessman and reality TV star won the Electoral College while Hillary won the popular vote. Breathe.


There, I wrote it.

Personal feelings aside, there are serious matters that urgently need to be addressed. The issues of which I’m speaking are — well, all of them, but most specifically, education. It’s a safe assumption to think the Trump Mr. Trump will support school choice because, after all, that’s what Republicans are known to do. So I take a trip to his website for confirmation:


  • Immediately add an additional federal investment of $20 billion towards school choice. This will be done by reprioritizing existing federal dollars.
  • Give states the option to allow these funds to follow the student to the public or private school they attend. Distribution of this grant will favor states that have private school choice, magnet schools and charter laws, encouraging them to participate.
  • Establish the national goal of providing school choice to every one of the 11 million school aged children living in poverty.
  • If the states collectively contribute another $110 billion of their own education budgets toward school choice, on top of the $20 billion in federal dollars, that could provide $12,000 in school choice funds to every K-12 student who today lives in poverty.
  • Work with Congress on reforms to ensure universities are making a good faith effort to reduce the cost of college and student debt in exchange for the federal tax breaks and tax dollars.
  • Ensure that the opportunity to attend a two or four-year college, or to pursue a trade or a skill set through vocational and technical education, will be easier to access, pay for, and finish.

Lipstick on a Pig

The manner in which I process information pares down the most accessorized verbiage to two or three words – and this case I was given very little to process. However, the words that stretched out and smacked me down were located in the first two bullet points “$20 billion” and “grants”, respectively. The remaining bullet points are like decorative pillows on an old couch serving no substantive purpose.

First, where to search and successfully find $20 billion? Let’s be clear, I’m in love with the edict “immediately add an additional federal investment of…” It’s a beautiful thing and some fairy tales do come true, but I’m guessing we needn’t hold our breath.

Second, the use of grants as code word for vouchers is dishonest. We will monitor the populations and institutions earmarked to receive these “grants”.


But At Least One of Us Believes

According to Rudy Giuliani in Monday’s New York Post, “President-elect Trump is going to be the best thing that ever happened for school choice and the charter school movement.” More superlatives and grandiose thought bubbles! But the vice chair of Trump’s transition team boasts the support for more charter schools, not better.

Because children in poverty lack time and money, we certainly want every child to have access to a school of their choice; a school that fits – a school exceeding expectations and leaving standards in the dust.

At the heart of my fight lies the right of families to choose the educational institution that provides the best opportunity for success for that child. I’m not looking for designer knock-off charters to temporarily appease families by offering lies while stealing dollars from other schools. “Bigly” thinking without proper filters is a recipe for disaster. Failure is not a option.

Big, Lazy Promises

Because Trump’s education campaign platform is lazy, it’s up to us to work harder and yell louder. We must ensure our children aren’t political pawns exploited every four years to cement partisan power.

Trump must understand that our fight includes ALL children – Muslim, Mexican, with disabilities, GIRLS, the Blacks, Whites – ALL means ALL. That we are not builders of walls, but futures. Finally, we can’t be satiated with promises of big and more, we revel in results kids winning every day.