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.

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.

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.

“They Planning For Our Future, None Of Our People Involved” – A Reminder From A Tribe Called Quest

Education advocacy–and I’m talking mainly about the debate on charter schools, vouchers, and tracking school progress (aka accountability)–deserves your attention. It doesn’t matter what you’ve heard or what you think you know, sit back and take a look at what’s happening nationally and in your own backyard. Too many people get their information from one side of the debate or the other. I am not without bias, but will try to lay out the facts.  

Education reform (known as ed reform) is a movement led by a small group of people focused on creating non-traditional educational options in high needs school districts. Too often, the people who are affected the most aren’t even in the room as decisions are being made.  

Charter schools are non-traditional public schools. Non-traditional in the sense that these schools have their own board and oftentimes have programs that are available in traditional schools.  

Vouchers are actual checks that follow students to a private school of choice. This concept is virtually new to Tennessee and is currently offered to students with special needs.

And we track school progress by looking at things like student test scores, graduation rates, and how much students are growing academically. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on charters and vouchers as these offsprings of choice create a lot of noise in Nashville and throughout the country.

The Fight Around Us

imgresThere is a ferocious education battle in every major city in America and I have expended a lot of space to the Battle at School Choice between the anti-charter crowd and ed reformers in Nashville. As best I can tell, the core of the fight (as seen on Twitter) is money. Those against charters are opposed to money leaving traditional public schools to go to schools that are both publicly and privately funded.

Meanwhile, ed reformers seek out opportunities to launch a school, generally in urban districts with failing schools. As in Nashville’s case, these reformers mostly come from other places and set up shop, using resources (time, people, money) to deploy marketing tactics (digital and door-to-door campaigns) to recruit families.

What’s most interesting about the debate is the demographics of the debaters in comparison to the demographics of the intended targets. Most of the anti-charter traffic (again, on Twitter) come from white, middle/upper class, and well-educated women and men with children in public schools. Nashville ed reformers are generally white, well-educated out-of-towners. The group for which they are fighting are children and families of color and in poverty.

Dr. Chris Emdin, associate professor at the Teachers College at Columbia University and author of For White Folks Who Teach In The Hood and The Rest of Y’all, Too, recently gave a SXSW (South by Southwest) talk. In it, Dr. Emdin imparts 50 minutes of superfood for the soul using A Tribe Called Quest’s latest project as his framework. Sharing their take on the politics of the day in the track The Space Program, Tribe says “they planning for our future, none of our people involved.” Truth.

The whole education battle is paternalistic, indeed. I’m sure most are well-meaning, but too often the debate blurs into a toxic combination of ideology and self-interest. Other times it’s a simple battle of wit – who can bitch the best in 140 characters or less. Meanwhile, there are children waiting in the margins whose outcome is dependent upon a great education.

The paternalism and borderline hypocrisy smacked me in the face just last week while sitting in a hearing room at the Tennessee legislature waiting to hear the fate of a voucher bill in the House Education Committee. Sitting amongst a group of Shelby County parents, teachers, and students adorned in blue shirts and anti-voucher stickers, I had a chance to speak with a couple of the protestors before the session.

The first person I spoke with was a white mother from Germantown, TN, a swank suburb of Memphis, who has a child enrolled at the performing arts school there. The second person I spoke with was a black mom, who is a teacher and union board member. Both women were seriously opposed to vouchers forcing me to assess the situation from a different lens.

Here were two educated middle class women (three including me), with the wherewithal to navigate the system to benefit their own children, yet speaking fervently against an option that could possibly help our most vulnerable population. Yeah, “they planning for our future, none of our people involved.”

Paternalism and the Belief Gap

af773c1312b5de1f490c188afc53e956I think about my own family members raising grandchildren amongst the most dire of circumstances and I see the challenges. Witnessing mothers and grandmothers masterfully juggling work and family with few resources. So I get that adding just one more thing that isn’t food, clothing, or shelter is too much. Still, we must believe that parents in difficult situations want the best for their child and it’s the duty of those with resources to get the information to them so they may make their own decisions.

We must believe in them to combat influential naysayers like Tennessee lawmaker Rep. John DeBerry, a black legislator representing Memphis who believes  “We’ve got people who can care less whether or not their child is educated, just as long as their child is out of the house so they can go back to bed.” 

The representative’s clumsy attempt at respectability politics perpetuates paternalism and the idea that parents living in a certain income bracket and parents of color are unconcerned about their children’s educations. Additionally, and tragically, this harmful thinking by state leaders trickles down to district and school levels widening the belief gap: the space between what students can achieve and what others believe they can achieve. (h/t Education Post)

There’s enough blame to go around, but that doesn’t help children in need of high quality education answers today. What is helpful is to actually take a trip into the lives of those for whom we are fighting. Go to the parents and grandparents whose education decisions have been made for them by where they live and through the advocacy and opposition of decisions made on their behalf.

As Charlie Friedman, Nashville Classical charter school leader recently stated, “you actually have to go ask the parents what they think.” Yeah, that’s something even A Tribe Called Quest could appreciate. 

 

mad as hell #3 (blog updated after each modern day lynching) 

Blog originally posted August 2016.

12/6/16 UPDATE:


#WalterScott 

After a routine traffic stop Walter Scott, fearing for his life, fled and the monster (policeman Michael Slager) shoots the unarmed man five times in the back. In the back. All caught on tape by a random passerby. 

Even with the video as evidence, the 11 white women and men and one black male declared a mistrial. 

History repeats itself. How many lynchers were charged for senselessly, callously hanging black people?

9/20/16 UPDATE:

images-3
Quoting the fearless Pastor John Faison, Sr. “They might as well use ropes.”

There is no need to go through the painstaking process of creating a new post about our nation’s love affair with murdering black men.

I’ll just add Terence Crutcher and Tyre King to this existing post.

Terence’s murder comes complete with video. I’m told the video shows a female cop shooting the unarmed man in cold blood and after nearly two minutes CPR is administered to no avail.

Tyre was 13 years old.  The end.

Another add: I refuse to watch any of the video’s. I refuse to become desensitized. Every murder needs to shock our systems, interrupt our sleep, and compromise our appetites.


I started this post a few days after the murders of Philando Castille and Alton Sterling. Since then police have been murdered in Dallas and Louisiana and the Nashville School Board elections are off the rails. I’ve spent some time unpacking my mental pairing of the murders and the education discussion in this city.  What’s the connection?  I once believed education was the great equalizer and recent events have not only challenged me but changed me.  But I digress…


If you don’t go to sleep and wake up with your heart in your throat realizing that your place in this society is becoming more and more opaque with a fade to nothingness – congratu-freaking-lations. I’m not kidding, be glad to be free from such sadness.

I’m not alone in this weird place.  This psychological beat down into submission, hopelessness.  For me, it started more than a week ago when I awoke early one Saturday morning to accusations on Twitter that led to a tweet-a-tweet with the designated education Twitterazzi in Nashville.  I was so troubled by the exchange that it took me back nearly twenty years ago when I was working for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce when an African American gentleman from up north was visiting for a conference and unabashedly called out his Southern brethren.  I will never forget his observation of African Americans in Nashville. “You guys are so scared!  You’re scared to talk and even the way you walk says you’re submissive.”

The gentleman’s harsh observation played over and over in my head as I read the commentary to my tweet. My crime was a comment on a picture of Memphis parents dressed in orange t-shirts at a meeting in what looked like a gymnasium. “I. Love. It.” caused a firestorm of tweets accusing me of supporting bad policy for children.  I respond that the picture was “a beautiful thing” which, in turn, set in motion a series of “helpful” advice.  In a sincere effort to usher me to see the error of my ways, the nice people explained that some of us need help forming opinions – like helping a child, they said.   I accused them of being “paternalistic” and, true to form, it was suggested that I didn’t mean to use that word; that maybe I meant something else. Though I am still angry, I am not interested in calling them out, but rather illuminate their social and political entitlement and the clear disparaging of, well, me.  I dared to celebrate an image they fear and are fighting like hell to keep out of their precious city.

As Nashville has become more gentrified and education choices are vilified, the man from up north’s diagnosis rings true still and promises to worsen.  I believe we are expected to act a certain way and, dutifully, fall in line. How many African Americans in Nashville do you see speaking out on divisive issues such as charter schools? Thousands of parents have chosen to send their children these schools yet Nashville’s political elite is hostile to such choices, creating guilt and fear in parents. So we keep quiet for fear of being bullied and further maligned (see Vesia). We are forced to choose a side and then blasted if a even a spot of charter acceptance is detected. Most of us are simply ill-equipped for the fight – so we remain politically and socially SHACKLED. The use of fear and distrust as instruments of control is as old as, well, see Willie Lynch.

Speaking of shackles. Nothing says institutionalized shackles better than being charged with your own murder. Alton Sterling wouldn’t be dead if… Philando Castile shouldn’t have… Sandra Bland probably… Tamir Rice was only 12, but… Trayvon … Freddie…

Fading to nothingness.