District MotherHued’s 1st Momference Highlights Modern Motherhood and Safe Spaces for Black Moms

Photo: Iris Mannings (District MotherHued via The Root)
At the end of the day, all mothers are working to raise healthy, happy human beings. And so if there’s a method or a style that works for you and your child or children, why not go with it? This very topic was heavily emphasized Saturday at District MotherHued’s first Momference, a conference celebrating and empowering black millennial moms. “Modern motherhood is DIY in ways that perhaps it wasn’t for our mothers or our grandmothers and certainly not for our great-grandmothers,” Jamilah Lemieux, vice president of News and Men’s Programming at Interactive One, told the audience during the roundtable Modern Motherhood discussion. “We want to define motherhood in our own terms. … And for those of us who are mothers to daughters in particular, I think that there is a determination around being the sort of women that we want our daughters to be, not out of a sense of duty or responsibility or respectability, but women that make decisions in their own best interests, who choose happiness and peace and joy and love and sex and fun and friendship and career and not just duty and responsibility and labor.” Alongside Lemieux was Kelli Coleman, CEO of the KM Coleman Group and co-founder of She Who Dares, as well as Dr. Rainbow Barris, author, physician and wife of Blackish creator Kenya Barris.


“Modern motherhood is also about forgiveness,” added Coleman. “You’re never going to have it all at the same time, as they say, and you have to be OK with that. So often we are in this pursuit of perfection, and it truly does not exist, so banish it … focus on you, what makes you whole, what fulfills you, and come up with your formula.”
Modern Motherhood roundtable featuring Nikki Osei-Barrett, Jamilah Lemieux, Kelli Coleman, Rainbow Barris and Simona Noce
Photo: Iris Mannings (District MotherHued)
The Momference was a validating space, brimming with energy and a feeling of sisterhood that only black women can propagate. Seriously, District MotherHued co-founders Nikki Osei-Barrett and Simona Noce entered to Wande Coal’s “Iskaba,” jamming all the way down the aisle to the delight and encouragement of the crowd. It was a vibe.


The thoughtful roundtable in the beginning was a perfect kick start to the day’s events, giving the women present something to latch onto while feeling validated in their own journeys. But it wasn’t all talk at the Momference; it was also a form of action.


The space created for the event at the Hyatt Regency featured a mommy “Pamper Suite,” where women could get their makeup or eyebrows done, and get a quick massage. There was also a breastfeeding lounge for the nursing moms, and a “Mommy Market” that was filled with various goods catering just to moms and their mini mes. The day emphasized balance, self-care, self-love and overall #BlackMomMagic that echoed throughout the keynote speeches by Kahlana Barfield Brown, the beauty editor at large at InStyle magazine, and Julee Wilson, the fashion and beauty director at Essence magazine. “I’m Julee first and foremost, but I do love holding the title of being a magical black mom because I’m raising a beautiful, black man in this world. I feel like that magic that we all have, all those black moms have, is helping me do that,” Wilson told The Root after her speech. “I can’t do it by myself so it means a lot that we have this sisterhood.”


Julee Wilson, Nikki Osei-Barrett, Kahlana Barfield Brown, Simona Noce
Photo: Iris Mannings (District MotherHued)
“I feel overwhelmed,” Barfield Brown acknowledged with a smile. “It’s just like an unspoken love that I walk into the room and honestly it feels like a family reunion of cousins I’ve never met before. Especially as a new mom, I’m always constantly looking for other moms that I can connect with, and I’ve never had an outlet like this to look towards.” We haven’t even touched on the breakaway panels yet, but they were momtastic too, including topics like, “Building Little Leaders,” “The Uncommon Family,” “Mommy Between the Sheets,” “Healthy Mama: Mind, Body and Soul” and “Handle Your Business Mama,” all meant to equip moms with the tools they need to not only take care of themselves, but also take care of and advocate for their children.


Moms around the room echoed the feelings of the panelists and the moderators, saying that they felt as if their own experiences were validated. “The Momference has really confirmed a lot of the things that I’ve discovered along my journey of motherhood,” Shanee Johnson, a 41-year-old mom from Washington, D.C., told The Root. “There’s no script to motherhood. Every mothers’ experience is not going to be identical to the next mom and there’s not a reason to ever compare yourself. You’re enough. You do enough and you can be a great mom without being a perfect mom.” “I think [black moms] need encouragement,” said Andrea Powers, a 33-year-old mom of two from Atlanta. “I think that there are so many factors out there against us that we need these safe spaces to learn and to grow.”


“We don’t really have too many things for us, so it’s very important for us to all get in a room and inspire each other and vent and cry and talk,” echoed Portia Nisbeth, 34, from Rochester, N.Y. “It’s necessary.” Let’s block ads! (Why?)

In a galaxy far, far away, Lando Calrissian is more than just a ladies man, says Donald Glover

Donald Glover
Donald Glover (Getty Images)

It’s no surprise that in the new movie Solo: A Star Wars Story, the reprise of the suave Lando Calrissian character is worldly in more ways than one.

The popular character who was originally played by Billy Dee Williams and now resurrected by Donald Glover was the topic of a Town Hall conversation with the movie’s cast on Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) airing on May 24thEntertainment Weekly reports.

READ MORE: Black boy who faced racial bullying confronts school board

Calrissian’s sexual preference came into question and it was no shock to Glover to learn that the smooth-talking character’s sexual preferences are regarded as fluid.

“How can you not be pansexual in space?” said Glover when asked if he knew about Calrissian’s pansexuality while making the film.

“There are so many things to have sex with. I didn’t think that was that weird. Yeah, he’s coming on to everybody. I mean, yeah, whatever. It just didn’t seem that weird to me ‘cause I feel like if you’re in space it’s kind of like, the door is open! It’s like, no, only guys or girls. No, it’s anything. This thing is literally a blob. Are you a man or a woman? Like, who cares? Have good time out here.”

It will take more than a question about pansexuality to shock Glover who has been dominating the culture scene dropping the acclaimed This is America video, while working overtime as an artist (Childish Gambino) and an actor in a coveted role.

But who else could personify Lando Calrissian’s smug nature as a gambler, smuggler and overall purveyor of ill-gotten gains? Who else has Lando’s slim figure, his million-dollar smile and can go toe-to-toe with Han Solo (Alden Ehrenreich), himself a ball of charisma?

Glover said he got a chance to pick the brain of Billy Dee and he laid out a blueprint on how to exude Calrissian’s sexuality.

READ MORE: EXCLUSIVE: Airbnb reveals plans to further support, advocate and protect their Black customers

“One thing that Billy did say was, be charming.” reveals Glover.

“He’s eclectic. He likes different things. He’s somebody who goes around and tries everything, and I just didn’t think about it that much. But I was like, he’s a charming person so I feel like he doesn’t have hard and fast boundaries about everything. But having somebody tell me that, I’m like, okay, cool, makes sense to me. Is it weird that I didn’t think about it that much?”

Check out the entire Town Hall conversation with the cast of Solo: A Star Wars Story on Entertainment Weekly Radio (SiriusXM, channel 105) on Thursday at 6 p.m. ET.

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Tennessee Gov.: Sanctuary bill to become law sans signature

By JONATHAN MATTISE, Associated Press NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Republican Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam announced Monday he will let a push against sanctuary cities to become law without his signature after complaining that it has stirred up irrational fear on both sides. Tennessee has no sanctuary cities and state law prohibits them, Haslam said, calling the legislation “a solution in search of a problem.” But he also said the legislation is not a mass deportation bill, as immigrant advocacy groups have labeled it. The Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition drew hundreds of people to rallies in Nashville, protesting the measure as a misguided effort that will drive immigrants into the shadows. The legislation bans local governments from having “sanctuary” policies or practices and threatens to withhold future state economic and community development money from those that don’t comply. Most notably, local governments would have to comply with federal immigration detainers, without requiring warrants or probable cause, for possible deportation of people who were arrested on other charges and then identified as being in the country illegally. Todd Skelton, Haslam’s deputy counsel, said U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement policy currently requires probable cause and a warrant for detainers. But immigrant advocacy groups point out that federal agents are issuing administrative warrants without judicial or magistrate review. The legislation amounts to a “solution looking for a problem,” Haslam wrote in a letter to legislative leaders. Still, he said the best thing to do with his decision is to “move on from it” and focus on “real issues.” “Confusion and fear are never good,” Haslam said. “They are not good reasons to drive political decisions.” Under the legislation, which takes effect in January, Haslam said police departments won’t be able to adopt policies not to ask about immigration status in routine encounters. But officers also would not be required to ask about it, he said. The bill has become a campaign talking point for Republicans in an election year, including Senate sponsor Mark Green, who is running for U.S. House. In the race to succeed Haslam, Republican U.S. Rep. Diane Black has been the most vocal proponent of the legislation. Her GOP gubernatorial opponents, House Speaker Beth Harwell and businessmen Bill Lee and Randy Boyd, also praised the bill Monday. Republican Senate Speaker Randy McNally said Haslam’s “wise decision” ensures there will continue to be no sanctuary cities in Tennessee. In a statement, Hedy Weinberg, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Tennessee, said the group was disappointed by the governor’s decision. “Immigrants should not have to live with the constant fear that any local police officer or sheriff they encounter is a de facto immigration agent,” Weinberg said. “By allowing this bill to become law, the governor has ensured that thousands of Tennesseans will be forced to live in the shadows, in fear of reporting when they are victims or witnesses to crimes and undermining local law enforcement’s ability to use their discretion and resources in the way that they believe best protects public safety in their local community.” Nashville’s combined city-county government enraged Republican state lawmakers by proposing sanctuary city-like immigrant protections last year, and ultimately dropped the push. On Monday, Metro Councilman Fabian Bedne tweeted that he will look into what legal recourse the city may have against the state legislation. The bill has drawn mixed responses from law enforcement officials. Nashville Police Chief Steve Anderson wrote to Haslam that carrying out the unfunded mandates of the legislation will invite racial profiling accusations. He said Nashville police officers, as a practice, don’t inquire into people’s immigration status while performing public safety duties. “If there is confusion and apprehension on the part any person as to whether an interaction and cooperation with local authorities might produce a detrimental effect, then the safety of all of our communities is diminished,” Anderson wrote in the letter. But the Tennessee Sheriffs’ Association is OK with the bill, said executive director Terry Ashe, a retired sheriff. “The only time that this occurs is when they have been arrested on and unrelated charge and then we check for a status,” Ashe said in an email. “In my 30 years as sheriff, from 1982-2012, I can’t ever remember being involved on just picking someone up to only check their status.” The bill also came on the heels of a federal immigration raid earlier in April that took 97 people into custody at an eastern Tennessee meat processing plant. Haslam insisted the raid shouldn’t be taken as an example of what could happen under the bill. “The ICE raid was totally done by federal authorities and would happen the same thing before this bill as it does afterward,” Haslam said.

Northern states taking down vestiges of racism, intolerance

By COREY WILLIAMS, Associated Press DETROIT (AP) — A nearly 80-year-old statue depicting a European settler with a weapon in his hand towering over a Native American that some say celebrates white supremacy has been dismantled by crews in southwestern Michigan’s Kalamazoo. And at the University of Michigan, regents have voted to strip a former school president’s name from a campus science building because he lent his scientific expertise to groups that were in favor of selective reproduction, also known as eugenics. Vestiges of racism and intolerance are slowly being moved and removed in Michigan and other northern states. In some cases, the efforts are being led by students and faculty at prestigious universities, community leaders and elected officials taking harder looks at their history and potentially divisive issues while being spurred by more widespread efforts in the South to erase the nation’s slave past. “I think it’s very much in line with the things we’re seeing happen across the country,” said Josh Hasler, a recent University of Michigan graduate who worked as a student with some faculty members to have Clarence Cook Little’s name scraped off the building on the school’s Ann Arbor campus. Little was the school’s president from 1925 to 1929. He supported sterilization of what eugenics referred to as the “unfit” and also backed immigration restrictions and laws against the mixing of racial groups, including in marriage. He was scientific director of a tobacco research advisory board in the 1950s and was accused of sowing doubt about smoking and cancer. The vote to take down Little’s name came in March along with one by regents to remove late science professor Alexander Winchell’s name from a residence hall wing. Winchell wrote a book that is cited by white supremacist groups. “No one is trying to erase history,” Hasler said. “It goes to show that remembering and commemorating aren’t the same thing.” Monuments honoring Confederate soldiers have been targeted for removal from courthouses, statehouses, schools and public parks since the racially motivated killings of nine African-American parishioners in 2015 at a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and after last year’s violent protests at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia. Charlottesville leaders have voted to remove statues of Confederate Gens. Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson. Earlier this year, Tulsa Public Schools removed a monument dedicated to Lee and rescinded the school’s name. Meanwhile, the North Carolina Historical Commission is considering a formal request from late last year by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper to move three monuments from the state’s Capitol grounds to a historic battlefield site. But such statues and monuments aren’t just being mothballed down South. Last year, Helena, Montana, removed a memorial to Confederate soldiers that had been in a public park since 1916. And in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn, a statue of former Mayor Orville Hubbard — who spent decades trying to keep the city all white — was socked away for more than a year after leaders decided it didn’t belong outside a new City Hall. The Hubbard statue now stands beside a small museum. Kalamazoo’s Fountain of the Pioneers is expected to be stored away until officials decide on a new home for the monument. Some residents say the piece is racist toward Native Americans. Others argue that it is art and can teach people about history. Only time will tell if calls to remove monuments will continue to grow, according to Paul Brest, professor emeritus and former law school dean at Stanford University. “I think it has more to do with a moment in history when there is a lot of consciousness of people’s conduct … a period where people are socially conscious about this behavior in the past,” Brest said. “The Civil War monuments are a particular example of that. “The things that may seem innocuous today may — 100 years from now — seem like bad deeds. It calls for a degree of caution.” Brest chaired a committee that developed principles and procedures for renaming buildings at the northern California school. The committee was put together after some students and faculty demanded that Junipero Serra’s name be removed from campus buildings and signage. Serra was the Roman Catholic founder of nine California missions, and many of the missions were built on land native to the Ohlone Indians. Stanford says it will consider renaming buildings, streets, monuments, endowed positions and prizes when there is strong evidence that retaining the name is inconsistent with the university’s integrity or is harmful to its research and teaching missions and inclusiveness. Other schools’ approaches have varied. Yale University in Connecticut said last year that it would change the name of a residential college that honors John C. Calhoun, a 19th century alumnus and former U.S. vice president, who was an ardent supporter of slavery. However, Princeton University in New Jersey declined to remove Woodrow Wilson’s names from its public policy school following calls from black students that the ex-U.S. president was a segregationist. Wilson also served as Princeton’s president from 1902 to 1910. Despite, the University of Michigan’s decision to drop Clarence Cook Little’s name from its Ann Arbor campus, the University of Maine has no plans to remove it from a lecture hall. Little was Maine’s president from 1922 to 1925. “You just can’t do these ad hoc,” Brest said. “It’s really important to have some criteria, so when you consider removing a name it’s not just a one-off. It’s certainly safer to name (a building) after a tree or a flower than a person, but there still may be good reasons for a university to want to name something after a historical person or even a living person.” At the University of Michigan, Little’s name has been replaced on the building with the location’s address. The Winchell House sign will be taken down over the summer. The school established a new review process in January 2017 about historical names in and on campus buildings. School president, Mark Schlissel, has said the review principles include that anyone requesting changes “carry a heavy burden” to justify it. Schlissel said that in the Little and Winchell cases he believes “that burden has been met.”

Why are some whites blind to the humanity of black folks?

by Jeff Rivers, The Undefeated Even when I was a child in the 1960s, I wasn’t a big fan of what I’ve been calling the “Kumbaya Yada Yada” for the past 20 years. You know, how we all have to learn to live together, as if all the wise men and women don’t always teach and preach that, as if all the bullies who rise to power don’t ignore that teaching and preaching for as long as they can get away with it. Still, when my Uncle Sam started to launch into what I thought and feared would be a disquisition on national unity, I leaned in. Born into a sharecropping family in 1905, Uncle Sammy was short and powerful, a little big man. His movements reflected a lifetime of carrying heavy burdens, from the plantation to the factory floor. He was my daddy’s older brother, and he spoke quickly and in a low voice. He barely opened his mouth when he talked. Yet he expected his listeners to laugh or nod respectfully on cue. Just 9 or 10 years old and sitting in my uncle’s North Philadelphia living room on a Saturday afternoon, I prepared to laugh or nod. “The trouble with white folks,” my uncle began, “is they don’t understand that black people are people too.” At those words I prepared to tune my uncle out, but with subtlety and respect. I thought but didn’t say, “If white people don’t know black people are people, and often very good people, I wasn’t going to join the effort to persuade them.” After all, generations of black people had sought to make that case, from slavery to a begrudged freedom that folks were fighting to protect and expand, from the picket lines to courthouses. After all, in my life, spent almost entirely with black people, I’d lived among honest, loving and spiritual people. They paid their bills. They cleaned their streets when the city didn’t. They took care of their grandparents and their grandbabies when they couldn’t take care of themselves. And they prayed, humbly and beseechingly, that their tormentors receive God’s grace and forgiveness. Consequently, at my uncle’s words, I lifted my gaze from his round and unlined face and glanced at the living room TV. I quickly took my gaze from the TV screen and rested it upon my uncle’s fingers, which, as he talked, traced the words of a newspaper, as if he could receive their wisdom through his fingertips. I returned my gaze to his face and watched his lips move ever so slightly and listened. Then I leaned in some more and tried to catch up to what my Uncle Sam was saying. This all took a few seconds. My uncle wasn’t singing “Kumbaya.” Instead, at a rapid pace, he was explaining that the fundamental denial of black humanity led America to embrace a cruelty that hit black people first and hardest but ultimately affected and infected the entire society. Which is to say, the South that he, my father and their father fled between the two world wars was brutal for black people, tarred and feathered with the N-word. But it was no bed of magnolias for the people who were balled up and tossed aside as “white trash” either. Which is to say, my uncle thought that at one time or the other, almost anybody could be subjected to being treated the way black people are routinely treated in America. Consequently, my uncle wanted white America to understand that the treatment of black people served as a cautionary tale and a warning for the rest of society.
Which is to say maintaining a society that’s unjust for many of its people is a dirty job that soils, tarnishes and corrupts everyone.
Which is to say maintaining a society that’s unjust for many of its people is a dirty job that soils, tarnishes and corrupts everyone. From time to time, I’m reminded of my uncle’s mumbled wisdom, especially when somebody bemoans dishonesty or hypocrisy among high government officials or the absence of decency in the way someone is treated or talked about, especially by someone who is white. America’s dishonesty and hypocrisy toward the dispossessed, the casual and routine cruelty and disregard for those defined as the other, are not new. They are as old as the broken treaties with Native Americans. It is as old as the slave auction. It is as old as the Japanese internment camps. But so is resistance, resilience and renewal. If my Uncle Sammy were alive today, perhaps he wouldn’t speak in black and white terms. Since the 1960s, the demographics of the nation have changed so much. And the chorus demanding freedom and respect swells with many voices. Perhaps today my uncle would decry the general inability of the favored and the privileged in America to understand and respect the humanity of those less favored, whether that privilege is based upon race, religion, ethnicity, wealth, gender or sexual orientation. That inability to embrace the humanity of others is cruel and stupid. But it is not new. And neither is the solution. Unity is the only way to defeat the bullies and their minions. As the wise elders say, we have to learn to live together.
A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.
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Barack and Michelle’s new deal will let you Netflix and chill with the Obamas

Netflix(Getty Images)

President Barack Obama and Former First Lady Michelle Obama will continue to make magic happen as the dynamic duo they are and to our delight they have secured a deal to produce movies and series for Netflix, reports Variety.  

The Obamas secured a multi-year deal and together, the high-profile couple will create docu-series, documentary films, and features.

READ MORE: #BlackGirlMagic: Black woman overcomes foster care, prison, and alcohol abuse to earn her college degree

It’s a joint venture the 44th president is looking forward to.

“One of the simple joys of our time in public service was getting to meet so many fascinating people from all walks of life, and to help them share their experiences with a wider audience,” said President Obama.

“That’s why Michelle and I are so excited to partner with Netflix – we hope to cultivate and curate the talented, inspiring, creative voices who are able to promote greater empathy and understanding between peoples, and help them share their stories with the entire world.”

The former First Lady is also excited about partnering with her Presidential bae.

“Barack and I have always believed in the power of storytelling to inspire us, to make us think differently about the world around us, and to help us open our minds and hearts to others,” she said. “Netflix’s unparalleled service is a natural fit for the kinds of stories we want to share, and we look forward to starting this exciting new partnership.”

The Obamas might be happy with the deal, but Netflix knows it scored a serious catch with the influential couple.

“Barack and Michelle Obama are among the world’s most respected and highly-recognized public figures and are uniquely positioned to discover and highlight stories of people who make a difference in their communities and strive to change the world for the better,” said Netflix Chief Content Officer Ted Sarandos.

“We are incredibly proud they have chosen to make Netflix the home for their formidable storytelling abilities.”

READ MORE: 7 of the most TURNT UP moments from Harry and Meghan’s royal wedding reception

While it’s unknown just how much the Obama’s will secure in their purse for the deal. But if their book deal is any indication, it will be quite a bit. Penguin Random House signed the Obamas to a a joint book deal back in March that will reportedly pay them $65 million for their memoirs.

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As Memphis expands its efforts to improve schools, one model is about to double in size

Vincent Hunter, principal of Whitehaven High School and leader of the Empowerment Zone, addressed Manor Lake Elementary parents in March about upcoming changes. (Photo by Laura Faith Kebede for Chalkbeat Tennessee)

As a mother of three who has lived in Memphis’ Whitehaven neighborhood for almost 25 years, Regina Mosley sees the area high school as an anchor in the midst of a rapidly changing education landscape.

The high-performing Whitehaven High school is also the anchor of the Empowerment Zone, one of Shelby County Schools’ newest intervention programs. It will more than double in size by adding six schools this fall.

The Empowerment Zone, which will enter its third year in August, is a neighborhood-centric approach to improve schools as the district seeks to include a larger group of people who are committed to seeing the school do well.

Mosley hopes the school improvement model will make the 107-year-old school shine even more.

“There’s no other foundation I’ve seen that stands the test of time because of the unity of the people: alumni, teachers, students, parents, everybody is involved,” said Mosley, who is also a parent leader for area schools.

Over the last eight years, Tennessee has worked to improve performance at its struggling schools, and state test scores have improved as a result — especially in Memphis, where most students are from low-income families. The results of the Empowerment Zone have been promising, but some are worried about the next phase, when more elementary schools will be added in the coming school year. All but one school in the zone saw academic growth this school year.

Created in 2016, the Empowerment Zone was meant to shield a cluster of low-performing schools in Whitehaven from takeover by the state. Superintendent Dorsey Hopson leaned on Vincent Hunter, who has been principal of Whitehaven High for 14 years, to collaborate across schools on lesson plans so teachers could learn from each other. Hunter also brought in college-student tutors to reduce the teacher-to-student ratio through a partnership with Peer Power and the University of Memphis.

Teachers are offered signing bonuses and have an extra set of academic coaches who specialize in their grade levels. Before entering the Empowerment Zone, Hunter invites principals into team planning across the zone so they can understand how it works.

The schools are all governed by the Whitehaven Empowerment Zone Leadership Council, which is composed of about 30 parents, teachers, students, and community members who meet monthly to go over reports about student enrollment and test scores, and to strategize.

“That creates a sense of unity for us. We want to always be viewed as family. Plus it’s personal to me,” said Hunter, a Whitehaven high graduate who started teaching at his alma mater in 1994. About 45 staff members across the zone are also graduates of the neighborhood high school, he said.

Whitehaven Empowerment Zone schools by year

  • 2016-17: Whitehaven High, Havenview Middle
  • 2017-18: Holmes Road Elementary, A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • 2018-19: Geeter K-8 (formerly Geeter Middle and Manor Lake Elementary), Whitehaven Elementary, Oakshire Elementary, Robert R. Church Elementary, and John P. Freeman Elementary

The community involvement appears to be paying off. Havenview Middle School, the first to enter the Empowerment Zone, improved about five percentage points beyond the bottom 3 percent of the state’s low-performing schools in one year. A. Maceo Walker Middle School, which made its first appearance on the state’s priority list in 2014, is almost out of the bottom 10 percent of schools in the state.

Parents are noticing, and so is the state. Enrollment is up as much as 21 percent at Havenview Middle since last school year. The Tennessee Department of Education approved the district’s proposal to fold Geeter Middle into the zone when it released its plans for the city’s lowest-performing schools.

“We know that strategy works, there’s no question about that,” said Hopson, who is also a Whitehaven high graduate.

But some teachers and administrators are worried about the next phase of the project. Holmes Road Elementary, the first elementary to join the zone, performed poorly on an exam given earlier this year. Yet the Empowerment Zone is set to add five elementary schools this fall, two of which are already performing well on state tests.

Hopson attributed Holmes Road’s first-year challenges to staffing vacancies when it was “fresh-started.” When a principal is hired, that person can bring on all new teachers and staff. If their evaluation scores are low, or the former employees aren’t offered jobs, they can be assigned to other schools. Some classrooms were covered by temporary teachers who have been reassigned from other schools.

Hunter, the executive principal over the Empowerment Zone, said the public shouldn’t put too much stock in the early progress reports.

“TNReady is the true measuring stick,” he said of the state’s standardized test. Results from this year’s test are expected in the fall.

Eddie Jones, the president of the zone’s leadership council, said it was too soon to tell if the troubles at Holmes Road were growing pains, or were a flaw in the model.

“They just got there. You haven’t had an opportunity to see if it’s working or it’s not,” Jones said.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Whitehaven High School is the anchor school for the Empowerment Zone, the first initiative to expand the lessons learned in the iZone.

Three of the schools being added to the zone next year — Geeter K-8, Robert R. Church Elementary, and Oakshire Elementary — have been fresh started. That strategy has worked well for the Innovation Zone, the flagship program run by the district that has outpaced state schools in boosting test scores — but only if the number of teachers leaving isn’t too high.

Some teachers thought it was too early to discuss a fresh start because they said they were promised extra support.

“The promise wasn’t kept,” said Annette Harris, a teacher who opted to retire instead of re-apply for her job. “What the new people are going to receive is what we were promised,” she said about the coaching.

Hopson said additional teacher coaching at those schools was planned, but after looking closely at testing data, the leadership council and district leaders moved up the timeline for a fresh start.

“Knowing where the data was last year, the community felt like we didn’t have time to figure out if we needed to go all in on the treatment,” he said. “The data suggested that we needed to be more aggressive.”

But Hunter said the only advice promised before schools entered his program was to principals. Additional teacher coaching, he said, is reserved for after the staffing changes. The intent is not a full turnover, he said, but only 35 of 125 teachers have been retained so far at the three schools that have been fresh started for the fall.

“We want the children in those particular settings to have a familiar face they’re used to seeing so they feel comfortable,” he said.

The Empowerment Zone’s scope is expanding next year beyond schools in the high school’s feeder pattern. Some of the schools being added send students on to Fairley High, a state-run charter school. One of those is Geeter Middle, which will become a K-8 school when Manor Lake Elementary students are added to it next year.

Hunter was open about his intentions to keep students out of the state-run district during a meeting in March with parents and teachers at Manor Lake.

“If we sit back and do nothing and are not aggressive in our treatment, then now we become victims or potential victims of the Achievement School District,” he said.

“All they know is the child did not perform well on a test. They don’t understand that the child might not have eaten last night,” he said. “None of those things show up in a number, and it’s totally not fair.”

The post As Memphis expands its efforts to improve schools, one model is about to double in size appeared first on Chalkbeat.

The kids are alright: Meet the Uptown organizations helping its youngest residents thrive


Facing serious concerns like drugs, gangs, and crime, communities often call for more youth programming to keep kids safe and productive. In Uptown, a handful of organizations are already working to build thriving kids and a thriving community, but they can’t do it alone.           


There’s a concern in Uptown. It’s a concern familiar to many neighborhoods with a history of disinvestment. It was voiced in the Community Redevelopment Agency’s recent Uptown community listening sessions. Neighbors also echoed the sentiment to the High Ground News team in an April editorial advisory.

Uptown’s youth need healthy alternatives to unsavory street activities. 

“This is important because we’ve got so many gangs and things kids can get into these days. They need things like this to keep them away from that. If they didn’t have places like MAM [Memphis Athletic Ministries] to come in, they’d be out in the streets,” said Ernie Prude, area director for Memphis Athletic Ministries.

While there is always a need for more constructive activities for youth, Uptown already has a host of organizations and individuals wrapping around its kids to see them successfully to adulthood. They’re doing it not just with strong programming but deep, interpersonal relationships that turn neighbors into family. And the real opportunity, they say, is raising awareness and community support for the efforts already underway.


Strong Programs for Powerful Support

Girls Inc. is the oldest youth organization in the area, dating back to 1946. Its Lucille Devore Tucker Center is located at 686 North Seventh Street and is described by president and CEO Lisa Moore as its “number one anchor.”

A group of MAM students plays half court basketball inside the gymnasium of the Greenlaw Community Center. (Brandon Dahlberg)
The center serves girls six to eighteen-years-old with after-school and weekend programs and camps during school breaks. It is open to all girls across the region, but Uptown’s 38107 ZIP code is one of its primary service areas and Moore agrees that programs are especially important in the Uptown community.

“When you look at the reality of our neighborhoods, where you have over 50 percent of the households headed by single women and another forty by married couples, that’s over ninety percent of the neighborhood informed directly by a woman’s earning power,” said Moore.

“So it is essential that we equip our girls to have post-secondary plans for their education and career attainment, for them to be prepared for well-paying jobs after school. That we equip them to see what’s possible and help ignite what’s inherently in them.”

BRIDGES is another organization located in Uptown that serves youth from across the region. Their Jim Boyd BRIDGES Center opened at 477 North Fifth Street in 2004 and offers workshops, camps, a yearly end-of-summer festival, and an indoor climbing wall open to the public two to three nights a week.
Teens participate in a team building exercise during a BRIDGES youth training event. Director Mario Hendrix said BRIDGES’ 60-zip code services area provides a unique advantage for Uptown’s youth. 

”BRIDGES is all about giving youth opportunities to meet and interact with other students who are different from them and different from peers they’d meet in their own neighborhoods,” he said. “Through these conversations, they can explore areas outside their community and also showcase their own.”

Memphis Athletic Ministries is comparatively new but is having a major impact. Since 2010, their Greenlaw center at 190 Mills Avenue has served up to 120 kids a day. From 2:30 p.m. until 7 p.m., students participate in sports, literacy programs, life skills classes, field trips, and bible study.

Oasis of Hope formed out of Cordova’s Hope Presbyterian Church in 2001. They began by volunteering with other organizations then purchased a few small buildings for office and community space. They eventually started their own after school and literacy programs, a girl’s choir, and sports and bike repair programs.

“Year after year there’s something new that, from our faith-based perspective, God provides the opportunity and resources to make happen,” said executive director Terry Hoff.

Today, Oasis serves around 90 kids daily at their youth center located in the back of the Bickford Community Center at 233 Henry Avenue.

Deep Relationships for Deep Change

While organizations and their programs are critically important, their staffs say it’s the efforts they make towards individual relationships that have the biggest impacts.

For example, each MAM staffer has a group of kids they directly mentor.

Decorations inside the Greenlaw Community Center provide encouraging messages for MAM students. (Brandon Dahlberg)
April Golden’s current group of girls are planning a mani-pedi night at her house, complete with takeout and movies. And after eight years, she now has kids home from college for the summer who will visit for all the typical things — food, love, laundry.

“I’ve developed some really deep relationship with a lot of kids over the years. So much so that I’m like a momma to a lot of them,” said Golden, assistant neighborhood director and a founder of the Greenlaw center.

Prude echoed her sentiment.

“It’s like another part of your family. It’s more stressful because it’s more kids outside of the other kids you already have in your house,” he said.

“You have to go to school stuff, when something goes wrong at home, they call you. Every day, every hour of the day. But it’s good that they trust you that much, they know that you’re going to come alongside them whatever it is.”

Oasis has similar relationships with many of its youth that now span generations. There’s more than one example of someone growing up in Oasis programs and their children now attending similar programs.

The nonprofit also has employees who have been with Oasis since childhood.

Several elementray school students work on homework after school at Oasis of Hope. (Brandon Dahlberg)

Jasmine Martin is Oasis’ middle and high school girls developer. She first connected with Oasis in 7th grade. She hung out with her friends and helped found a girl’s bible study. In high school, she helped launch the Angel Street Choir. Throughout college she volunteered for the middle and high school programs. After graduating with a degree in supply chain management, she returned to work for Oasis in November of 2014.

Related: “Choir provides musical oasis for girls in North Memphis”

“Over the years, we’ve been really intentional about relationship building and transforming lives through our networks. Providing this community with a network of support to get from one place in life to another place, to be better for the entire family,” she said of Oasis and her experience. 

Kevin Miller is the newest member of the Oasis team and a former Oasis youth.

“I started in elementary school with the Read to Succeed program. I started learning how to read, I met a lot of people, I met Terry [Hoff],” he said. “It’s like family. I’ve been around them going on 12 years now.”

While MAM and Oasis work through a blend of formal programming and informal relationships, Grace Church is almost entirely relationship-based.

“The most encouraging work going on is not a program,” said Nathan Sawyer, one of a council of pastors and elders who govern Grace.


Grace began 11 years ago with a few families feeling called to move to the neighborhood and begin a service-based ministry. Today they have around 100 congregants and hold services in MAM’s Greenlaw center gym. While they do now have some formal youth programs, it’s not their focus.

Church member Dan Reisman is an example of their core mission of deep, one-on-one relationships and support. Reisman is originally from New York and moved to the neighborhood in 2008.

He began volunteering at MAM, joined Grace Church, and soon opened his home to neighborhood youth. On any given night you’ll find at least half a dozen teenagers playing video games, discussing life and faith, or doing what teens do best — eating. His home features an extra deep freeze and pantry just for the kids’ snacks.

Dan Reisman and DeVonte Barnes outside of the Greenlaw Community Center, where Grace Church Memphis meets every Sunday. (Brandon Dahlberg)

For Reisman, it’s about showing them the possibilities within themselves and their neighborhood.

“When I ride these guys around the neighborhood, there’ll be a piece of land, and I’ll be like, “There’s your business. It’s waiting on you,” he said. “I don’t want to be the face of the neighborhood, I want them to be that face. I want to be the person who created the leader for the neighborhood, not the leader.”

Reisman has a special relationship with one boy in particular. Reisman met DeVonte Barner in 2014 and they formed a fast friendship. In 2016 Barner was in danger of entering the foster care system and being displaced from the neighborhood. He asked Reisman if he would petition for legal guardianship.

Reisman describes Barner as quiet and introverted. He plays basketball, is musically gifted, and a good student. Barner is now a graduating senior at Kipp Memphis Collegiate High School with plans to attend Webster University in St. Louis this fall. For his part, Barner says moving in with Reisman was a chance to deepen their relationship and his relationship to Grace Church.

“When I first started going [to Grace], it was awkward. I was young. It was a lot of white people. But they really showed up. At first I didn’t know how to take it, but now I just embrace it. I know them, it’s like family. They’re very loving. I think they practice what they preach. They’re true Christians,” said Barner.


The Biggest Need for a Bigger Impact

These organizations and others like them have definitely seen positive change in the neighborhood.

“I’ve seen a huge change in the kids and in the community. It used to be really heavily infested with gangs,” said Golden.

“There were a lot of fights and shootings. But over the last three years especially, I’ve seen a drastic turnaround. I think it’s just because of the culture we’ve developed here … They know what we’re about. When [gang members] do come, they come and fall in just like all the rest of the kids. They play ball and hang out.”

Members of the church sing worship songs to begin their morning service at Grace Church Memphis. (Brandon Dahlberg)

That said, there is a major barrier to expanding their efforts and impact. Despite years in the neighborhood, there are still youth who are unaware of these organizations and their offerings, and there are still community members who don’t know the need for volunteers or how to get involved.

It’s simple investments — teaching a job skills class, helping with administrative work, reading with students, shooting a game of hoops, or simply being a listening ear — that add up to big change.

“We need more people in the community to understand that we can’t do this alone,” said Golden. “A lot of these kids just want that attention and love, but we can’t be that for everyone.”

Similarly, Oasis uses volunteers to supplement its staff and needs community members to help spread the word. Nathan Sawyer with Grace Church said they’d like to see a nonprofit pharmacy, pre-natal clinic, and counseling center, but those too need volunteers to be successful.

For Girls Inc. and BRIDGES, the need is more for awareness among youth. While a regional service area means exposure to new people and ideas for Uptown’s youth, it also means less ability to target recruitment to the neighborhood.

“We do have a few local students who participate, but I would say involvement isn’t particularly strong. We definitely want Uptown youth to know about all the opportunities going on at BRIDGES on a weekly basis,” said Kat Netzler, director of communications at BRIDGES.

In all cases, it will take a group effort of community members and organizations to ensure that every child has the opportunity to learn and play in a safe and nurturing space, surrounded by people who are fiercely committed to their success.

As Prude said and others echoed, “We have them for a few hours of the day. They have to go back out to the community. So if we can get the community on our side, to do the same things we’re doing inside out there … it takes a village. That’s real.”

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Janet Jackson delivers nostalgic performance and powerful #MeToo speech at Billboard Music Awards

Janet Jackson
(Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)

Moments before Janet Jackson took the stage at the 2018 Billboard Music Awards on Sunday night, my heart was already pounding. The montage that played after Bruno Mars ran down the long list of accomplishments that make her a bonafide icon reminded me of just how phenomenal her career has been and the anticipation of her triumphant return to television had me way more excited that I expected.

Once she came out in a super short, long-sleeved sweater and gold knee-high sneakers, I knew she came to show out, and she did.

Janet Jackson delivered a medley of hits including her 1986 chart-topper, “Nasty,” and her 1993 single, “Throb” before accepting the coveted ICON Award, an honor whose past recipients include Stevie Wonder, Cher, Prince, and Jennifer Lopez.

Check out a clip of her performance:

After her performance earned a standing ovation from the star-studded crowd, she accepted the ICON Award and gave a powerful speech that referenced the #MeToo movement and encouraged fans to seek God during this turbulent time.

“I’m deeply humbled and grateful for this award. I believe that, for all of our challenges, we live at a glorious moment in history. It’s a moment that, at long last, women have made it clear that we will no longer be controlled, manipulated, or abused. I stand with those women and with those men equally outraged by discrimination, who support us in heart and mind,” she said.

“This is also a moment when our public discourse is loud and harsh. My prayer is that, weary of such noise, we will turn back to the source of all calmness, that source is God. Everything we lack, God has in abundance: compassion, sensitivity, patience and boundless love. Again I want to thank all of you for this honor and I thank God for giving me the precious energy that lets me live my life as an artist who every day seeks to expend my capacity to love.”

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Amber Rose doesn’t hold back in speaking on Kanye

Amber Rose snatched edges in a recent interview where she finally gave her two-cents about Kanye West’s erratic tweets and pro-Trump support. READ MORE:Nicki Minaj’s ‘Chun-Li’ performance on SNL hit with cultural appropriation accusations Rose who once dated Yeezy, spoke with The Fallen State show and gave a plausible take on West Trump-loving tirade saying that Trump is “Kanye in a white man’s body.” “I really felt like [Donald & Kanye] have the same personality, like completely the same personality,” she said. “I would like to think that Kanye met with Trump and Trump said, ‘Look, I seen these people, I knew they were gonna vote for me and I used them to get elected and I can’t tell nobody that because I want to get a second term, but now that I’m in office I really want to make a change.’ Now, Kanye can’t snitch on him, he can’t snitch on himself. So, you know, maybe he’s thinking of the greater good of what Trump can do for the country.” While Rose and West have been at odds ever since their tumultuous breakup, she said that the rapper likely latched on to Trump because of how he used people to get to the top. READ MORE: T.I. blasts police brutality, ‘terrorist’ law enforcement “Kanye’s the type of person that he loves art, and he loves the art in things, so I think that he appreciates the politics that Trump used in order to get in office, ’cause Trump was a Democrat for like 30 years I heard, or something like that,” she said. “So I could only hope that Trump kind of used the white people, seemingly like racist white people, to get in office maybe for the greater good. I don’t know.” Rose also talked about her upcoming Slut Walk, 21 Savage, and her thoughts on the #MeToo movement. See the full interview Let’s block ads! (Why?)