Mendell Grinter of the Campaign for School Equality

When Mendell Grinter moved to Memphis two and a half years ago one of his first visits was to the National Civil Rights Museum. As an advocate for education, specifically for students and families of color, he was inspired by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy.

The Kentucky native now serves as the founder and executive director of a local education advocacy organization that is set to release a book based on Dr. King’s role in the fight for education equality.

“One of the core elements of Dr. King was education and how it could be a powerful tool for the fight for equality and civil rights,” Grinter said. “Dr. King knew that having a group of leaders who were educated and understood the policies that entrenched us could move us beyond getting the civil rights that we desperately needed.”

“An Education Dream,” was released on the civil rights icon’s birthday, January 15. The non-profit organization Grinter heads, Campaign for School Equity, is publishing the book in partnership with the National Civil Rights Museum’s yearlong MLK50 commemoration.

“Dr. King believed that education was not only the simple pursuit of knowledge, but an essential requirement for the development of moral character and human empathy,” Terri Freeman, President of the National Civil Rights Museum said. “It is our pleasure to support this project that will shed new light on a social platform that Dr. King was passionate about.”

The book features a collection of interviews, speeches, and never-before-seen photos that will not only chronicle Dr. King’s place at the forefront of the civil rights movement, but also trace education reform since his untimely death.

“As we interviewed a number of folks in the book, the idea was that we haven’t come that far from the educational systems we had when Dr. King was alive,” Grinter said. “We hope this book inspires people, but also sheds light on some of the challenges we still face.”

Grinter has been recognized for his work in education, including a feature in Forbes 30 Under 30. He founded Campaign for School Equity in 2016, after moving from its parent group, Black Alliance for Educational Options. The organization’s mission is to ensure that all children, especially those of color, have access to high quality schooling.  Grinter hopes the book will not only help carry out this mission, but give readers a different perspective on education reform.

“This book is definitely meant to be a conversation starter that will hopefully elicit positive change.”

Consisting of an eclectic mix of local and national educators, community leaders, and advocates, Grinter admitted that he was very intentional in choosing the voices that would be featured in the anthology.

“I believe that you can’t talk about how far you have to go if you don’t know or understand how far you’ve come,” he said, “That’s why it was important for us to tell the stories of the Memphis 13.”

Grinter and his team interviewed members of the group of thirteen first-graders who integrated Memphis City Schools in 1961.

“They had very interesting perspectives in what happened during their times and how the educational system in the city has changed since then,” he said.

While he’s excited about some of the changes in local education reform, like the growing amount of local citizens and organizations dedicated to progress, there is a lot more to be done.

“It’s not enough that we have desegregated schools. It’s more important that these schools provide a good quality education for all students, especially those living in poverty.”

Grinter added that he believes Dr. King would be disappointed in the current state of education.

“I think he would challenge leaders in Memphis to think about what factors race plays in the decision of the municipalities to annex themselves into separate districts.  Ultimately when this happens we are pulling resources away from the inner city that are needed to help students living in poverty.”

Grinter said he hopes conversations like this are sparked from the book.

“I hope reading it will force people to have some very meaningful conversations about how far we have come, but more importantly what we need to do to progress.”

“The Education Dream” will be available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and the National Civil Rights Museum’s gift shop, January 15.