Dianechia Fields of Memphis LIFT speaks to the group's support of the Opportunity 901 initiative. Also pictured (l-r): Rev. Bartholomew Orr, Brown Missionary Baptist Church; Natalie McKinney, Whole Child Strategies; Tim Harris, Memphis Empowerment Initiative, and Terence Patterson with the Memphis Education Fund. (Photo: Dr. Sybil C. Mitchell)

With nearly $800 million in state and federal funds targeted for local use to address learning loss and COVID-19 challenges, a public awareness campaign dubbed Opportunity 901 was rolled out on Wednesday.

The Memphis Education Fund is spearheading the effort, along with local business, community and nonprofit leaders.

“A major opportunity now exists for our students,” said Terence Patterson, president of the Memphis Education Fund. “Our school districts have an unprecedented opportunity to properly invest in our children, thanks to the unprecedented federal and state funding.”

The campaign’s introduction came during a press conference at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library. 

Patterson said Opportunity 901 is designed to engage all the stakeholders – including parents, students, faith leaders, non-profits and businesses in determining effective investments on behalf of students.

Whole Child Strategies Executive Director Natalie McKinney said the funding can insure that children in low-income communities are “prepared for college, for careers, and for generational achievement.” 

The global pandemic exacerbated external pressures, which threaten student achievement, such as “housing instability, food apartheid and community blight, among a host of others,” McKinney said.

“Whole Child Strategies is dedicated to the success of kids disproportionately affected by poverty. What happens outside the classroom has a direct impact on what happens inside the classroom, especially when the classroom is located in a community disproportionately affected by poverty. 

Greater Memphis Chamber Chief Public Policy Officer Bobby White said the funding “is very impactful for the business community. … We have more projects in our economic pipeline than we have had in the last 15 to 18 years. Every one of those projects come down to workforce.”

Businesses, said White, are having “the time of their lives” trying to identify skilled, reliable workers in positions that are open right now.

Regarding the available funding, White said, “We are no longer cash-strapped when it comes to initiatives for our students. … As the federal government has invested this money in our district, please let us invest our time and our attention to what is happening in our school district at this moment. 

“Unprecedented challenges have led to historic opportunity. Let’s join Opportunity 901.”

Dianechia Fields, representing SCS parent organization Memphis Lift, said everyone should work together to make sure the dollars are spent on creating a “sustainable future” for public school students.

Opportunity 901 partners include:

  • Brown Missionary Baptist Church
  • Center for Transforming Communities
  • First Baptist Church, Broad Street
  • Greater Memphis Chamber
  • Las Americas
  • Memphis Education Fund
  • Memphis Empowerment Initiative
  • Memphis LIFT
  • Stand for Children
  • TennesseeCAN
  • Tennessee Charter School Center
  • Teach for America
  • Whole Child Strategies

(For more information, visit Opportunity901.org.)