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Seeding Success reflects, details First 8 Memphis future

by Johnesha Harris, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

After a year of what its executive director declared “great work with our partners,” Seeding Success unveiled its early childhood initiative – First 8 Memphis – on Tuesday evening.

By self description via its website, Seeding Success is a “diverse partnership representing K-12 institutions, not-for-profits, business, health, civic, faith and philanthropic organizations that are committed to fearlessly pursuing educational outcomes for children.”

Partners, donors and other and supporters converged at Clayborn Temple for reflection and the unveiling. The group decorated the church with data from the past eight years from the Shelby County Schools system, as well as art that will be the lead focus of the First 8 Memphis campaign.

There was a thrust to foster an understanding about equity in the city and how it correlates to the population. Seeding Success Executive Director Mark Sturgis welcomed his staff, advocates and community leaders, spreading praising for help received over the past year.

“Today was really about celebrating a year of great work with our partners,” Sturgis said. “They are hearing about how communities can mobilize to think about economic mobility as an issue, connected education and they see what steps as a partnership and organization we’re planning to take to do that.”

Since its launch in 2013, the Seeding Success staff has been working on cradle to career projects throughout the city using leadership, policy, data and resources.

The event’s keynote speaker was Steve Ballmer, owner of the Los Angeles Clippers NBA franchise. Ballmer has put money into Memphis and other cities that have organizations such as Seeding Success. He works on the board of StriveTogether, a national nonprofit network working to improve educational outcomes.

Ballmer expanded on his philanthropic focus and delved into the issue of economic disparity using detailed PowerPoint presentation titled “Catalyzing Communities to Increase Economic Mobility.”

Jamilica Burke, director of collaborative action, and Haley Simmons, director of policy, both talked to guests about mobility data and how Seeding Success is breaking the cycle.

“We had this meeting to highlight the work that we’re doing with our partners here in Shelby County,” Burke said. “It’s really a drive toward improving the outcomes that we see with our children and families. It’s an annual celebration to bring all of our partners together.”

Staff members also celebrated investments that have given them a chance to increase their work. That includes the City of Memphis’ recently announced investment of $6 million into Pre-K education.

“The school system is one of the primary partners at the table in the development of the First 8 strategy,” Simmons said.

Seeding Success envisions 90 percent of kids starting school kindergarten ready, with plenty and varied support for families and children to hit that mark. From there, the next goal would be increasing reading by 80 percent.

“We had conversations and involvement from the SCS superintendent Mr. Hopson. Also, our goals are aligned with Destination 2025, which is Shelby County Schools’ strategic plan,” Simmons said.

Sturgis said Seeding Success will now be putting all its focus on First 8 Memphis, getting it officially launched, fully funded and operational.

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