Powerful Parents from across the country link up in Memphis: Join us this weekend for the Annual Parent Summit

The Memphis Lift started with a small group of people determined to make the powerless parent powerful.

Founded in 2015, we are now a movement of over 1,000 parents, grandparents and concerned family members who believe our children have been underserved in failing schools for too long.   

We are working together to demand high quality schools and radical changes in public education to disrupt systemic education inequities.

In the last few years, we have spoken at school board meetings, had discussions with state and city leaders, knocked on more than 10,000 doors, and equipped hundreds of parents to become advocates for their children.

Information is power and we are working to make sure more parents and students have access to good schools. We are insisting that our voices and concerns are heard and changes are made so that every child can get a great education.

And here’s what we discovered: parents from around the country want to be empowered and equipped, too. When people heard about what we were doing in Memphis, they wanted to start a parent movement in their own city.

It was exciting, then, to have some of our “cousin” organizations all in town together last week. Groups from Oakland, Nashville, and Atlanta visited The Memphis Lift HQ to learn more about how we can link up across the nation to make a difference.

From coast to coast, we are seeing what happens when parents come together and take action on behalf of their kids and communities.

Do you want to be part of this movement of powerful parents? You can be. Come to our Third Annual Parent Summit on Saturday, October 27th. We will be discussing important issues that matter to YOUR child’s education and OUR community, such as school quality, access to quality schools, and Unified Enrollment.

We will also have notable speakers and panel discussions with local district leaders as well as parents from Indianapolis, Chicago, Denver, and Washington, D.C. who will share innovative ideas and talk about what’s working in their cities.

Are you fired up? Ready to be part of the solution? We are. Plan to join us for the Parent Summit this weekend, and register online today. When we come together for our kids, great things CAN happen!

Honoring the Life of my Brother by Working to Save the Lives of Others: A Story of Suicide, Survival and Strength

It’s Bullying Awareness Month. I thought it would be wise to sit and talk with the anti-bullying champion Ms. Leshundra Robinson who is the Executive Director of UCAN of Memphis.  She has dedicated the past ten years of her life to ensuring students understand the importance and dangers associated with bullying and she helps families and the communities at large know how to identify the signs of bullying, how to prevent bullying and how to intervene in bullying.

We kicked off the conversation with the interesting notion of how mental health awareness is correlated with bullying and Leshundra’s personal story of how this work is a personal goal of honoring her brother’s legacy.

Leshundra Robinson, MPA Executive Director-UCAN of Memphis

 L.Richmond: In your opinion, what’s the main reason for increased mental health scares and the decreased level of awareness in our community?

L. Robinson:  I think this question is quite simple. In the black community, our people don’t really know what’s going on and refuse to talk about this issue that’s beginning to plague our community in record numbers. There’s a perception of mistrust. People don’t feel empowered and/or compelled to share what’s really going on? If I tell people that I have a mental health issue-will people still deal with me?

L. Richmond: Do you think it’s a black person issue or across the board?

L. Robinson: I think the issue is across the board. However, I believe in our community its a matter of getting help and lack of awareness.

L. Richmond: What was your motivation to get into this work?

L. Robinson: My brother was 26 years old when he came to me with this thought of him being bipolar. I shrugged it off and chalked it up as him being stressed out over school and possibly being poorly connected to a young lady that I didn’t particularly care for him dating. A few weeks prior, he had shared with me that the young lady had begun sharing her belief that she was bipolar and I felt that she had transferred that energy and those alarming thoughts on to my brother. My response to my brother was that of a concerned sister; (what we often say); “you’re good. You just need to rest. And you need to leave that girl alone.”

Less than 1-year later, (my brother was 27 years of age at this time) he had started taking medications in which had been prescribed by his doctor. My issue with him taking the medication was then and still is, why would a doctor prescribe my brother, or anyone, medication where the side effects are suicidal thoughts. To this day, I have yet to resolve that inquiry.

L. Richmond: Did your brother know that one of the side effects for the medication was suicidal thoughts?

L. Robinson: Yes! So, on top of taking this medication, on top of a broken relationship (at this point, him and the girl had broken their relationship off), being in a new city (Knoxville), without family, and he was in his residency (veterinarian medicine), my brother had hit his breaking point and began having suicidal thoughts which later led to his demise.

L. Richmond:  What happened next?

L. Robinson: I broke. I acted out. I didn’t care about a job or myself. I thought I could have prevented something. My children lost their uncle, a mentor, a friend. I didn’t go to therapy because I was in denial. I didn’t want to hear, “It’s not your fault!”  I should have gone to therapy but I didn’t. I ignored everyone’s push to go to therapy and didn’t want to hear the common, “It’s going to be alright.” Nor did I want to talk to anybody. I even considered suicide myself. But I was faced with the harsh truth. I didn’t believe him. I didn’t listen to my brother. I brushed it off. How could I have not known that something was wrong beyond stress? But, those were all the thoughts that would have continued to keep me bound and in a depressed state myself. This went on for about a year.

L. Richmond: How did you survive this?

L. Robinson: (smiles softly) I title this: “My come out.” I kept reading my brother’s suicide letter addressed to me that said I was stronger and how to honor his legacy by promising to bring awareness around mental health and that it’s okay to get help!

UCAN of Memphis is apart of that promise of keeping his legacy alive. I can’t afford to miss another opportunity where someone is crying out and I’m not listening and taking into account everything that is being said. Our kids are crying out. And as a community, we are not listening. I can’t change an entire system but I can do my part. A lot of my sessions and workshops with students involves just listening and allowing the students to simply share. I learn so much about them from just listening and their circumstances. Listening to them helps me to plan, helps me to think through being proactive and also gives me what to share to audiences of adults.

L. Richmond: Do you still read your brother’s letter to you?

L. Robinson: Yes! I’ve even found the strength to present it in some of my larger settings. I keep it as a reminder of the promise I made to him to not allow his life or legacy to be in vain by helping kids in similar situations.

L. Richmond: So just for a second, switching back to the learning space? Do you think the learning environment is prepared to adequately handle the mental health challenges of students on any level?

L. Robinson: No, I believe that they need additional resources, training, and additional support in the school and more specifically the classroom. Teachers have to look at students from where they are and not necessarily who they are. There is so much training and development that needs to have at the school level to fully support students and their wide range of needs. We do students a huge disservice if we don’t provide them with the adequate support and resources. I am appreciative of every school that welcomes me and what UCAN offers to its students.

L. Richmond: What is the impact you would like to have with students in schools?

L. Robinson: I would like the students to know and understand everyone goes through trials and tribulations. Life is filled with adverse situations but it’s all about how we handle it. We have many options available but we have to choose the right one that not only fits our lives but at times those around us. Suicide is not the answer. Having mental issues is extremely prominent in society but our biggest challenge is listen to others that say we don’t have to get help. Just pray about it. Yes, we definitely want to pray but we also want to know that He provides people around us that have the resources to help so utilize them.

My impact is to have students understand even as an adult I still go through it but it’s my personal goal and God’s purpose to not give up and give in to the negative statements of what can’t be done, what I don’t look like, what others have and I don’t and most importantly what will never happen. Everything is possible if you just try. Then try again and again.

L. Richmond: Wow! I am in awe of your strength and boldness. Is there anything else you would like to share?

L. Robinson: Yes! My struggle has been real and if I can help anyone with my transparency, then I will. This is my letter to suicide:

Dear Suicide-

Last night I saw him. I saw a young man that looked like my brother when he was younger. He had his “beginner dreads.”  Was built just like him. I stared at him and watched him walk back and forth from the kitchen. I had not encountered this moment in a while and I wasn’t ready to face it again.

Why did you talk to him that day?! Why did you whisper in his ear “do it”? Their pain won’t last long. Just do it already!” Why did you hover over him for months, for years with a dark blanket saying just do it? I hate you!!!! You been in this family for a while but I personally manage to Ignore you. Then you decided to get what you knew was close to my kids cause I wasn’t going to be touched. How DARE you touch him slightly then overturn his every thought! How dare you!!! You knew what he needed and why. You knew if you took him far enough away that we couldn’t get in arms reach of him you could make your next move. You finessed his mind to contemplate loving you. Then when he said NO go away, I have something else better, I have people who love me and need me, go away!!! You decided that wasn’t going to do. You needed another “soldier” on your team. So you let him slide and you patiently watched and waited for him. Watched over and the people he was connected to. Then bam that’s when you found your right target to get him to come to you.

You waited until he was most vulnerable and used every tactic you knew. You waited until our mom died. Even though we both knew she would pass that year just not the date, you waited to see if that would break him, break us really. But, it didn’t. We held tight to each other. Then you thought you had him when I got divorced because to him that was the only model of a happy and healthy relationship and he knew that he could have one just like that. But when I got divorced, it broke his model and his heart. You thought you had him then but he held tight. He was almost there but his nieces and nephews were at a delicate age that they needed him. So you then brought along a woman who you knew would be the “right marriage model” for him. That he would fall head over heels in love with her and THAT would be the moment you land.

You are a weak coward who needs other people energy to survive. You are a thief who doesn’t care how you steal it, whether it’s in the day or night. But you know what you are most importantly…You are double edged sword!!! You portray to want to get help because you are depressed then you wait until everyone is gone and you change to (inserts expletive) everybody!!!” You are a coward, a thief, an asshole, a b*&%h, a leech and I hate you to the pits of hell!!!!

Signed,

A survivor of Suicide. Not a victim.

 

To learn more about UCAN of Memphis, please feel free to visit: ucanofmemphis.org

Or contact Leshundra directly at: ucanmakadiff@gmail.com 

Is your school district making good on its mission statement?

I was scrolling through my email when I saw this question. I immediately thought, “NO” then had to contemplate whether that answer stemmed from me as a parent or me as an educator.

Many educators are also parents and the dichotomy of these two are engulfing. I once wrote that I haven’t had the pleasure of teaching at a school I would send my daughter. I think a lot of my reasoning has to do with what I’m not seeing in the system.

What does it mean for a district to make good on its mission statement? Will there be room for improvement or is the actuality of that mission enough?

In Shelby County, the school district’s mission is:

  • By 2025, 80 percent of seniors will be on track to learn in a postsecondary classroom or enter the workforce straight out of high school;
  • 90 percent of students will earn their high school diploma on time;
  • Every student will enroll in a postsecondary opportunity college or career-ready.

I don’t believe the mission of our school system is inclusive enough. After all, before you can accomplish the end-goal, there must be attention paid to the beginning. Perhaps it’s implied, but I believe the school district should make explicit in their mission statement that there is an intentional focus on early literacy and early childhood education to strengthen the foundation and (hopefully) eliminate the foundational gaps in literacy and numeracy that exist for many students who are served by the Shelby County school system. In order for us to be ready by 2025, we have a lot of work to do inside the classroom.

 

 

 

Dear Parents: A Message From Your Child’s Teacher

Dear Parents,

It has taken me way too long to write this to you. Honestly, I know I should have weeks ago when the school year started, but as they say, I wanted to “hit the ground running.”  As the year has progressed, I wanted to take a couple of minutes of your time.

As your child’s teacher, I must tell you I lose a lot of sleep at night. I worry if I can reach every child in the allotted time and whether my lesson was engaging and made sense. While I hope that each lesson is as exciting as I plan it to be, more often than not the blank stares let me know that the versions of the children in my head when I’m planning aren’t the same ones that show up to my class.

But that’s ok. You should know I’m quick on my feet – I embody the true meaning of teaching being a “practice.”  I could spend more than the 90 minutes I have with your child on English because I love reading! I’m an avid reader and I know that literacy and education have been what pulled me out of poverty. My parents weren’t high school graduates until I was an adult, so I understand more than you can imagine.

I hope you know that although you love your child more than anything, I want the best for them too. That’s why I show up when I’m sick, I show up when I’m exhausted and I show up when my spirit is low. Teaching 100+ students a day can be draining – I give parts of me to each one – each child is a unique individual, needing a different thing.  In my classroom, I teach more than reading strategies; I teach life lessons, connecting the text to the real world while trying to connect to my students.

When they sometimes come to school angry because of something that has happened at home, I’m usually the one they take it out on. I become more than their teacher, helping them to see that whatever correction you gave was in love and the adherence to that correction is the best thing they can offer you. I’m a comforter and team player – I know that we can do great things together!

And that’s why I want to apologize for not calling to tell you of the great things that your child has done. Many times, when you hear my voice, it’s a “bad report.” I’m sure you dislike receiving these calls as much as I hate making them. I wonder about whether you think I can’t handle my class, or that I’m being too hard on them. One could argue that I am.

Many of my students, your babies, are below grade level and not competing on a local or national scale. They have a desire to do well, but for many reasons, haven’t been provided an adequate foundation to succeed.  I apologize for the teachers who have failed you in the past – it infuriates me as well! This is why I overcompensate for what they have lacked. I try to cram in foundational skills and grade-level content, knowing time is against us in this race. Your child may call me intense but fun, straight-forward and rigid. I know it can be overwhelming to learn so much in a day; therefore, I apologize in advance for the heavy sighs that come after the mention of my name.

In all of that, I promise to give my very best to your child each and every day – even if that takes away from what I give my own.  Teaching is not just my profession. It’s my calling and I have calculated the risk and understand the sacrifice that my own daughter makes so that I can be so much to so many. I’m not asking for your sympathy – just think of that when you’re upset about summers off and extended breaks – it’s the only time I really get to spend uninterrupted with my own child.

Lastly, I’d like to thank you for giving me the opportunity to teach your most prized possession. Thank you for sharing your child’s light with me for the time they are in my classroom. Thank you for being a partner in this educational journey. I promise to never take for granted the responsibility bestowed upon me.

Parents, I need you more than you think. If I hadn’t said it before – I’m saying it now. We’re gonna make the impossible possible! Together, we can do more than we ever could apart!

With all my best,

Your Child’s Teacher.

The NAACP is coming to Memphis to hear what you have to say about charter schools

Well, this should be interesting.

After passing a resolution calling for the end to charter school growth, the national board of the NAACP set out to hear from the public (seems a little backwards – shouldn’t you hear from the public before passing a resolution?).

The historic civil rights organization is planning to host seven “town hall” meetings in cities as diverse as New Orleans, Detroit, Orlando, and New York. And, yes, one of these town halls will be coming to Memphis too (on January 10th). 

We’ll be waiting to see if the parents and grandparents who took long bus rides up to Cincinnati back in October to bring their objections directly to the NAACP board will turn out to be heard when the NAACP comes to town.

Until then…

  • Read more about the NAACP resolution here.
  • Read about the differences of opinion about charter schools in the black community here.
  • Read the letter from 160 black education leaders opposing the NAACP’s resolution here.