On April 4th, 1968, the life of one of the world’s greatest influencers and innovators was taken here in Memphis, Tennessee. Fifty years later his words have not been forgotten as Memphis and our nation continue to fight the battle for equality among all people. During his life and leadership, Dr. King spoke out against the systematic and structural racism directed towards the African American community.
One of the many areas affected by institutional racism was education, and we still see the consequences in our school systems across the country today through segregated schools and barriers to education. The aftermath of school segregation has been linked as a cause of an educational gap. Now, Memphis is driving innovation through a variety of non-profits and initiatives that work to close this gap and make quality education a reality for all students.
- The city of Memphis has presented a plan to potentially pump $6,000,000 into Shelby County pre-kindergarten programs, using funds from property tax revenue without further affecting taxpayers. If approved by the city council, this effort would work towards increasing the accessibility of pre-k for an estimated 1,500 more students.
- Tennessee is also allocating $30 million this year to promote summer-reading programs across the state, which also aims to increase literacy proficiency in young students. Memphis students will directly benefit from the summer reading and pre-k program funding.
- Along with increasing this budget, by 2022 Memphis is planning to raise the full-time hourly wage for school employees to $15 an hour. These policy changes will help schools provide a more stable foundation for children entering pre-k and for the staff and employees of the schools.
- In a recent report by the University of Memphis, researchers write, “It is important to note that greater levels of education appear to be associated with lower poverty rates particularly among the overall population. It is interesting to note that greater high school completion seems to have a dramatic impact on African American poverty rates.”
Memphis is home to countless educational innovators, with over 4,000 charitable organizations dedicated to ending poverty by promoting educational success for underprivileged students.
“The function of education is to teach one to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of education.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
The local organization, CodeCrew provides tech literacy for children around the city, furthering diversity within technological fields. CodeCrew strives to ensure that through developmental learning, students have access to technological education on digital systems and software. This education is essential to prepare students for higher academic careers and making sure they are well equipped with modern skills for high paying, high demand jobs (coding, software developers,etc.). CodeCrew holds several after-school programs, summer camps, three in-school elective programs, and special events throughout the year.
Along with CodeCrew, LITE Memphis works in Shelby County Schools to promote the furthering of education. Their vision is for African American and Latinx students to close the racial wealth gap by becoming entrepreneurs and securing high-wage jobs. LITE Memphis begins their program by taking students into a 6-month entrepreneurship program to develop ideas, places students into paid internships, and then helps students inculcate financial success in their communities through entrepreneurship. The organization’s statistics show 2,000 youths empowered through entrepreneurship, $112,000 invested in small business growth, and that over 90% of students have launched entrepreneurial projects since 2014.
Organizations in Memphis like CodeCrew and LITE Memphis are dedicated to disrupting the achievement gap through innovative, modern approaches. Other non-profits working to close the achievement gap in Memphis include The Memphis Lift, Memphis Education Fund, New Leaders for New Schools, Stand for Children, and many more. It is easy to lose hope and become discouraged when staring at the hard truth of injustice, but the soul Memphis and the vision of Dr. King will never be lost, forever paving a path of light across our world.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Somewhere we must come to see that human progress never rolls in on the wheels of inevitability. It comes through the tireless efforts and persistent work of dedicated individuals.” Memphis is filled to the brim with persistent and dedicated individuals – and we thank them for their work as keepers of Dr. King’s dream.