Supportive Leadership


Principal Yolanda Dandridge is a Memphis principal who cares deeply about supporting students and teachers.  In this interview with Chalkbeat, Dandridge explains her passionate leadership.

“I tell my teachers to always stay focused on the “why” behind their careers. For me, my “why” was the fact that my little brother got all the way through elementary school without learning to read. He wasn’t able to read until the fifth grade. He came from a family of educators, and he still slipped through the cracks. If that could happen to him, it could happen to so many kids.”

Read more here



By: Meelan Mohsin

Mental Health is a triggering topic for most, a misunderstood topic for some, and an important topic for all.

What is a Mental Illness?
Mental Health is often a triggering topic for many. However, there are so many students not getting the help they need. We all need to have a better grasp on how this impacts students.

People believe that Mental Health disorders such as depression only comes to people with horrible home lives or triggering memories, but that isn’t true. You can be the happiest person in the world with a fulfilling life then BAM, depression hits you like a bus! People that have mental illness are often misunderstood as well. There are cultural stigmas associated Negative consequences such as vulnerability, dehumanization, and frustration reveal that being misunderstood has the potential to damage or destroy therapeutic relationships.”

How Many students In The School System Are Affected?
Approximately 1 in 5 youth aged 13–18 (21.4%) experiences a severe mental disorder at some point in their life. For children aged 8–15, the estimate is 13%. 1.1% of adults in the U.S. live with schizophrenia. 2.6% of adults in the U.S. live with bipolar disorder. So when students are diagnosed with mental illnesses schools are not prepared with the outcome on how students will act and perform in school experts say schools could play a role in identifying students with problems and helping them succeed. It’s a role many schools are not prepared for. “Educators face the simple fact that, often because of a lack of resources, there just aren’t enough people to tackle the job. And the ones who are working on it are often drowning in huge caseloads. Kids in need can fall through the cracks..”

The signs
The signs to look for in students who are struggling with mental health are: 
confused thinking, 
prolonged depression (sadness or irritability), 
feelings of extreme highs and lows, 
excessive fears, 
worries and anxieties, 
dramatic changes in eating or sleeping habits, 
strong feelings of anger, 
strange thoughts (delusions) 
seeing or hearing things that aren’t there (hallucinations), 
growing inability to cope with daily problems and activities,
suicidal thoughts, 
numerous unexplained physical ailments, 
and substance abuse.

Ways We Can Help
Ways we can help the school system with students who suffer from mental illnesses are to create a school environment of general well-being, and a climate where mental health isn’t stigmatized.

Another way is when a student does show signs of trouble, one of the first steps is to talk with them. That conversation will dictate what happens next.

The last way is a doctor or therapist may get involved for the first time. Often, school plays a vital role in connecting the student to a clinic which will allow more access to support. These are the steps we must take to improve the school environment for students.

This article was first published on

Rhonnie Brewer, Candidate for Shelby County School Board

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As we continue to build momentum around this year's general election on August 2nd, we would like to continue highlighting the new faces and brave souls who are taking a huge step into the political arena and throwing their name in the hat to become part of our school board in Shelby County.

The Shelby County Board of Education governs the business operations of Shelby County Schools and is comprised of nine  elected board members representing all districts in Shelby County. Through its governance, the Shelby County Board of Education is committed to its mission of preparing all students for success in learning, leadership, and life.

I am fortunate to have had the opportunity to share moments with some of the new faces we're seeing and I’m delighted to share some awareness around who these individuals are and what they have to share and offer the families of Shelby County.

Among the newer faces running for this year's election is Mrs. Rhonnie Brewer. Again, this is not an official endorsement blog. Rather an opportunity to present to this city one of the candidates for the commissioner race, but more than that, someone that's willing to take a stand and possibly serve in a greater capacity the families of Shelby County.

Rhonnie Brewer, Candidate for Shelby County School Board, is a community-minded professional who has a passion for building strong relationships within the Memphis metropolitan area. As President of the Guild at the Memphis Urban League, she focuses on driving the goals of the league, in order to support its initiative of empowering the community. She is also the Chief Visionary Officer of Socially Twisted a boutique firm focused on social change and community relations and founder of Memphis Startup, a startup support organization providing resources and support to the small business and technology ecosystems in Memphis, bringing together people and resources in an interconnected network of education and entrepreneurship.

She also has years of experience in event planning, leadership, and community relations through her commitments in various organizations such as Memphis Urban League Young Professionals, COPPER (Coalition for Organizing and Protecting People’s Equal Rights), Memphis Entrepreneur Academy, Community Shares, and several other organizations. Rhonnie is also a member of the National Coalition of Black Women and a Fellow of the Leadership Memphis Executive Class. Rhonnie also attended the Women's Campaign School at Yale University and recently announced her candidacy for Shelby County School Board, District 9.

Rhonnie is a community activist who has coined hashtag #Socialite4SocialChange because of her passion for social justice, education, community involvement, and civic engagement. In addition to her many endeavors, Rhonnie also co-hosts the "What’s Happening Myron Show", a local radio show about news, current events, and entertainment on 88.5 FM, The Voice of Shelby County Schools.

Below is my interview with Mrs. Brewer:

1. What is the inspiration behind your running for School Board Commissioner?

When my oldest daughter was in high school. I had a startling realization. We had created a college "cattle call." We sold our children a narrative that they were either "college bound"or they would be a failure. The truth is that there are many paths to success and our children deserve to be exposed to the options that are available to them. Whether they choose to learn a skilled trade, attend college, join the military, or even try their hand at entrepreneurship, they should have access.

2. Describe your district (ethnic makeup, populations, neighborhoods, income level, etc.) The district is very diverse it encompasses the historic Orange Mound Community, parts of Hickory Hill, East Memphis and a bit of the area around the University of Memphis. It is a melting pot of ethnic backgrounds and income levels.

3. What is your platform? My platform is built on three things: Quality Education, Skilled Job Opportunities, and Entrepreneurship.

Quality Education - I am dedicated and committed to serving the children of District 9. I believe all students should have the same quality of education regardless of zip code.

Skilled Job Opportunities - Over the last three years, I  have secured apprenticeship opportunities through Apprenticeship Fairs, most notably for high school seniors, who may not be college bound.

Entrepreneurship -  Over the past four years, I have led classes in entrepreneurship. I truly believe our youth have the capacity to venture beyond the lemonade stand.

4. How has the support been around you running for public office? There has been a tremendous amount of support around me running for office. I am motivated everyday by the people who believe in me and believe that I can help shape a better future for our students.

5. What are ways in which the public can help your particular efforts? Tell a friend! For years, I have encouraged people to have a "vote buddy" someone that holds you accountable when it is time to vote. We all get very busy in our lives and sometimes voting can seem like just one more thing to add to the "to do" list. Having a vote buddy, helps ensure you both make it to the polls. My hope is when you get there, you will both vote for me! Besides that, we can always use volunteers on the campaign and all are welcome.

6. Besides winning the election and serving as Board Commissioner, what other ways  (in the near future) are you planning to serve the community and the constituents of Shelby County? Currently, I am advocating to restore food security in our communities. Across the city, we have suffered from food deserts. This puts the most vulnerable of our community in jeopardy. There is a direct connection between hunger and educational performance. Additionally, I have hosted apprenticeship fairs for three years to help connect people to skilled-job opportunities. I also host an annual basketball camp called D.U.N.K. (Developing Urban Neighborhoods & Kids) Camp. We work with students to teach them not only basketball, but conflict resolution, volunteerism, civic engagement, and many other life skills.

7. Give a fun fact? Or something the public wouldn't know about you that you don't mind sharing? I am a huge sci-fi geek! I can watch hours of Doctor Who and recently fell in love with the new Lost In Space. Super heroes movies are top of my list! #WakandaForever!

8. What are some of the biggest challenges facing our district today? One of the issues that I have really been looking into is professional development. We have rolled out several new initiatives, programs, and even a new curriculum. As I visit schools throughout the district, the biggest concerns of administrators and educators alike is what they feel is the lack of professional development and training they received prior to these roll outs. This is alarming to me because they are the front line. If they are not comfortable with it, how do they effectively transfer this knowledge to students, staff, etc.?

Another major concern for me is uniformity, we must work to provide a uniform/consistent education across the board. Third grade in one school should reflect third grade in another. If a child has to move during the school year, they should be able to walk into their new classroom and pick up right where they left off.

And, we must address the "elephant in the room," TN Ready! We must continue to advocate on behalf of our students. In its current state, this is an unfair assessment of our students and does not provide a fair and balanced reflection of their capabilities. And, let’s face it, it’s time for a new solution.

9. What should the public know and understand about the role of Board Commissioner? The job of a Board Commissioner is to set policy and vision for the direction of the school board.

10. Tell us a little bit about yourself- Born and raised? Anything personal testament or journey? Schools attended? Etc. I am a native of South Central Los Angeles, however, I consider myself a "Memphian by Choice." I love this city and its citizens.

11. Any final thoughts?

Every child has a pathway to success, it is our job to help them at the fork in the road!

Thank you Mrs. Brewer for your time and contributions. We wish you much success in the upcoming election and future endeavors.

Don't forget: General Election. August 2nd

Make your voice count. Get out and vote.


Praying Mothers


Ms. Walisha Hawkins, mom and parent advocate, recently celebrated the NFL drafting of her youngest son, Central High School & Louisiana State University (LSU) graduate, Frank Herron.  Ms. Hawkins daughter, Ashley Hawkins, posted on Facebook this quote about her mom after the draft:

“we ain’t always did right, but she never stopped praying...”

As I sat amongst Frank’s family and friends, me being humbled and privileged to be one in the number, I couldn’t help but reflect on the past seven or so years of friendship I’ve shared with his mom, Wanlisha.

As proud as I am of Frank, his work ethic, and his recent accomplishments, my heart beamed in honor of my friend, who as her daughter penned accurately is a “praying mother.”

As we near Mother's Day, I thought it would be beneficial to capture this moment as a source of inspiration for someone else. So many like Wanlisha, come from unfavorable conditions where it is easy to conclude that life will just never be easy  Despite that seemingly harsh and unfair reality, wholehearted and confident faith in God and the words of the bible bring the spirit that “with God, anything is possible!” I salute my friend for having this level of faith and I’ve watched her live this faith amongst her family, friends, co-workers, and children. They watched momma pray. They watched momma sacrifice. They watched momma keep doing despite of. hey watched momma praise and thank God for it all.

Wanlisha, a Chicago native, moved her family to Memphis from East St. Louis about 21 years ago. Her advocacy work came because of her growing engagement as a parent advocate of her own children first. Frank, being diagnosed with a learning disability, had to also learn how to become an advocate for himself if he would ever push through the barriers that limit students with learning disabilities and/or special needs.

She noticed early the academic struggles of Frank and stopped at nothing to ensure he would receive the best educational opportunities. It was at this point, Wanlisha begin to slowly understand the fight she would have in fighting for her children, but yet she pressed and prayed. She transferred Frank from a West Memphis school to a Memphis school when he was in the 7th grade, and from that point, Wanlisha became highly active, engaged and most importantly, something our parents something miss being-very vocal. She learned of her rights as a parent and took it from there.

Before there were advocacy groups, before the days of parent voice, Wanlisha was maneuvering through the advocacy space without technical definition and/or training. Interestingly, by the time I stepped into the wonderful world of advocacy, it was no surprise that I grabbed hold to Wanlisha and took her along with me, for she had way more insight than anyone I knew of at the time. She shared her story and she helped other parents.

Frank ended up receiving the supports he needed. He graduated from Central High School and went on to LSU and the rest is really history. Last summer, Frank finished his time at LSU completing his degree in Interdisciplinary Studies and then he went on to prepare to enter the 2018 NFL draft.


Late Saturday evening, the call came through. Frank Herron, just a black kid from Memphis, who never had it easy, but had a praying mother signed with the New England Patriots. I am excited about what’s to come out of this young man and just how his story can and will impact the lives of many-starting with the kids right here in Memphis.

And lastly, we salute my friend, colleague and sister. I want her to know that God has way more in store for her life, even beyond seeing her children live out their dreams. We applaud this mom for pressing through years of struggle to get to this place of triumph.

I am convinced that her ability to advocate helped to propel Frank’s academic success and in turn, she imparted into him the importance of advocating for self. What a gift and what a legacy that God has afforded Wanlisha the opportunity to build. We look forward to the next chapter.

To parents everywhere—please know that your prayers do not go unheard and dreams still do come true. Keep believing. Keep pressing. And keep praying. Moments like this helps to remind us that no matter what or children might endure, we have a God that’s covering us all. With that, we can rest in knowing, it’s all apart of God’s Plan. (Thanks Drake for the timely reminder) #goMemphis #Memphismade #blackkidsfromMemphisWINS #parentvoicematters #allparentsrock #aprayingmother

Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere!!!