The Problem with Kanye


By David Wilson

What I find problematic is how white people, white supremacists especially, often feel like black celebrities speak for the whole race of black people. As such, they derive much of what they believe about black people from rappers, singers, athletes or images of black people they see portrayed by the media or in music. The problem with Kanye is he has not learned how to use his platform and influence responsibly or correctly, and people will use his words to support their beliefs. Case and point, the Republican National Committee used his tweets to fundraise.

There is nothing genius about what Kanye is saying or doing right now. He is an example of how not being responsible with power, platform and influence looks like. He is the antithesis of Colin Kaepernick, or our excitement about the Black Panther movie, Barack Obama, or the two young black men who were arrested for waiting in Starbucks donating $200,000 of their settlement to start an entrepreneur program for Philadelphia's youth.

Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but some people cannot distinguish opinion from a statement of fact. Reducing slavery to a choice lends itself to white supremacists' arguments that black people are the inferior, subservient race. You suggest that slaves were not smart enough to know they could be free if they chose to be. But to that end, if it were only matter of choice, Harriet Tubman could have led slaves to freedom, walking out the front gate rather than taking the Underground Railroad.

It is so important to understand the consequence of words. If you need to be controversial or exhibit your willful ignorance and lack of education to promote yourself, you need to find a new craft. You should be able to allow your work to speak for itself. Free thought and speech are essential, but to say everything you think is irresponsible and reckless. Some might think Kanye is creating necessary buzz for his next project, but how much is publicity worth, your soul, blackness, and dignity? I hope Kanye takes a step back and sees the harm his words have done to our community and make atonement for the damage he has done. We have to continue to call him out and hold him accountable.


My Students Listen to Kanye West so He Needs to Be More Responsible


This blog was first published on

By Andrew Pillow

If you are a consumer of social media, by now you have likely heard Kanye West is back on twitter. Kanye West is no stranger to controversy, but it has been a while since he’s gone on a sustained twitter rant. The rants seem to occur bi-annually or every time he plans to release new music. Kanye like his new buddy, President Trump, is an expert at using the media to relay his controversial opinions to the masses to build publicity. We have become accustomed to this, but this time Kanye has gone to far. 

In a recent interview with TMZ, Kanye West went off the deep end and implied American slavery was somehow voluntary: 

"When you hear about slavery for 400 years ... For 400 years? That sounds like a choice.” He went on to add, “You were there for 400 years and it’s all of y’all. It’s like we’re mentally imprisoned.”

This is, needless to say, a spectacularly bad take on one of America’s greatest sins. Slavery, by definition is not a “choice,” nor did people stay in bondage solely because they were in some kind of mental prison. This sounds like something a person would post on Facebook to come across as a deep intellectual…which to be fair is not too far off from what Kanye West is doing, but this leads me to the bigger issue at play here: Kanye West has too big of an audience to be doing what he’s doing.

Kanye West does not exist in a vacuum and he is too important of a cultural figure to say things this ridiculous. It’s one thing for some random person on twitter or Instagram to make such comments, but it’s more problematic when the person who can instantly reach 28 million people with his words, a fact which wasn’t lost on TMZ staffer, Van Lathan:

You’re entitled to believe whatever you want, but there is fact and real world, real life consequence behind everything you just said. And while you are making music and being an artist and living the life that you’ve earned by being a genius, the rest of us in society have to deal with these threats to our lives. We have to deal with the marginalization that has come from the 400 years of slavery that you said for our people was a choice.” Lathan ends with telling Kanye he has to be “responsible”.

Lathan’s words echo my sentiments. Kanye’s attention seeking rants have larger consequences than just extra twitter mentions for him. Consequences I see first hand every single day as a middle school teacher. My students listen and look up to Kanye West. They are not quite at the age where they can separate the musical talent of their idols from their nonsensical opinions. My students hear this nonsense and come straight to class with it.

My kids have enough silly ideas about slavery as it is:

“I couldn’t have been no slave Mr. Pillow.”

“They wouldn’t have me out there all day like that.”

“I would have been done took off.”

They say all of these things as if slavery was some kind of entry level job that you can just quit. You can’t blame kids that are 60 plus years removed from the civil rights movement for having these thoughts… but I can blame Kanye West for propagating them.

People who aren’t teachers, will probably question how much students really listen to celebrities or ramblings on the internet, but in my short seven years as a classroom teacher, I have had to:

Prove to my students that the world was not coming to an end in 2012.

Convince my students that Jay-Z and Beyoncé were in fact not members of the illuminati.

Reteach my middle schoolers that the Earth is round because Kyrie Irving told them it was flat. 

In a perfect world, words from celebrities wouldn’t have a negative impact on the rest of the world, but we don’t live in a perfect world. Unfortunately, you don’t take a cultural competency test before you are imbued with musical or athletic talent. We can’t magically make easily influenced middle and high schoolers critical thinkers and historians, but we can demand that Kanye West hold himself to a higher standard of discourse about critical issues.

Candidate Spotlight - Percy M. Hunter


It’s election time here in Memphis, TN and as exciting as that time usually is,it has become more interesting as for the first time we are seeing an influx of younger and fresh faces attempting to take their shot at a seat in public office. As a spectator, I couldn’t be more intrigued by the tenacity of these individuals and as one who tries to be as politically engaged as my nerves will allow me to be, I'm hopeful as these individuals step into the political arena with the common intent to move this city forward in their various realms.

Before we go any further, no this is not an official endorsement blog; however, it is a spotlight on one of the many individuals that I’ve personally watched maneuver through the treacherous waters on the world of education in Memphis and across the state of Tennessee. This advocate, practitioner, and educational leader  has a heart for people. His character matches his walk and his intentions are always pure. These are Just some of the attributes I believe is something missing in those that hold public office. I would like to see them brought back to the office of public servants. It is indeed my pleasure to highlight one of the candidates running for Shelby County Schools Board Commissioner-District 6 (which is also my district), Percy M. Hunter.

I recently learned of Pastor’s Hunter admission into the race of Board Commissioner and was indeed surprised and elated. I sat down with Pastor Hunter to congratulate him for taking such a bold and well-needed step and to ask him about his platform, areas of concerns and what he plans to bring to the seat of Board Commissioner and specifically District 6, which covers parts of South Memphis, Westwood, and Whitehaven (please see attached map to determine district boundaries).

District-6_Big-Map2 copy.jpg

This was not an official interview, but I do want to share a few takeaways from my conversation with Pastor Hunter’s.

For one, Pastor Hunter understands the role and responsibilities of a SCS Board Commissioner which if you study the role in depth actually has some limitations, though the general public may not know this. Pastor Hunter rightfully understands what the role and the responsibilities look like in the areas of policy, procedures, and budget.  This is necessary as a Board Commissioner and the fact that Pastor Hunter can confidently speak on this before going into the role is a setup for success and will help the public to also rightfully understand the actual role of Board Member. I actually think a lot of the dissention lies with the general public not fully understanding the role and responsibilities of the local district’s governing board and even some board members not having  knowledge on what holding that seat means .

Pastor Hunter intends to take a bold stance in his platform related around student advocacy, parent voice and teachers. In my opinion, these are three of the most under-rated and least heard stakeholder groups in the entire district.  Personally and professionally, Pastor Hunter can speak intimately about each of these groups and add substance to why if we are to truly move the needle around educational achievement and the success of the district as a whole, these groups must be brought in, highly considered, and included in the processes. More than anything, they are also the three groups that hold the most power. Sad part is, more times than not, these groups don’t understand this and if you’ve ever sat back and watched, its almost heart-wrenching to hear of the ills surrounding our parents, students and teachers, the true heart of any district, school and city.

Pastor Hunter is also a respected member of the clergy community and his church is situated in the Whitehaven community. In previous roles, I’ve had the distinct pleasure to work with Pastor Hunter as a representative of the clergy community which speaks volumes in a city where sometimes, we can count on by hand the number of deeply engaged clergy. Typically, the clergy with the most skin in the game are those that lead our mid to large sized churches in the city. We know that the black Pastor is still viewed as an influential force in the black community, but I have witnessed first hand the struggles of helping to engage our clergy in various parts of the educational conversation.  So much so, I remember one of the first blogs I wrote was around the role of the black church in the educational reform movement. I can honestly say Pastor Hunter has been deeply involved in this movement, both in practice and theory for quite some time now and if I can steal a portion of 2 Timothy 2:15; has done his due diligence in “studying to show thyself approved.”

Pastor Hunter is also a parent which again speaks to his insight into our current educational landscape from yet again another lens. He represents so many perspectives and can easily articulate the various lens without fail. This kind of expertise, insight, and perspective is definitely needed in leadership and I happily salute Pastor Hunter for this step.

I wish him the best throughout this campaign and pray that the people of Memphis will do their due diligence of learning about each of the candidates, their platforms, their track record (check those receipts), and go to polls and choose wisely.

As of now, Pastor Hunter is running against the current seated Board Chair Shante Avant. To learn more about Pastor Hunter’s platform and/or to contact him-please email him directly at

The election is August 2nd.




This article was first published at

By Gwen Samuel

Shirley Chisholm said  “There is little place in the political scheme of things for an independent, creative personality, for a fighter. Anyone who takes that role must pay a price.”

Since losing my son in a fatal car accident last year, every day, my emotional capacity is tested; and every day, I make a vow to give up fighting this overwhelming battle for education justice. That’s because too many people, even people who look like me, are too quick to “sell out” our Black, brown, and poor babies for a price, such as a seat at the “status quo” table, a grant, or for some form of title and/or recognition.

However, as a mother, a Black woman and parent leader in the fight for equity in education, I see Shirley Chisholm moments come to life on every aspect of my advocacy journey. Thus, I continue to realize there is a price to pay when standing on the side of “doing right” by all children – not just a select few.

Many times, I am the only black person/parent at meetings about education where policies are being voted on that would disenfranchise our babies of color and the poor. Yet, because I will not negotiate when it comes to the safety, education, and overall wellbeing of our children, I have been talked about, alienated, and uninvited to certain tables, on every side of the education conversation.

Over the years, I have tried to be a team player for all sides of the education debate. But, I learned quickly that in the politics of education, it was expected that parents are supposed to choose a side–either the status quo or education reform–anything but the children! Now, the question is and will continue to be on the table for parents and guardians, especially parents of color and the poor–whose side are we really choosing – the “one size fits all” education politics in school districts, other people’s agenda in education reform or our children? And if we chose our children, then why are we sending them to schools that harm our babies?

Let me share some of my experiences on my journey as a parent leader. First, I tried to work with the status quo. This Black mom has met and broke bread with the two most powerful teacher union leaders in the country; Randi Weingarten, President of the 1.6 million-member American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and Lily Eskelsen García, President of the 3 million-member National Education Association (NEA). One thing became evident – really quick—teacher union presidents do one thing very well, they protect the rights of their members, regardless of their performance in public schools. This includes “their silence” when a 2010 and 2017 Connecticut’s Attorney General and Office of the Child Advocate reported that their own Connecticut teacher union members were seeing abuse of children in schools, at the hands of school employees, and saying nothing – even though they are mandated reporters by law. For this Black mom it is clear, if you are silent about oppression and child abuse, you are also my oppressor. The bottom line, teacher unions are willing to pay any price and sacrifice children too, especially the poor and children of color, to keep this power!

For the record, I have met and provided workshops for many effective educators and administrators, of all races, across the country. I learned that sometimes their own teacher union leaders ignore their voices too!

In addition, I have also met and broke bread with powerful so-called education reform leaders who say they value communities of color and the poor, yet they come into our community with their “savior mentality” agendas. Some so-called education reformers only include the voice of parents, students, and community leaders after they have set their own agendas for us. They believe true organizing means giving low income and communities of color matching tee shirts and catchy slogans. Furthermore, some so-called education reformers believe that parents of color and the poor are so desperate to ensure our children are justly educated that we will continue to tolerate being stripped of our dignity and disrespected for the sake of “school choice”!  If you haven’t turned water into wine or walked on water yet- stop saying you coming to save our Black, brown and poor babies. By the way, “respect” is a non-negotiable!   And for this mom, it is not about school choice only. It’s about the parents right to choose the best educational options for their babies!

Please note, this savior mentality was challenged when New Haven Black and Brown students boycotted at Achievement First Amistad High School,which is ranked the third-best school in Connecticut by U.S. News & World Report. These students boycotted, not because it wasn’t a quality school, but because they wanted diverse educators and they wanted to be treated with dignity and respect because they are more than ABC’s, 123’s and college acceptance rates. Yet, despite the protest, the students’ demands go unmet and some education reformers are still willing to pay any price to protect their “savior mentality” narrative.

Teacher unions have taken a side – they choose to only protect their member’s rights.

Various so-called education reformers have taken a side – they choose to fight to protect their own agendas as well.

So now, we as parents, must stand up and choose a side – either we choose to fight with and for our babies, whatever the price, to ensure they have equitable access to educational and life opportunities or we can sit on the sidelines, day in and day out, while continuing to allow discriminatory educational practices in schools to harm our babies. They do to OUR babies what we allow them to do! They are OUR children so it is OUR Choice!

Parents and guardians, to be clear, this fight for equity in education, for me, still can be intimidating, cause anxiety and the fear of retaliation is real.

I still feel the void left from losing my son, but our children really need us to step up and protect them.

I listen to parents and students crying as a result of the severe bullying happening in schools, and classrooms full of low expectations- for certain children.

Our babies, as young as pre-school are suspended and expelled because we have different cultures and values or they dare to dream.

Every day, I think about all the children that look in their parent’s or guardian’s eyes, trusting that when we send them to school, we are not putting them in harm’s way.

Yet, the sad and harsh reality is, we are sending our babies of color and the poor into harm’s way because many schools across America are unsafe; and many cannot, and in some cases, will not, equitably educate our babies.

As a result, I unapologetically say to parents again, especially of color and the poor, that we must make a choice to be unbossed, unbought and independent thinkers while building collective power.

Parents, our children lives depend on us to no longer blindly trust education systems to treat our babies fair. We must make a choice to rise, act, vote and be prepared to pay the “price” of being an unapologetic parent leader to ensure our babies have equitable access to educational opportunities in school and in life. Why? Because we have cried many tears, marched, and sang “we shall overcome” and they still harm our babies in public schools. History has shown us that Unapologetic, Unbossed and Unbought parents change the rules of the game because the lives of our babies are priceless!

What You Never Realized You Were Teaching Your Child About Grit & Resilience: MIT Study Captures Techniques That Work for Babies as Young as 13 Months


This article was first posted on the

By Kate Stringer

Even at MIT, no one’s been able to create a computer as powerful as the brain of a baby.

“They’re better at doing this fast learning from one or two examples than any computer algorithm we have right now,” MIT graduate student Julia Leonard said. “That’s a big interest here — everyone’s like, ‘We want a computer to learn like a baby.’ ”

Leonard was curious about how babies learn too, so she gathered up more than 200 to analyze their genius brains. Specifically, she was interested in studying how babies learn skills like grit and growth mindset from adults, especially as schools are placing more emphasis on developing student character and social-emotional competencies.

In a study Leonard published in Science, she found that babies were able to persist in a difficult task if they first saw an adult struggle to succeed, suggesting that grit and perseverance can be taught by example to the powerfully observational young baby brain.

Leonard conducted her research on babies 13 to 18 months old. She had one set of babies watch an adult struggle for 30 seconds to retrieve a toy from a tomato container and succeed, and then repeat the process to try to remove a key chain from a carabiner. Another group of babies watched an adult successfully complete these tasks without any struggle.

Then the babies were shown a toy that played music, but only the researchers knew how to activate the sound. The babies were given the toy, and the researchers noticed that the ones who had watched an adult struggle beforehand made more attempts at pushing a button on the toy to try to get it to play music. The babies who had watched the adult who didn’t struggle exerted less effort and pushed the button fewer times than their toddler peers.

The experiment showed that the babies’ actions were not mere imitation, Leonard said, because the children were given an entirely different toy than the ones they saw the adults struggling with.

For Leonard, these results revealed that after just a few brief moments of observation, babies’ brains are able to learn the value of effort and persistence.

“This study suggests that we’re not born necessarily with a certain amount of grit that can’t change,” Leonard said. “It’s not a stable character trait. It can be learned and influenced by social context.”

However, it is unclear from the study how long these effects last, or whether these effects apply as well at home as in a laboratory. But if parents do want to try modeling grit, the best way is to make sure the adult is engaging the child with eye contact and saying the child’s name while demonstrating overcoming a difficult task. Leonard’s study found that adults who used these cues when struggling with the toys in the study had a greater effect on the children’s perseverance than the adults who purposely didn’t engage with the children but solely modeled the effort-filled behavior.

Character traits like grit and perseverance are teachable, according to researcher Angela Duckworth, author of the book Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance. “The parenting style that is good for grit is also the parenting style good for most other things: Be really, really demanding, and be very, very supportive,” she said in an interview with The New York Times.

But, Duckworth added, “you cannot will yourself to be interested in something you’re not interested in,” and grit is best developed in areas where people already have passion.

Journalist Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, wrote in an article for The Atlantic that learning these skills isn’t something that can simply be written into a curriculum. “What is emerging,” he said, “is a new idea: that qualities like grit and resilience are not formed through the traditional mechanics of ‘teaching’ ” but rather through a child’s environment.

When it comes to the classroom, researcher Carol Dweck has documented the importance of praising children for effort rather than success in order to develop a growth mindset. A series of studies found that children who were praised for intelligence were less likely to persist after they failed, compared with those who were praised for their hard work. A study of middle schoolers in New York City found that students who believed that their intelligence was malleable rather than predetermined were able to do better in math class over time.

The next step for Leonard is trying to determine how long the effects she saw in the lab might last with young children.

“Even in infancy, babies are paying attention to what adults are doing and using that information to guide their persistence,” she said. “I think that’s an interesting message for educators to think about how they’re modeling behavior.”


A New Sheriff in Town!


A few weeks ago, I appealed to the powers that be in charge of electing the next leader of the Achievement School District to have a few things in mind during the process of their selection. I’ve heard of “ask and it shall be given”- and most times those things I desire manifest. Never thought it would be applicable in this case!

As I read Chalkbeat’s announcement of ASD’s new leader yesterday, it was like a ray of sunshine on a rainy gloomy day, a streak of hope breaking through the clouds.  For the first time in a few years, I had an immense amount of hope in the future of ASD.

The Achievement School District announced Dr. Sharon Griffin, a Memphis native, as their next leader. With the official titles of Assistant Commissioner of School Turnaround and Chief of the Achievement School District, she will bring her vast experience in turn-around work to the district at its most pivotal point in its history. She was not among the finalists announced previously, which hints at a level of humility and regained purpose from the ASD that is necessary to really turn things around.

Dr. Griffin’s accomplishments and accolades can be easily gleaned with a quick Google search. Her track record of success is just that – a record of success. She is exactly what the most underserved students of Tennessee need in this moment – a champion who has been fighting for children for over 25 years.

In my previous blog, the rally cry rested on wondering, “Where do we go from here?” With so many students still “failing,” the lack of consistency left me with questions that were mainly answered with this announcement. Dr. Griffin’s prior accomplishments with Shelby County and the I-Zone schools is proof positive that she is not only poised for this next endeavor, but purposed for it.

Good job, ASD! Looking forward to good things to come…


Marlena Little

Educator, visionary and leader.

Marlena Little grew up in the inner-city of Chicago in one of the worst neighborhoods of the city. Yet the contrast of her home and school life provided evidence to the statement, “it’s not where you’ve been but where you are going”. Having attended one of the best elementary and high-schools in the country, she was determined to live beyond the poverty and violence of her neighborhood, knowing education was the escape.

Marlena Little, a Memphian by choice, relocated to Memphis to fight for educational equity. As a teacher, it was important for Marlena’s students to see her as an example of that escape. As an administrator, Marlena challenged teachers and staff to illuminate education as the way out, yet as a visionary, Marlena has created paths of escape.

As Founder of Life Prep Academy Schools, Marlena Little has seamlessly merged her childhood with the standard of excellence imbedded in her educational experiences to provide students, regardless of any “label”, the limitless opportunities a high-quality education affords.  Her philosophical beliefs about education are the guiding principles of Life Prep.

In addition to her many roles, Marlena Little is also a mother and forever learner.  She is a Doctoral Candidate in Educational Leadership and has the pleasure of raising a nine-year-old daughter.