The “Transplant” Speaks…

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I came to Memphis on a mission. Not my mission, but God’s mission.

True story (I can’t make this up if I wanted to). I applied to be a teacher within the Achievement School District. I went through two rounds of interviewing before the in-person interview and ended up on the interview list of my current principal. I accepted the position, but had never stepped foot in Memphis in my entire life.  So in my mind, I wasn’t going.

June 21st: On the last day of school as a Chicago teacher, I was the only teacher who didn’t receive a return contract.

June 23rd: The air-conditioning goes out in my home.

June 24th: My landlord asks me to move out for two weeks to completely renovate the home.

June 25th: I decided to just pack up and move to Memphis, giving my family a week’s notice.

July 5th: I packed my daughter and most of my belongings in my (dying) car and took the 8 turned 12-hour drive to Memphis.

I stayed in a hotel for a week until my home was ready and for the next two years, all I did was work.

When God moves you, you can’t stay still.  I am called to teach and the babies of Memphis need me.

Yet, all too often, I am met with discontent and annoyance within the professional field of education. I’ve been called a “transplant” more often than anything else, with the underlying connotation that because I didn’t grow up in Memphis, I can’t possibly make a difference.

My cousin just had a kidney transplant. For years, he lived a limited life, stifled by his health,

unable to do most things we would deem as “normal”. His quality of life was decreased by his kidney failure. Then, after 35 years on this Earth, he received a new kidney – a transplant and his life is now drastically different.

I may not be “from Memphis,” but dammit, that’s a great thing!

-          Growing up outside of Memphis, I have a perspective that is not rooted in pride and prejudice.

-          Living in Chicago, I have seen and lived in poverty – understand the cycle of poverty and can relate to my students in ways unimaginable.

-          My professional experience is one comprised of visiting over 20+ high quality schools ALL ACROSS the U.S. – I’ve seen education at its best for our black and brown babies.

-          I welcome the community experience of my colleagues, yet I also recognize the sometimes crippling effect of entitlement to the system of education in Memphis that is failing our children.

Just as I would want my future husband to love my daughter as his own – I love my Memphis students as my own. I am married to Memphis and with it comes the children of Memphis. The children of Memphis deserve greatness.

Transplant or not, I CHOOSE to be here. I choose, everyday, to give my best to students in my school, understanding I get one shot each day to make a difference. I don’t group kids by their neighborhood or where they grew up. I don’t see sectors of the city as one thing or another. I don’t look at individuals by what high school they went to, what pedigree that speaks.

I see limitless potential for ALL.

Various organizations and companies recognize education as the movement needed in

Memphis and seek to attract and retain great talent to this great city.  The need for “transplants” is required to change the trajectory of a city – to increase its development with new ideas and fresh eyes.

Memphis needs people to fall fresh in love with it – not stay in love because of convenience.

Organizations such as the New Memphis Institute and Teach 901 are leaders in the movement. Teach 901 is a collaborative effort created to connect the dots between industries to revitalize education in Memphis. They believe that…

“We need our nation’s most promising future leaders right now. We need people who are passionate and urgent about solving our nation’s most intractable problem. We need pioneers, engineers, and front runners ready to shake up the education system.”

Memphis needs passionate pioneers who aren’t scared to stand up against educational

inequities with innovation, dedication, and purpose.

Let me be the first to say – Memphis needs transplants.

I’ll go even further to say – Memphis needs ME!

Whether you were born here or you chose to stay – the children of Memphis need people who seek each day to make an impact in their lives – leave footprints in the sand. The children of Memphis need visionaries, who see beyond what their natural eyes see and walk in faith to what is indeed possible.

I know I don’t have to walk alone. I don’t want to walk alone.

As a visionary, servant and leader, I call on those who are ACTIONAIRES to join me in your unique greatness in changing the lives of children in Memphis. To increase graduation rates, ACT scores, have truth in grading, innovation in curriculum and excellence in teaching. I urge all of us to raise the bar for ourselves to model what we wish to cultivate.

I urge us to seek commitment before zip code, passion before demographics.

Who’s with me?!

 

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.