I almost don't know where to begin. How far do I go back? Do I start at the relief I felt when I finally submitted the charter application at 3:48 p.m. on April 3rd? Do I mention the adrenaline rush I felt after pressing send on the email that contained my letter of intent? Do I highlight the excitement I felt when I publicly announced to the world in a reception-style event the evening of February 1st with friends, family, and the Facebook world watching live? Do I go back to August of last year when I fully committed to this journey of proposing to open an all-girl charter school in my beloved hometown of Memphis, TN? Or would it make sense to allow my mind to travel back to 2009 when the vision was first put into words onto a paper and held safely in one of my notebooks? Really, where is the best place to start? Maybe June 30, 2016 -- a year ago, the day I officially resigned as Deputy Director of the Black Alliance for Educational Options (BAEO). Yes! Let's go back there.
When I left BAEO, I had no idea what was next. I took a 30-day sabbatical from any and everything education related. I needed to breathe. I needed to reflect. I needed to sleep. I needed to disconnect. I needed to do nothing. Interestingly, at times, I felt like I wasn't needed at all. I had come to the end of this work; this realm had chosen me. I could talk all day and all night about this work (just ask anyone). It gives me chills and makes my eyelids raise. I can honestly say this is where all of my degrees points towards; it’s what my parents both shared and they had clearly passed this torch on to me, but what had I accomplished?
Schools were still low-performing. Students still could not read. These girls were still turning the hell up. Parents still did not understand the power they had. Teachers were drained and hopeless, and my city was still trying to figure it all out. Instead of blaming, pointing fingers, and meeting to have meetings, I wanted/needed to do something. I made up my mind I was done talking; I was rolling up my sleeves, with no knowledge of ‘how’ and going back to work.
I began writing this vision in 2009. God allowed me to dust it off July 2016. Once my head had cleared from years of "What the hell?" I wouldn't let fear continue to paralyze me, the fear of not knowing what to do, how to do it, or even where to start. My much smarter colleagues kept telling me, "LaShundra, no one takes on such an endeavor without help - some back office support, teams of experts, third-party consultants - something." When I finished the application, they came back and said, "Girl, we're proud of you for going through with it all." But I'm not done. I'm not satisfied. It's far from over.
I took this step with a push from God, some tremendous sacrifices (man, this jump cost me--sheesh) and one word from God, "NOW!" Since then, I rest in the belief; I know what I heard! I'm pressing forward. Tired and weary. Pressing. People were turning their backs and dropping like flies; I'm pressing. Criticism and callus hearts towards the movement, I'm pressing. I walked away from comfort, from financial security, from even the horns and whistles that come with being on top, and allowed myself to start from scratch. Here I am, still standing and still going. Hell, I'm pressing.
I don't know the background stories of any of the other applicants, but I applaud them because at least, they took the step. People can say what they want, but at least, we took the step. I don't know their reasons, but I'm sure they’re the same or similar to mine with a bottom line to simply help kids. For me, it's even more specific than that, to help girls right here in my city.
Let me add this...nope, it's not just another school. It's a hub and training ground for our future leaders. It's an incubator where destinies will be birthed, developed & nurtured (including my own). It's my life's work (to date) wrapped up in a nucleus of innovation and greatness. It's a learning environment for girls to find themselves to thrive, and to take off our heels and scrape the hell out of that glass ceiling once and for all. It's a sanctuary for God to do some of His most amazing work to date through me, the staff, the students and every person connected to the Destiny House, to Rich ED Academy of Leaders (REAL), and to the girls. It's the space where "Girls will always be able to be girls."
I can admit that I prayed for each of the other 13 applicants throughout this application process, even though I can admit I'm biased towards one. I prayed their intentions were right, hearts in the right place, and we were all attempting to simply improve our community by enhancing the current educational landscape in the city.
Unlike many of the other applicants, I don't have the back-office support, teams of experts, reserved start-up funds in a private account somewhere, or third-party consultants.
Did I mention I resigned from my job? Talk about a faith move! #renegade
On April 3rd, after turning in the application, all I wanted to do was sleep. And after that, I wanted to chill and not think. Check. I wanted to get away from it all. Check. I wanted to cry without having to stop and work on the app. Check. I wanted to forget the people who jumped ship mid-course. Check. I wanted to forget the way I doubted myself when I came to the parts of the application that I just didn't understand and get. Check. I wanted to forget how much this journey had stretched me. Check. And I wanted to forget that pit; the one people wanted to eulogize me in (but thank God for Psalm 118:17). I think I'm ready for the next leg of this!
Regardless of where I started, it is important to know where I am now. After the first round, I received a denial. Yes, denial! 250 pages of my heart, soul, and brain put into an application that would outline my vision of a school that's ultimate goal is to provide another high-quality educational option in our city, but most specifically for girls beginning in 6th grade. 250 pages were detailing plans, processes, and procedures to explain how learning meets innovation. One school board member raised a relevant question during the discussion of denials stating, “Why hasn't the district used the innovative ideas presented in some of these charter school proposals for themselves and when will innovation trump the checklist to approve charter school apps?” He specifically named my all-girls charter school and asked did Shelby County Schools have that currently. They do not. That made my heart leap. At least someone is inquiring around innovation. I get standards, metrics, plans, etc., but how many cases do we see with well-written plans and poor implementation? I am being assessed on how well I can make a school plan sound in written format, not on my potential execution, but that's the process; this is the reality.
I don't know if disappointment is the correct word because there were so many voices that whispered, "Expect this!" However, my faith-filled mind wouldn't let me encompass that. Besides, this is it for me. I'm playing to win. I set out on this journey of approval, and I plan to do just that.
Needless to say, I have 30 days to resubmit (well, less by the time you read this). I laugh because I have no idea where to begin. What else can I say that I haven't already said? Where do I go for additional help? I just want to educate and equip girls and prepare the next set of female leaders.
I know what I want to say. I know what I have said, what else is there to say or in this case write. Sheesh. The frustration is real. I'm a home-grown girl, a native of this amazing city. I've witnessed first-hand the highs and lows of our educational system, and finally, I make the decision, the huge leap to recommend a solution, one I believe is necessary and quite timely, and a committee says otherwise. Again, disappointed is not just an accurate description.
I've started working on the application for it to be resubmitted. There is no way I’ve come this far to stop now. This city needs me to continue whether it knows it or not. Our system could use the innovation, whether it knows it or not. Most significantly, girls are waiting. In that case, I'll continue with the same intent in mind as in the beginning, to educate and equip the next generation of female leaders!
Lacing up shoes, game face on and ready to begin again...#campaignREALdeal
Let's go God!