Shining a LITE in Memphis

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If you looked at the statistics regarding Memphis students, the outlook would appear grim.

·         Only 4% of Memphis students who graduate from high-school are college-ready

·         Only 9% of students from the lowest income-quintile will graduate by age 25

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had the pleasure of mentoring a group of high school seniors with the amazing organization Let’s Innovate Through Education (LITE).  LITE “equips African-American and Latina students with 21st- century skills to create wealth” which assists in closing the opportunity gap that predicates the cycle of poverty through social change and entrepreneurship.

It’s has been nothing short of amazing watching the students in my cohort learn organizational skills, business etiquette, problem-solving, networking and other entrepreneurial skills that will support them in launching a social action project aimed at improving their community.

LITE’s program is comprised of students ages 17 – 24, who are given support and guidance from high-school through college.  Mentors, like myself, lend our professional support and expertise, giving students the opportunity to tap into resources within their community, effectively building a pipeline and bridge, building relationships in the community and beyond.

LITE is more than just providing the springboard for students to launch a social action project.  I saw kids dreaming and believing in their own limitless ability and I was ignited!

I conversed with high school students who shared with me their vantage point and showed me the Memphis community through their eyes. I heard pure passion in their voices when they spoke about the programs and businesses they plan to start to change the perception of youth in Memphis. I saw light in their eyes when they spoke of their future in terms of how they would make a difference – how their long-term goals included college and beyond.

I’m sure these last few weeks and in the weeks to come, the students will learn a thing or two from me before their Pitch Night.  But I’ve been given more from them than they could ever imagine, the students of LITE helped to overflow my cup of hope, ignite a fire within me to continue chasing after my own dreams and renewed my commitment to the youth of Memphis – who, given the opportunity – will SHINE!

To learn more about this incredible organization, click here!


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.