Dear TFA Nashville-Chattanooga Community,
We find our network of 1,100 corps members, alumni, staff, and board members at a moment of both immense challenge and opportunity as we work to fulfill our mission and live into our diversity, equity, and inclusiveness commitments together.
Our collective leadership efforts sit at the nexus of a global and unpredictable pandemic that is taking its disproportionate toll on students and families of color, economic volatility, social unrest and fury at the killings of Black people by police, and a polarizing presidential election.
We will look back at this era decades on and ask of ourselves, “Did we do all we could to stand for justice during this time?”
One way we will characterize that answer will be in how we took action to more fully live into our commitments to diversity, equity, and inclusiveness so that our students, families, and the full TFA network, especially our Black, Indigenous, and network members of color, feel like they can thrive, belong, and lead in the long-term effort to pursue educational equity.
To that end, we have reflected deeply in recent months, both at national and regional levels, and I aim to share some of those reflections – and actions we are taking as a result – in the note below.
We’ve reflected deeply on the following:
There is significant pain felt by the Black, Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community in our network. As evidenced by engagement with 200+ staff nationally, our regional work in this domain that we call our Broad and Diverse Coalition work, our interactions with local alumni and corps members, and calls to action in forums such as Instagram, Facebook, Slack, and Change.org, it is clear that micro-aggressions, white dominant culture, slow or lack of action when concerns were raised, and more have caused harm over many years. This truth weighs heavily on our hearts and souls as we examine our complicity in this reality.
Our regional corps and alumni network is not yet reflective of the broad and diverse coalition we need to create sustained systemic change in Nashville and Chattanooga. While I am daily in awe of the incredible work of our local network, it is clear that we need a larger force of leaders who represent and are deeply embedded within the communities of color we seek to serve in Nashville and Chattanooga.
The experiences of BIPOC corps members have substantially improved, in aggregate, over the last 5 years; however, they also often report feelings of isolation, micro-aggressions, or lack of community whether at TFA or beyond in their schools or cities.
Our corps members, alumni, and staff have expressed frustration with our recruitment and selection model for new corps members, as well as at the sufficiency of our training in developing anti-racist education leaders.
At the staff level, our team has become significantly more racially diverse than 5 years ago, but the journey to inclusive and equitable experiences has been much slower. Our Black staff in particular have too often felt unheard and undervalued, and this is unacceptable in an organization that commits itself to equity.
In many ways, a DEI lens applied to our region’s 11-year history suggests that while we have made admirable strides in increasing the size and impact of our network, the diversity of our staff, and feelings of inclusion and belonging among our corps members, we have a long way to go to create a fully inclusive and equitable organization and network.
This organizational DEI journey has caused disproportionate pain for our BIPOC staff, CMs, and alumni, and, as the Executive Director of this region for the last 4.5 years, I take responsibility for that and am deeply sorry. That reality simply does not comport with my personal values or the aspirations of the region I lead, and it must change.
While we do not yet have the multi-year strategic plan that will ensure institutionalization of our efforts to become an anti-racist organization (that is coming this spring), we are beginning to enact a set of actions that I believe are responsive to the experiences and insights laid out above.
The below list is not comprehensive but is representative of key actions we aim to take at the network and staff levels:
Launch a new corps member recruitment and selection model with equity as a key design principle. We will expand footprint and resource allocation to far more campuses, and we are changing methods by which we screen and select corps members and flag for DEI concerns. Locally, we will build on our existing regional priority to increase the racial diversity of our local corps (we call this priority Nash-Nooga NextGen).
Continue to bolster our model to train and support aspiring anti-racist educators and provide anti-racist resources locally. This starts at our centralized training and will continue into the regional continuum of training and supports, possibly with the help of key community partners.
Strengthen corps culture by building a process to identify, share, and address breaches as they occur. We are drafting evolved protocols immediately.
Ramp up the work of The Collective Board via our current steering committee and the TFA Black Network Support Committee in diagnosing the needs and supports that will be most responsive to our BIPOC community.
Continue the Black Educators Grant to support and encourage second-year Black teachers to stay in the classroom for a third year upon completion of the corps.
TFA Staff and Board
In partnership with the Racial Equity Institute, we will complete an equity audit as well as deliver training modules – implicit bias training and anti-racist training – to all staff.
We will continue the progress we’ve made to diversify our regional board and will deliver the Racial Equity Institute trainings to all board members as well.
We are calibrating our Broad and Diverse Coalition regional workstream to build our collective DEI leadership capacity, inculcate a regional culture of feedback, conflict resolution, agility, and joy, and we are also reimagining our leadership structures to decenter power and decision-making.
As Executive Director, I will ensure proximity to our BIPOC staff – especially our Black staff – and prioritize responsiveness to their perspectives in organizational policies and decision-making.
We will partner with national teams under our Chief People Officer and incoming Chief DEI officer to update expectations, support, and accountability from a DEI lens in our annual performance reviews, implement annual training that incorporates anti-racism and anti-Blackness, and ensure our career pathways and compensation model are equitable.
We will continue to offer mental health resources such as our Employee Assistance Program, Health Advocate, and Flexible PTO, hold staff processing and identity development spaces (e.g., Aspiring White Allies space), and direct regional expenses toward POC- and Black-owned local businesses.
Beyond these actions, our team and I are committed to staying in dialogue, learning, and ultimately building the perspectives and needs of our network, students, and families into our next strategic plan.
We commit to being in touch going forward and will continue to elevate how we can be in dialogue together – such as the Community Conversations we’ve launched this month – as we proceed.
While this moment feels pivotal for our organization and, indeed, for our nation, I derive hope from the extraordinary brilliance, resilience, passion, and innovation that lies within our TFA community and within the students and families with whom we seek to create a better and more just world.
Yours in partnership,
Teach For America | Nashville-Chattanooga
220 Athens Way, Suite 300
Nashville, TN 37228