LEE member Reggie White is an educator, organizer, and community leader, to name a few. And he brings his passion for educational equity with him to every role he plays in his community.
Explain what led you to care deeply about educational equity. What personal values, experiences or beliefs inform this?
I remember being a young child and my grandparents, who raised me, sharing their stories about attending the “colored” schools in Louisiana and Virginia and the immensely unfair life under Jim Crow.
Second-hand books. A lack of materials. Subpar facilities. As I came of age in rural Virginia over 40 years later, I started to see inequities in my own experience: the effects of poverty, race, family educational history, and a lack of access.
As a first-generation college graduate, I witnessed first-hand the power of education to change one’s life for the better, but I could not be satisfied looking around and realizing the vast majority of my family, peers, and community members were not afforded this same chance for upward mobility.
How has LEE helped you in your mission to end educational inequity?
Being a LEE member has by far been one of the most fulfilling, purposeful and empowering experiences of my life. I have been exposed to world-class, passionate leaders who have paid it forward and invested so much in teaching me about the worlds of policy, advocacy, organizing, and elected leadership, and how it takes disruptors in each of these areas to effect the changes needed in our society.
From impactful programming like Campaign Boot Camp, Regional Public Leadership Summit, and the National Organizing Workshop, growing as a Summer Policy & Advocacy Fellow with Stand For Children, to my current roles as a Policy Advisor Fellow for an elected official and a member of the Memphis Regional Strategy Team, LEE has given me a real arsenal of weapons to combat inequity and social ills in all of their forms.
It is an honor to learn from, grow with, and serve alongside such an informed, driven collective of change makers doing the good work in communities across our nation.
Tell us about your current role. What’s a typical day like? What is the impact you’re having on educational equity?
Currently, I am a kindergarten teacher and simultaneously serve as a LEE Policy Advisor Fellow for Commissioner Tami Sawyer, a LEE member recently elected to the Shelby Co. Board of Commissioners in Memphis.
Through my position with her, I conduct policy research, write memos and briefs, attend legislative meetings, oversee her constituent services newsletter, and complete other tasks as needed.
In just a short few weeks, one of the recommendations from my first policy paper has spawned the approval of a Commission ad-hoc committee focused on addressing Memphis’ historic issues of voter suppression, a lack of voter confidence, and charged with recommending national best practices to the local Election Commission.
I am optimistic and very excited to be learning and working beside such a dedicated advocate for educational and socioeconomic equity while building my own policy expertise and increasing my understanding of how to pull levers in legislative process to get important things done for kids and the communities that need resources the most.
What is your vision for ending educational inequity in the U.S.?
The pursuit of educational equity is one of the most significant civil rights battles of our time and needs to be prioritized across the board by all stakeholders. Education as we know it in America needs to be completely reimagined. You cannot build a sturdy home on a foundation that at its core is not stable nor well-functioning.
Given the history of America’s education system that is borne of racism, segregation, classism, and promotes the prison pipeline, we must create solutions that emphasize equitable access, funding, and foster inclusive and restorative school cultures that all students can learn and thrive in.
As an educator, I bring these values and mindsets to life each day as I pour into the lives of my kindergarteners and show them the love and encouragement they deserve. As a policy fellow, organizer, and advocate, I work to advance these aims here in Memphis through my community work, and strive to constantly sharpen and expand my skill set to be a stronger voice for social justice.
What do you see as your role in achieving this vision?
I plan to continue building my knowledge of the realms of policy, advocacy, organizing, and elected leadership through my relationship with LEE programming and the invaluable mentors and thought partners it provides.
I aspire to continue policy analysis, strengthen my policy writing skills, and become a thought leader who contributes meaningful ideas to solving our society’s most troublesome issues. I envision myself advancing my work with elected officials and hopefully achieving the lifetime goal of working on Capitol Hill as a key staffer and advisor to national decision makers.
I also have a love for canvassing and campaign work, so I want to continue supporting progressive candidates who can advance breakthrough legislation and programs that support the underserved and marginalized.