BEACON OF OPPORTUNITY
On October 24, 2016, Dr. Shawn Joseph, Director of Schools, Metropolitan Nashville Public Schools, shared these thoughts on faith-based and school partnerships at the United4Hope Annual Leadership Luncheon, held at Belmont University.
What an opportunity we have to not live in vain.
What an opportunity we have, with 900 churches within this region. I mean, if there’s any place in America where people should know that people love children, it should be right here - in Nashville. We should be the beacon of hope to a hopeless nation because we say “Christians are here”. And where a Christian is, we should have people willing to fight. People not being afraid of what they say about you, not being afraid of “are they gonna raise up” and say, “you said that word, you said that bad word ‘Jesus’.” You should have no fear, because if we’re not protected - then who is?
We have 89,000 children in this district. We’ve got to acknowledge that though we’ve done lots of good things, we’ve not given excellence at scale to every child here. We can do something about that. If a child comes to us disadvantaged and leaves us disadvantaged then we’ve missed an opportunity, and the people of Christ shouldn’t miss opportunities to serve - not as we’re praying and believing.
This can, and I believe this will be the place where will we get it right; because we have people like Stan Weber, who I met recently, who is passionate about bringing the body of Church together to just serve, to just do right by our children. And we have the PENCIL Foundation who has been an avid partner with us and our schools. We have a multitude of those that serve. My goal along with Stan and Mr. Gentry when we spoke: the vision is to ensure every school in this district has a partner - a committed group of people willing to support our children. We can and should do this.
Schools and churches are the only two places that I know of where people of different socio-economic backgrounds and different races have the potential to come together to have a transformative conversation about how we get this work right. So let's utilize that entity and let's not “live a life in vain” as Dr. King says - because we don't have to. At any point we can wake up and say, “today is the day I'm going to be a blessing to a child. Today is the day that everything I say and everything I do as they watch me, they will see someone who knows the Lord, loves the Lord, and selflessly serves to help others do things right.”. We have that power. Every single day.
That's what I loved about being a principal. Our principals, can you stand? I really want to thank you for your service. What I loves it that every day I walked in, I felt like a rockstar. I knew every day, I could be a blessing to a child. Every single day, from the time they got off the bus, from the time they walked from their neighborhood - when they walked in they saw somebody smiling, giving them a hug, giving them a kiss, telling them "look - yesterday, I know we were a little shaky yesterday, but today - we start fresh! It’s a new day and today is going to be a great day.". I mean you’ve got the power to speak that blessing into every child, and so don't miss that opportunity.
Our churches have that same opportunity through your service. Coordinators, I want to thank you for the tremendous work that you do to make this work. We've got lots of people who want to help us, but what we've got to do on our end is make sure our plan is clear and we’re clearly coordinating the support, so we can execute - so our good intentions don't go in vain. That we can really figure [this] out. This is why I'm very happy to see our Community Achieves partners here with us, as we start thinking about a wrap-around services and how do we make our schools real neighborhood schools. That is our hope, that is our work.
There are great schools in every part of this city. Every zipcode has great schools. And they can have great schools if our great communities, and the Christians within those communities, show up and be present. The history of American schooling is that we have lots of people that check-out of our systems, and people of faith need to check-in. If we did that we could have great schools, everywhere, at scale. That is our great work.
I'm more excited and more convinced than ever that we can do it here - because of you. As I told Stan and Howard when we had breakfast last week talking about this, that we really want to formalize our work. I want to have some clear memorandums of understanding. And as a school system how do we put resource to this great work, and then how do we work to get resources from other places so that we can really scale it up? Making this a great school district is not going to happen from the top down. This is going to come from the community pushing, demanding, expecting, supporting, and encouraging - and praying, quite frankly. None of this works without prayer, and real intentional action behind that prayer. This is mission possible! We ought to know that, we ought to feel that, we ought to be excited about it. Because God tells us that our best days are ahead of us, not behind us.
I thank you - for all that you have done, and I thank you for the work we're going to do as we roll our sleeves up and show America what happens when a Body of faith wakes up and gets excited knowing that we serve a mighty God - one that will empower us and one that will ensure that no child in Nashville goes with needs that are not met. Because we have too many people who are of right mind, of right will, and are not afraid to selflessly put forth the effort that's needed to make things great for our children. I thank you for all that you're doing, and I look forward to our continued collective collaboration to make sure that every child has excellence by design every day.