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Memphis’ black youth are worth the investment

By Justin Key

Black male youth in Memphis are underserved. In a recent interview with Dr. Joris Ray, superintendent of Shelby County Schools stated, "Our boys need us - all of us - to help bridge the gap." This passion led him to create the African American Male Empowerment initiative. African American males attending Shelby County Schools are more likely than their peers to be economically disadvantaged, graduate at lower rates, have lower attendance, and earn lower ACT scores.

Dr. Joris M. Ray (Courtesy Photo)

In light of these jarring facts, on July 22, 2019, Dr. Ray launched the initiative to combat the demise of African American males in his school district. Ray said, “We believe the success of our students defines the future of Memphis, and that success must come to all – not just some.” Rather than a temporary program or initiative, the African American Male Empowerment initiative is an embedded plan of action to impact equity across the District. The plan is to strategically propel African-American boys to become the next generation of scholars and leaders through equity, education, and empowerment. Dr. Michael Lowe,equity officer, is leading the program with the seven priorities that guide the initiative as they change the trend for African American boys in Shelby County Schools:

Priority 1: Ensure access & exposure to rigorous instruction

  • Launched “ACT University” in collaboration with Peer Power to host a 6-week intensive ACT course for sub-set of African American male students to prep for the ACT–skills includes: question evaluation and pace setting

  • Hosts sessions to cover biased practices and monitor every expulsion given to an African American male through the behavior interventionists

Priority 2: Intensify restorative practices

  • Provided training through the Office of Equity and SEED for the top 20 SCS schools with the highest suspension rates for African American boys–the training focuses on restorative justice and progressive discipline

  • Hosts sessions to cover biased practices and monitor every expulsion given to an African American male through the behavior interventionists

Priority 3: Recruit African American male teachers in grades K-5

  • Established a supportive professional opportunity for African American male teachers by launching the “Secure the Chalk Educator Fellowship” (additional highlight)

  • Developed strategic partnerships with "Man-Up," the University of Memphis "I AM A MAN I TEACH," LeMoyne-Owen College, and regional HBCUs to attract and recruit African American male educators

Priority 4: Build “Band of Brothers” to support mentoring & tutoring programs

  • Developed “Lead by Listening Tour” to incorporate student voice in mentorship framework

  • Onboarding of the “Band of Brothers” mentoring program with schools identifying protégés and matching them with mentors

Priority 5: Create an Equity Institute for professional learning

  • Established “Equity Champions” from each school to attend a multi-session course to support principals and staff on implicit bias and internalized oppression

Priority 6: Leverage an Equity Task Force

  • Leveraged an Equity Advisory Committee to build partnerships and networks to ensure strategies are coordinated across sectors and geographic areas

Priority 7: Establish an Equity Office

  • Establishing Equity Office and District-wide policy

SCS is building a ‘Band of Brothers’ to support mentoring and tutoring programs. The boys and young men deserve to experience a beloved community by zip code, where positive role models surround them. The initiative is always looking for volunteers to continue the momentum and longevity. Volunteers can sign up here.

Justin Key is a content writer for Writing by Design Media. He can be reached at

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