Only 4% of students graduate in Memphis college-ready. In the city where Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated in 1968, schools still struggle to achieve his vision of equality.
The Memphis community is working to redefine education by moving toward system-wide change. Teach For America is proud to work alongside our city’s leaders and educators in efforts to realize Dr. King’s dream of equity.
Memphis is known as the Home of the Blues and Birthplace of Rock-and-Roll. It’s a city people sing about—over 1,000 commercial recordings of over 800 songs mention "Memphis." Landmarks like Graceland mark it as the home of Elvis Presley and the National Civil Rights Museum marks the spot where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968—a moment frozen in time in the communal memory of our city.
Nearly 50 years after Dr. King gave his life here in the fight for equality, only 4 percent of kids in our city graduate high school ready for college. Only 26 percent of residents in the Memphis Metropolitan Area hold a bachelor’s degree. We are not living up to the legacy left to us by Civil Rights leaders when a quality education is still a privilege in our region and not a right.
As we consider the educational landscape in Memphis today, we are convinced that our city must be the place that fulfills Dr. King’s dreams of a day when we are “an oasis of freedom and justice”; a place that refuses to question whether some kids can achieve and others can’t, but instead demands that all do at the highest of levels. We must work to create an unstoppable movement focused on realizing Dr. King’s dream of equal opportunity for every citizen. For far too long, our community’s children of color and those in poverty have been robbed of this dream. We must work to foster the leadership of our kids—equipping them with the academic and life skills necessary to pick up and win the fight for equality in their own community. We know that only when our kids are the owners of this work will we realize our vision of an excellent education for all students.
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Athena Turner is a proud graduate of the University of Tennessee in Knoxville and taught high school ecology, anatomy and physiology, and chemistry at Kingsbury High School as a 2006 charter corps member in Memphis. In her second year of teaching, she was selected as a national Sue Lehmann Excellence in Teaching Award semi-finalist. In 2008 she became the development manager for Teach For America Memphis before stepping in to the executive director role in 2010. Currently, Athena is leading our efforts in partnership with our city’s school and system networks, alumni, and community leaders to grow Teach For America’s size and impact in Memphis.