I was laying in my bed one night, peacefully asleep, when suddenly I was jolted awake by an electric presence. I felt compelled to restart my work as an advocate for equity and upward mobility for at-opportunity youth. Since my own high school years, I had been passionate about what is now being called “culturally sustainable pedagogy” or, in laymen’s terms, classroom content that is relevant to the demographic makeup of the students sitting in those classrooms.
During my senior year at Columbia High School, I was the president of the Martin Luther King Association (MLKA) and a newer, sub-org called the Messengers of Black Cultural Awareness (MOBCA), an organization that my older brother had played a key role in founding. These organizations, particularly MOBCA, had lobbied and won the privilege of directing our school wide Black History Month assembly. We were viewed as radicals who stepped away from the over-used, albeit, inspiring, “I Have A Dream” Speech of our namesake leader. Instead, we chose to broadcast lesser known names and moments in Black History. I edited content from documentaries such as Hidden Colors, All Power to the People, and Eyes On The Prize, to original interviews featuring our proudly black scholar-teachers who skillfully connected the scenes from decades past to what students and Americans were experiencing at present.
I personally filmed all of the interviews and directed the black history assembly productions which included my documentary remix, ballet performances from former news reporter and Art P.O.P. founder Ayesha K. Faines, music from our MLKA gospel choir and step performance. Mrs. Rowe and Solana Rowe, popular R&B singer nominated “best new artist” by the VMA’s 2017 is better known by her stage name SZA, were frequent participants in our after school program community meetings as we had developed an alliance with Mrs. Rowe’s more established organization Community Coalition on Race.
However, it was this dream-waking experience that was ultimately the genesis of my conscious relationship with the Underground Railroad conductor and Civil War general for the northern states, named Harriet Tubman. I began to do research on Tubman. The more I learned, the more context I had for the impulse that leads me to be an agent for fundamental cultural change in a public education system that seems to perpetuate the widening achievement gap between students of color and their more affluent white counterparts.
The reality was that I felt more confused than ever after entering City Startup Labs (CSL) business accelerator program in 2016-2017 under the DBA name Project i Am You and finishing 5th out of 17 after joining forces with Issa Hall, criminal defense attorney, to co-found Sponsoon. Despite the well-meaning efforts of CSL’s Executive Director, Henry Rock, and various mentors and business services granted to me throughout my 9 month residency with the program, I was more lost leaving the program than when I first arrived. CSL was helpful in my overall understanding of the emotional grit, entrepreneurial skills and out-of-the-box thinking that is necessary to build a scalable tech company; but it did nothing to clarify how to put my passion for the creating more equitable life outcomes for black youth to the service of a sustainable business model. It took me six months of intense self-care and withdrawal from the entrepreneurial scene in Charlotte to finally hear the voice of Saint Harriet calling to me through the blanket of darkness.
It was after this initial encounter that I devoted myself to fervent study of Harriet Tubman’s life, including reading a biography called Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero by Kate Clifford Larson. This biography offered me the necessary details about Tubman’s life to add color to the seemingly mystical experiences I was having as it related this Moses figure who shepherded so many out of the bondage of slavery into a freer life in the northern states and Canada.
The Saint Harriet Equation is a unique combination of elements that, when employed across a diverse network of professions and backgrounds, could effect radical shifts in a person’s ability to associate the desires of their inner-self that are often buried beneath the social norms and expectations of our time and place in society, with the determination and resources necessary for manifesting those desires into actionable, measurable goals now clearly within their reach. This program was created with the intention of fostering more equitable outcomes for students of color by interrupting the school to prison pipeline through dialogue, culturally relevant curriculum, mentoring and media literacy.
This program is an experiment. And like all good experiments, we have the following elements:
- a measurable hypothesis
- testable predictions in partnership with Ph.D candidates who’s dissertation topics overlap with the proposed hypostheses
- data gathering methods to test our predictions in partnerships with school districts and social influencers
- a process to refine, alter, expand or reject our initial hypothesis.
We’ve built win-wins into this model for local businesses that have expressly committed to creating an environment where upward mobility, equity and inclusion are possible. Especially as it relates to Charlotte students, millennials and the entrepreneurial eco-system. Our sustainable business model includes opportunities for local businesses, professionals, social influencers and artists to engage with the our program while showcasing their continued commitment to equity and inclusion through sponsorship of our interactive events.
Direction for this pivot was enhanced through my participation in Community Building Initiative’s dynamic Leaders Under 40 class 6 program from 2016-2017 where I had consistent opportunities over the year to meet with city leaders who are committed to furthering Charlotte’s developing a culture of equity and inclusion.
I would have to reach back to my childhood in order to list all of the people who have all played a role in clarifying my vision for the Saint Harriet Equation but I like to extend my gratitude to a few individuals in the recent past who have helped.
Henry Rock- City Startup Labs, Executive Director
Dianne English- Community Building Initiative, Executive Director
Annetta Foard- Community Building Initiative, Program Coordinator
Carol Bentley Moses- my aunt and spiritual mentor
Kevin Giranus- Founder of Advent Coworking, LU40 Class 5 graduate, personal nominator for my participation in LU40 class 6
Cathryn Devereaux- Ph.D Candidate and Associate Professor at Columbia University
Fyniss Nixon- Ph.D Candidate and teacher at South Mecklenberg High School
Tyrell Connor- Ph.D Candidate and Associate Professor at SUNY New Paltz
Hannah Hasan- Founder of Hasan Productions
Meaghan Loftus- Ashley Park School K8, Principal
Cheryl Laster-Harris- Ashley Park School K8, Assistant Principal