Hear the conversation about equity of education from these experts based in Chattanooga, Tennessee. This podcast is part of the ADR Black-Jewish Dialogues and is the September back-school episode.
Ardena Garth Hicks: Education Activist
Ardena is a Hamilton County native and practicing attorney who is the 2020 Legal Aid Society Pro Bono Attorney of the Year. She is a member of the Hamilton County Partnership Network Board of Directors, appointed by TN Education Commissioner Candace McQueen. The Partnership’s charge is to “review the progress of the five schools in the Partnership Network- which have been deemed priority schools by the state…and make recommendations to the Hamilton County Board of Education and Network leadership to support students’ growth and development.”
She is President of Chattanooga Endeavors, Inc., a non-profit organization which advocates for the interests of citizens repatriating from incarceration. Ardena previously was Special Prosecutor for Child Abuse cases with the Hamilton County District Attorney’s office. She served as Hamilton County’s first elected District Public Defender from 1990 to 2014 (3 successive 8-year terms), having been appointed to the newly-created position by Gov. Ned McWherter in 1989. Ardena graduated as a Ooltewah HS valedictorian, earned her bachelor’s degree at Middle TN State U. and earned her Juris Doctor (JD) degree from the U. of Kansas.
Dr. Jill Keegan Levine: Education Administrator
Jill is the Chief of Innovation and Choice for Tennessee’s Hamilton County Schools, a district of over 45,000 students. Prior to this role, she served as the Chief of the Opportunity Zone, a learning community focused on turnaround of the twelve highest needs schools in the district, as well as serving previously as the Chief Academic Officer of the school district.
After graduating from Wellesley College with a double major in Music and History, Jill began her career teaching 3rd grade and directing musical theater productions in the New Orleans Public Schools. She was the principal of Normal Park Museum Magnet, a Chattanooga Pre-K through 8th grade school, for 14 years. She led the transformation of two low performing schools into award winning, innovative, exciting and challenging places of learning. In 2012, Jill was recognized as the National Magnet Schools Principals of the Year. From 2013-2015, she served in the Obama administration as the first full time Principal Ambassador Fellow at the US Department of Education. In that capacity, she worked closely with Secretary Arne Duncan to increase the department’s focus on the importance of school leadership.
Todd Cherches is the CEO & Cofounder of BigBlueGumball, an innovative New York City-based management consulting firm specializing in leadership development and executive coaching. He is also a three-time award-winning Adjunct Professor of leadership at NYU, and a Lecturer on leadership at Columbia University. Todd is a member of Marshall Goldsmith’s “MG100 Coaches”; a TEDx speaker; and the author of VisuaLeadership: Leveraging the Power of Visual Thinking in Leadership and in Life, published by Post Hill Press/Simon & Schuster (May, 2020).
Marilyn Kallet recently served two terms as Knoxville Poet Laureate, 2018-2020. She has published 18 books, including How Our Bodies Learned, The Love That Moves Me and Packing Light: New and Selected Poems, Black Widow Press. She translated Paul Eluard’s Last Love Poems and Benjamin Péret’s The Big Game.
Dr. Kallet is Professor Emerita at the University of Tennessee. From 2009-2020, she mentored poetry groups for the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, in Auvillar, France. Her poetry has appeared recently in Plume and American Diversity Report.
Maria James-Thiaw is a poet, performer and an educator from Central PA. She has written three poetry collections and her poetry has been published by Cutthroat Journal of the Arts, Love Your Rebellion and other journals. Her choreopoem, Reclaiming My Time: An American Griot Project debuted in Summerdale, PA in 2018 to 6 sold out audiences. She won the Art of Protest Poetry Prize from Penn State for works from that production. In 2020 she created a Zoom version entitled RMT 2.0. This performance poet attended Marilyn Kallet’s workshops in France in 2011 and 2015. Maria is a graduate of Goddard College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program and she is the Program Coordinator of Creative Writing for CASA, Capital Area School for the Arts in Harrisburg, PA.
American Diversity Report, Chattanooga News Chronicle, Mizpah Congregation, Jewish Federation of Greater Chattanooga, C.U.R.B. – Citizens Uprooting Racism in Bermuda.
Dr. Tana M Session is an organizational development strategist, international speaker, and media contributor. Dr. Session changes lives at work through transformative Inclusion, Diversity & Multigenerational workforce strategies . She is the CEO and Founder of From Foster Care to Fabulous Foundation.
Christopher. Lafayette is an Emergent Technologist in medtech, virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence, climate and applied sciences. He is a Silicon Valley national and international speaker, Thought Leader and Culture & Inclusion Advocate. He is the Founder of Black Technology Mentorship Program (BTMP)
Dr. Janét Aizenstros is a signatory with the United Nations Business Action Hub (UNBAH) for the United Nations Global Compact Network. She is an award-winning businesswoman with several leadership awards such as the Top 40 under 40, a recipient of the 2020 WXN Canada’s Most Powerful Women Entrepreneur Award: Top 100, the Stevie® Award winner for Female Entrepreneur of the Year Canada. She also received Employer Of The Year for Canadian Business which ranked her company 12th on Canadian Business ’s 2020 Growth List. Thus, she became the first Black Canadian woman in history to scale a 9-figure organization and sole female founder to be featured on the list.
Dr. Janét Aizenstros is also a member of the Young President’s Organization (YPO), a participant with Concordia Leadership Council and a Global Goodwill Ambassador for the Global Goodwill Ambassadors Foundation.
Dealing with Stress & Anxiety During the Holidays and Every Day
Laverne’s mission is to help people manage stress & anxiety and cross their finish lines. She is a champion of underdog and underserved stories, and the people behind them. As a film and television producer, a leadership and personal coach, a certified grief counselor, and a professor at Northwestern’s MS Leadership for Creative Enterprises program, Laverne is dedicated to showing us how to find and use values to overcome stress and live a fulfilling life. See her website for more information: LaverneMcKinnon.com
Yanique Woodall is the Head of Brand Communications, Product Innovation PR, and Social Impact Communications at Home Depot. Additionally, she serves as Treasurer for the PRSA Foundation, an independent, charitable organization committed to promoting diversity within the PR industry. Woodall graduated with her masters in corporate & public communications from Seton Hall University and serves as an adjunct professor at George Washington University.
In 2018, former engineer Toni Crowe started successfully pursuing her dream of becoming a full-time author. After growing up in Chicago’s projects, Toni Crowe graduated from the University of Illinois with an Engineering Degree. She obtained her Master’s in Management, became a Professional Engineer, Certified Professional Manager, and a corporate Vice-President. She evolved into an entrepreneur and CEO of Just One with the goal of stopping “just one” person from making her mistakes.
Shelley Rose is Deputy Director with the Southeast Region Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which tracks trends in hate. In this position, she organizes community programming, provides educational outreach to community organizations, coordinates legislative advocacy and conducts workshops and presentations for parents and educators on religious intolerance, anti-bias training and cultural awareness. Shelley’s articles have been published in newspapers, magazines and journals and she has appeared on television and radio as a spokesperson for ADL.
Shelley also spoke at the inaugural meeting of Chattanooga’s Council Against Hate, an initiative spearheaded by Mayor Andy Berke. In an interview with Deborah Levine, Mayor Berke explained the background for doing this project
It was important to think of community togetherness and to make sure that no one got radicalized because of the incident. Hate is Everywhere. All kinds of different ideologies that permeate the hate eco-system. What they have in common is people who’ve gotten disaffected from society and are taken advantage of by groups that promote and encourage violence. The US State Department under [Secretary] John Kerry encouraged me to converse with mayors and leaders of cities across the globe dealing with similar issues through the Strong Cities Network. The initiative provides an international platform for discussing challenges and options. I am now on its Board of Directors. I hosted an event at the German Marshal Fund and have hosted members coming to Chattanooga from the Balkans and Eastern Europe.
Mayor Berke is now working with the U.S. Conference of Mayors to battle hate ad extremism in cities across the country. In his interview, Mayor Berke described his announcement of the Council Against Hate.
We see hate from national leaders, our schools, our computer screen and phones. We must begin by rejecting the idea that we powerless against hate. We can change how hate is spread and can create tools to do so. I announced the formation of a Council Against Hate at the State of the City address in April 2018 and proceeded to bring together diverse leaders to serve on the council. Individuals working together can workshop ideas and make them better. Coordination can speed those ideas, continue and replicate them.