Memphis Education Movement Inspires Harvard Graduate Students

The third week in May, also known in Memphis as BBQ Fest week, graduate students from the Harvard Kennedy School visited Memphis to learn about best practices happening across the Elementary and Secondary education landscape in Shelby County.  The trip was led by Memphis’ own Raushanah Bowdre, a graduate of Cordova High School, who wanted to show off her hometown on a number of levels.

From Memphis’ great entertainment venues to it’s brilliant education leaders,  she sought out to give her Harvard classmates, many of who were visiting the South for the very first time, a deep dive into the 901 culture. Bowdre knows that Memphis not only has the best BBQ on the planet but is also at the forefront of innovation and progress in Urban Education reform.

“Attending BBQ Fest night on the river was an excellent way to kick off the tour,” Bowdre said. “Meeting the Mayor, eating tons of BBQ, and visiting our museums, community organizations and schools left quite the impression too. The international students were really impressed by how warm and hospitable everyone was – three of them are even considering moving here!”

The Kennedy School Scholars met with a diverse group of education leaders from direct school providers like Shelby County Schools, SCS iZone, and the Achievement School District to holistic care education providers including Memphis Education Fund, Memphis Music Initiative, Memphis Athletic Ministries and many more.  The Scholars, whose current graduate work centers around researching what makes a successful educator, were able to hear tangible experiences of investment and leadership.

“You can feel the positive buzz happening in Memphis and I hope that our non-profits and community organizations can create effective partnerships and coalitions to ensure that this excitement will be felt by everyone in the city, and not just in select areas,” Bowdre said.

Short term service learning trips are a part of the fabric of City Leadership (CL).  Serve901 is a CL campaign that provides a venue for shared learning experiences and connects recruits to the organizations that are leading longterm community development investment in Memphis. Therefore it was exciting on Thursday evening for CL’s Choose901 and Teach901 campaigns to host the Scholars for an evening dinner and roundtable discussion.  Held in the beautiful new Memphis Teacher Residency offices at Crosstown Concourse, Memphis education leaders gathered with the Kennedy Scholars to celebrate their successes and collaborate around the challenges that face education reform and growth in Memphis.

After graduating from Harvard with her Masters degree this May, Bowdre will return to Memphis to work at a startup nonprofit called The Collective whose mission is to form a community of 2,500 young adults in Memphis who have experienced poverty, realized the dream of social mobility, and who are actively changing our communities and city.

“After living overseas for a few years, I realized that Memphis is a unique representation of the heart & soul of the American south,” Bowdre said. “I hope that Memphis will increase its brand to become THE ‘Southern destination’ for both domestic and international tourists. We are truly special!”

For Bowdre and several other Kennedy Scholars a short term trip of learning and service has quickly transformed into a long term commitment to lead, partner, and serve in Memphis education.

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