Start With Why

Start With Why

Simon Sinek's book, Start With Why, has gotten significant traction in recent years among organizational leaders. Sinek encourages professionals of any type to be able to clearly articulate their why, and then let the why drive the what, when, and how. Clearly there is an economical need that is met through Agape North offering school clothing, but there's also a deeper why that involves adult presence in the lives of young people. Check out the piece I wrote for a friend of mine who is seeking to start a Memphis school, where I detail the ultimate why of Agape North as an organization by talking about our choosing to invest in education as a company:

Upon being named Head Basketball Coach of the Memphis Grizzlies in late May of 2016, David Fizdale soon began to describe his vision for this particular team: Play faster. Shoot more three pointers. Build a championship culture. Memphians took great pleasure in seeing the fruition of that vision from May 2016 to May 2017, where most of his mantras and strategies really did start to take shape, even though the season ended a little earlier than we all preferred. #takethatfordata #theynotgonrookus

For his vision and goals to work, Fizdale needed the five guys on the court, and many more behind those primary five, who would facilitate, invest-in, and execute his vision. Those five individuals had to commit to buy-in to his plan and his vision; they had to buy-in to him. Fizdale's success was wrapped up in the commitment of a team of individuals, and in a similar way, so is the success of so many young people in our great city. In basketball and in life, five is a significant number.

Adolescent development researchers tell us that in order for young people to make a healthy transition into adulthood, they need five healthy and invested adults outside of their parents to come alongside them, support them, and in this process build social capital. Children need people to invest in their dreams, visions, and plans; they need a team of people to buy-in to them. Spaces and places like great schools in our city are one of the avenues for providing this social capital, as well as the necessary academics, to fulfill a vision and dream they have for their own life. This is precisely why we do what we do at Agape North.

I have personally gotten to know students throughout our city, bought into the vision for giving them a fair shot, and have committed to becoming one of five for some of those individuals. My job as Director of School Relations at Agape North allows me to be a familiar face and presence at several schools in Memphis, and I greatly anticipate serving in this role at many additional local schools in the near future.

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Agape North exists to help people thrive through giving. On a day to day basis, this means selling custom apparel to businesses and non-profits who, when working with Agape North, are able to gift one school shirt for every three items they purchase from us. The gifted item can look like anything from a standard uniform polo, a fun leadership award t-shirt, or an embroidered crewneck sweatshirt for the colder months during the school year. My job is to then set up a 45-minute visit for a business or non-profit to see the school they are giving to in order to interact with inspiring young scholars and be exposed to the important educational work going on in their own city, with the gifted shirt being icing on the cake.

Agape North's ultimate goal is to help establish community partners for schools. We believe that, together, the two organizations are truly better. Each week I have the joyous opportunity to show up to a school and declare: "I believe in Memphis, and I believe in the vision you hold up for yourself." You and I do not have to be the all-star of the five players, we can leave that to parents and to the teachers and school leaders in the life of a student. But, we want to at least be on the court playing whatever role we have the ability to play.

Author: Jason Baker, Director of School Relations at Agape North (also, a basketball enthusiast)

Inspiration Design Contest Winner: Maya Clark

Inspiration Design Contest Winner: Maya Clark

Each May Agape North has a Summer Party celebrating the community that is formed through the work we do in education. A mix of educators, students, and the businesses and non-profits that work with us to give back come out to our office space to mingle, eat, and play a few summer outdoor games. We have t-shirts for sale, food trucks, parking lot games, and live music, all in effort to simply connect and celebrate with one another. This year we wanted to partner with one of the schools we give back to in order to have local high schoolers submit shirt design inspiration for the items we sell at the party. We ran a contest between three local Memphis high schools and the winner was Maya Clark, a current student at Collegiate School of Memphis. Maya's inspirational drawing was taken to create the guitar shirt you see below, which we sold at the party. Take a moment to learn a little more about Maya and Collegiate School of Memphis!

Maya_Clark

How did you first become interested in art?  What types of art do you enjoy engaging in?

I have been interested in art since I was a little kid. I drew pictures for fun, and I participated in craft events at Michaels. However, it was not until recently that I have been able to take an art class. I still enjoy drawing, but I also enjoy painting and doing crafts.

How is Collegiate School of Memphis helping you prepare for college?  What colleges are you interested in attending and why?

The Collegiate School of Memphis is fulfilling its mission to prepare me for college. My teachers have taught me to value hard work, and they truly care about their students. The core values taught at Collegiate are applicable in both college and adulthood. Most importantly, Collegiate focuses on encouraging their students to grow in their Christian faith. Currently, I want to attend colleges in Memphis because I have grown up in Memphis. I want to attend Christian Brothers University or the University of Memphis. I like CBU's strong values and small campus, and I like the quality education that U of M has to offer at a great value.

What gave you the idea to do a guitar design for a Memphis-themed shirt?

I did a guitar design for the t-shirt because Memphis is known for being the birthplace of rock n' roll. A lot of blues musicians have come from Memphis. To me, a guitar is a symbol for Memphis and all of the music it has to offer. 

What are some of your favorite things about Memphis?

I love going to the zoo. I think Memphis has some interesting attractions, including Bass Pro, Graceland, and the Civil Rights Museum. Many celebrities, including Justin Timberlake, are from Memphis. Skillet, one of my favorite bands, was formed here, and Dan Schneider, the creator of popular Nickelodeon shows grew up here. Memphis has many restaurants and bakeries, and it also has many businesses that are headquartered here including FedEx, ServiceMaster, AutoZone, and Lenny's. St. Jude and Le Bonheur are transforming people's lives. These are just some of the things that Memphis has to offer. Memphis often gets a bad wrap, so it is great to focus on positive aspects of the city.

Do you plan to make art a part of your career or hobbies after high school?  If so, how?

I hope to incorporate art into my career, but I will make sure it remains one of my hobbies if I am not able to make it a part of my career. I hope I get a job that requires creativity, whether it is developing an app or designing a product. I really love technology, so I hope to combine art with computer science. Graphic design, animation, and industrial design all sound interesting. I have multiple interests, so I hope to write books, as well.

Maya_Clark2

Week of Giving Photos: May 15-19

Week of Giving Photos: May 8-12

How A Washer And Dryer Can Change A School

How A Washer And Dryer Can Change A School

One of the most impactful aspects of our jobs at Agape North is that we get to walk the hallways of dozens of schools each year. Each visit is exciting for us as we get to meet teachers, administrators, and most importantly, their students. “What amazes me the most during these visits,” shares Joe Williams, Founder and CEO of Agape North, “is that the most requested thing from the little students is a hug. That request fuels us day in and day out.”

We are so thankful to the small businesses, faith-based organizations, and schools that choose to buy their custom clothing from us. Because of you, we see our goal of reaching 100,000 donated school uniforms in the near future as a reality. However, the need is so great for hundreds of thousands of economically challenged families and their school-aged kids that we need to press on.

We acknowledge as we walk the hallways gathering up heart-warming hugs, that we must use our school visits to figure out how we can accelerate Agape North’s ability, with our customers, to help students across the country succeed. Our research recently came across another effort to help students, and this one involves laundry soap and clean shirts, somewhat of a blending of our mission and the mission of Whirpool®.

Did you ever think about donating a washer and dryer to a school as a way of improving the student attendance rates and therefore increasing their chance at success? We did not either, but Whirlpool® is finding out that the answer to this question is YES! Take a moment to visit www.whirlpool.com/carecounts and see what the impact of installing a washer and dryer in a school can do. Whirlpool® is discovering attendance rates are increasing along with participation in the classroom. This is amazing stuff. 

We read a lot about children doing better in school with healthy meals, adequate school supplies, and some nice clothes, but increasing attendance and student classroom participation by having clean clothes? Most of us assume it is a given that kids are going to school in proper clean clothes.  At Agape North we know that is not the case. Agape North was founded to create a sustainable way for businesses and other organizations to purchase custom apparel from us and in turn give back to schools in their community (or internationally) in the form of school uniforms. We see that a new uniform brightens a student’s day and helps them improve in school. 

By keeping clothes (including school uniforms) clean Whirlpool® has discovered that their products can improve attendance and classroom participation even further. We applaud their efforts and encourage the administrators, teachers, and our customers to take a moment and watch this three minute video:

It may change your school for the better. We know from Whirlpool’s efforts that this works, but they are only going to be able to reach 30 schools in the second year of their pilot program.  At Agape North, we know of dozens of schools that could use these appliances

The next time you upgrade your washer and dryer at home, please consider finding a school in need and working with a plumber to install them. You will impact the lives for hundreds of students, and just think, it took just a little laundry soap.

Week of Giving Photos: April 24-28

Week of Giving Photos: March 6 - March 10

Week of Giving Photos: March 6 - March 10

Welcome to our new "Week of Giving" recap! Every Monday, we'll be reporting on Giving Days from the previous week. We have some incredible partners and we work with lots of remarkable schools in Memphis and beyond; so we've decided to share our events and photos with you! 

This week, representatives from the YMCA, Regions, and Nike visited Memphis Delta Preparatory and man, did we have fun. We sang songs, hung out with the kids and learned about MDP's truly impactful education philosophy. Check out this week's gallery below! 

Introducing: Tier One

Introducing: Tier One

Hey! This is Josh the Creative Director taking over the blog for a bit to tell you about something awesome! Since joining the team in February, I've been thinking of a way to expand Agape's usual private line into something even more fun, creative, and city wide.

I think we do an amazing job of working with schools, churches and local companies to make a difference in the Memphis education scene. With Agape North, you could order a custom shirt online or even come in to our headquarters and buy a piece from our private line. 

Coming on as an artist, I saw immediate potential with our private line as a creative outlet for myself and as an opportunity for Agape North to reach more of Memphis. So I'm stoked to announce a new Agape brainchild; The Tier One Collection

Every few months, Agape North will release a brand new, small-batch, Memphis themed T-shirt that will only be sold in select local shops. For every shirt purchased, Agape North will donate a school uniform shirt to an underserved school here in Memphis. So not only will you get a high quality ( Ya'll. Comfort Colors. For Real. ) and unique T-shirt to rep this awesome city, you'll also be helping kids get a better education experience. That's what I call a win win! 

We're kicking off The Tier One Collection at the Rev in East Memphis Thursday, March 9. If you haven't been to the Rev yet, it's awesome! Grab some freshly brewed tea, browse their inspiring storefront and chat with the Rev girls about international missions and how you can be a part of the revolution!

So if you've got some free time and want an awesome T-Shirt and great company, visit the Rev to pick up the first shirt of The Tier One Collection. Only 24 shirts have been printed and when they're gone, they're gone. So book it to the Rev before they're sold out and you can make a difference in Memphis today.

Houston Middle and Freedom Prep: Together We Are Better

Michael Ruiz, Houston Middle Assistant Principal, engaging in conversation with Freedom Prep scholars during Houston's annual Giving Day with Agape North.

It really started about 3 years ago.  I was a brand new administrator at Houston Middle School, and Agape North was a fairly new company looking to make connections with local schools.  I met Joe Williams in my office, and he began sharing his vision for how Agape North, a custom apparel company, could partner with Houston Middle School to give school uniform shirts to local students in underserved areas.  Growing up as a missionary kid in Taiwan and working with orphanages in the Dominican Republic, partnering with Agape North seemed like a no-brainer.  I loved their passion for serving others, especially children, and was excited about the opportunity to get involved.  We began to use Agape North as our primary provider for our annual class t-shirts.  Each homeroom designs and wears the shirts for special events throughout the year, including spirit days and field day.  We love our shirts, but more importantly we love what they represent.

Two years ago, Agape North partnered us with Freedom Preparatory Academy in Southwest Memphis.  We had the opportunity to travel to their elementary school and hand deliver school pride t-shirts to each student.  We took a group of HMS students along with us so they could directly witness how their class t-shirts helped create t-shirts for the kids at Freedom Prep.  We were overcome by the welcome we received while we were there and amazed at the discipline and focus of their students.  The teachers and staff at Freedom Prep place a strong emphasis on instruction, student achievement, and college preparedness.  This was evident in the celebration we witnessed where students were called to the center of a circle (created by students and staff) and recognized for their successes.  College memorabilia lined the walls and each teacher provided a personal touch by hanging a flag of the college they graduated from outside their door.  It was truly an inspiring sight to witness.  We knew there was something special about this school, and we asked Jason Baker from Agape North if we could partner with this school in years to come.

Houston Middle visits Freedom Prep to deliver school pride t-shirts and learn about the important work of Freedom Prep Academy.

Houston Middle visits Freedom Prep to deliver school pride t-shirts and learn about the important work of Freedom Prep Academy.

It wasn't until our second year of visiting Freedom Prep that I met Courtney McNeal, a community outreach specialist for the school.  She gave us a tour of their school and also set up some time for our students to interact together.  The students formed mixed groups of HMS students and Freedom Prep students and were given a series of questions to help them become acquainted with each other.  This was such a valuable opportunity for our students to find things in common with students across Memphis who they might not have the chance to meet if it were not for this experience.  They shared laughter and made friendships.  It was an experience that our students continued to talk about even after we left.  Freedom Prep has made an impression on all of us.  Courtney McNeal and I began sharing stories and contact information.  We made a commitment to look for more opportunities to partner our two schools together in the spirit of unity and community.

Houston Middle and Freedom Prep students engage in small group discussion.

Houston Middle and Freedom Prep students engage in small group discussion.

About a month later I received an email from Ms. McNeal expressing an interest in having each of our schools host each other in a friendly basketball game.  I thought this was a great idea, and we quickly set dates that would work for both our basketball teams and cheer squads to be a part of two nights.  On February 16, we hosted Freedom Prep at Houston Middle.  It was important for us to make them feel like they were a part of our family.  After all, we had been to their school twice, but had not yet had the opportunity to host them.  We had a lot of fun having our two basketball teams compete, but what our students enjoyed most was the time following the game where we engaged in a Snapchat challenge.  Our cheer and basketball teams were able to work together to come up with a quick Snapchat video that ranged from hilarious dance moves, impressive flips, and of course - the mannequin challenge.  We also called our friends at Agape North and they provided a shirt for all the students on the teams as well as the staff who helped coordinate the event.  It was truly a night of fun, fellowship, and community with our friends from across Memphis.

A week later we traveled to Freedom Prep where they hosted us in a community basketball game.  They made us feel at home and were so hospitable.  They provided us with a meal, gave each of us a Freedom Prep beach ball (how awesome is that!) and engaged our students in a dance off challenge!  I'm pretty sure Freedom Prep has us beat when it comes to dance skills!  But we all had a great time and enjoyed reconnecting with our new friends.  We cannot wait for the next time our two schools are able to unite for the greater good.  I am grateful for companies like Agape North who truly bring our Memphis community together.  Truly, together we are better.

Michael Ruiz / Assistant Principal, Houston Middle School

High Expectations, High Support

A recent New York Times article, Schools That Work, highlighted two characteristics of schools who repeatedly achieve results they are aiming for: high expectations and high support. Agape North exists to help people thrive through giving, ultimately to provide schools with high support in order to help them achieve. We continue to be excited about the partnership that has developed between Regency Homebuilders and Cornerstone Preparatory Elementary School in Binghampton in Memphis. 

Blair Perry, Director of Campus Operations at Cornerstone Prep, has provided some reflections on their partnership with Regency:

Capstone Education Group operates two schools and educates over 750 students at our Lester Campus: Cornerstone Prep (Pre-K - 5) and Lester Prep (6-8). We consider ourselves fortunate for the opportunity we’ve been given to serve the students and families of Binghampton. Unfortunately, like most schools, we’ve been given an enormous task and limited resources with which to accomplish it. As a result, we rely heavily upon the help of volunteers who enable us to use more of our resources on direct supports to students in the desks. Simply said, we need great partners in order to be most successful in our work.

Admittedly, my first contact with Regency Homebuilders and Agape North came with a great deal of hesitation and reservation. I’d experienced “help” before from “partners” that proved to be more trouble than they were worth. I knew that the uniform donation would be great, but I expected their investment would stop shortly thereafter. Yet, Regency Homebuilders and Agape North have proved to be tremendous partners, time and time again. Before we even handed out any uniforms, the Regency staff plugged-in by sponsoring classrooms and providing a much-appreciated staff lunch. But the biggest help came when they brought their full staff on campus for a day of service.

Regency Homebuilders visits Cornerstone Prep for their first ever school uniform Giving Day. They were able to give back school shirts because they purchased company apparel through Agape North.

Regency Homebuilders visits Cornerstone Prep for their first ever school uniform Giving Day. They were able to give back school shirts because they purchased company apparel through Agape North.

For several hours on a Friday morning, the staff of Regency Homebuilders painted columns, swept out boiler rooms, planted flowers, installed door sweeps -- the list was enormous. Work that would’ve taken significant amounts of time, energy, effort, and (quite frankly) money were knocked out in just a few hours. Further, at the end of the day, they walked around campus with me asking for a wishlist of projects they could partner with us on accomplishing for years to come. We immediately began planning for another blitz this spring. What started as a simple uniform donation has become a beautiful partnership. Check out a short highlight video from the Regency Day of Service below!

This uniform donation served simply as a point of connection for a much greater and significant partnership. Regency Homebuilders and Agape North came to us, asked us what we needed, and partnered with us in filling the needs they were able to meet. Without a single doubt in my mind, because of the support provided by this partnership, Cornerstone and Lester Preps are better able to accomplish our mission of equipping students with the knowledge and wisdom needed to succeed in college and to become leaders in their community.

Blair Perry / Cornerstone Preparatory Elementary, Lester Campus

The Extra Mile

The partnership between Grace Evangelical Church and Agape North initially began through the Grace Evan youth group using the Agape North t-shirt design and creation expertise and services. During a Grace Evan staff meeting the youth group leadership shared the Agape North community give-back concept in which a percentage of purchased shirts lead to the creation of separate shirts to be donated to a community partner school. Grace Evan was partnered with the Knowledge is Power Program (KIPP) school, specifically KIPP Memphis Preparatory Elementary (KMPE).

Immediately after the staff meeting the Grace Athletics team met with our youth program leadership to learn more. Within weeks Grace Athletics met with KIPP KMPE to learn how we could offer our services – reaching an unchurched world through maturing believers through athletics and sharing of the Gospel. The KIPP KMPE and Grace Athletics relationship was born. Principal Sarah Jensen, an enthusiastic and visionary leader, saw the potential to offer to her 1stand 2nd graders. Similar to Agape North, Grace Athletics provides scholarship give-back opportunities to serve our greater community. A KIPP flag team was formed and joined the Crosscheck football league. Furthermore, a 1st and 2ndgrade set of teams were formed and joined our Crosscheck basketball league. Additionally, through our initial KMPE contacts Grace Athletics has branched out to a second KIPP school, Memphis Academy Elementary, to form two 3rdgrade flag football teams and a 4th grade basketball team within our Crosscheck leagues.

Our goal is to continue our relationship with KIPP and follow their vision; each year the school adds another grade to their school we form teams in our leagues to maintain our relationship with the players and families – former and new.

Agape North has the right mind-set; to make a difference requires giving of self, and giving back. Grace Evan and Grace Athletics agree. Our relationships with schools such as KIPP provide opportunities to foster a cross-cultural, demographically mixed, and Christian environment to our youth.

Scott Elliott / Athletic Director, Grace Evangelical Church

Interview: Emily Cupples

We recently sat down with Emily Cupples of City Leadership/Teach 901 to talk Memphis, education, and of course, a little Memphis food. Agape North is grateful to partner with City Leadership on some of their apparel throughout the year to give back to various Memphis schools.

Enjoy Emily’s story below!

What is City Leadership and how does Teach 901 fit into the brand?

City Leadership is a non-profit consulting agency in Memphis, TN. John Carroll founded the organization in 2010 with the mission of maximizing non-profit leadership in the city of Memphis. Through City Leadership’s work, we found there were several nuances surrounding relocation to the city of Memphis and that was preventing highly specialized individuals and professionals from relocating back or to Memphis. In 2012, City Leadership rolled out Choose901 as a campaign to highlight the amazing and awesome pieces of Memphis, thus aiding in talent recruitment and leadership maximization. Teachers are the largest workforce in Memphis and the most sought after professionals in America. Having such a massive impact, teachers deserved their own campaign alongside Choose901 and so was born Teach901.

How did you decide to devote your life’s work to education equality/recruiting?

I was raised in a low income family and attended failing schools. Through factors outside of my control – race and demographics- I was allowed to attend a private school and receive a higher quality education for a time period. With high tuition rates, only people within a specific class and income bracket could attend, however, I was granted admission. I attended the school for all of my lower elementary and middle school years, building a strong foundation and an array of deductive reasoning skills. For high school and junior high school, I attended a failing school and the difference was insurmountable. The achievement gap was a wide canyon between my peers and myself, and this achievement gap has manifested into an opportunity gap, self perpetuating the cycle of poverty. I could not control that I was awarded a stronger/better education, and neither can our students today. Every student deserves to build a strong foundation and array of deductive reasoning skills regardless of race, demographic, or income class. Education brought me out of poverty, and I owe it to education and its students to ensure any that want it have the same opportunity

How does City Leadership and Teach 901 define success?

Success looks different for everyone and every organization. There is the 30,000 feet up definition of success and the micro definition. One could say success is going through every possible action utilizing all resources available with no necessary defined end point. We use that definition is some cases and in other specific ways. A specific way could be to say we need X number of website visitors. Regardless if you tried all courses of actions and utilized all available resources, if you didn’t hit X number that’s not a success and vice versa.

Describe a recent Teach 901 success story.

Teach901 set out to recruit and connect 100 teacher hires with schools in Memphis for the 2016/17 school year. Prior to the first day of school, Teach901 had connected 181 hired teachers in Memphis charter schools and Shelby County Public Schools.

Why did City Leadership/Teach 901 decide to link up with Agape North?

Schooling is a difficult process for parents, students, administrators, teachers and the overall education community. From curriculum design, to homework assignments, bus routes, lunch plans, and school culture, I’m not sure how parents and teachers do it. With all the moving pieces that have to consistently fit together, it’s a miracle school begins and ends every day. Agape North is taking away one of those obstacles for parents and schools by alleviating the concern of uniforms and clothes. Teach901 recognizes the value and magnitude this can have for a child, and wanted to partner to extend Agape North’s impact.

What did you take away from the City Leadership/Agape North Giving Day at Memphis Delta Prep Elementary?

The City Leadership/Agape North Giving Day was extremely eye opening for me in a lot of ways. Whereas we adults get frazzled and stressed about the idea of schooling, students are genuinely excited about the process. Hundreds of students arrived at MDP with so much eagerness to learn and sharpen pencils, I bet you could bottle it up and sell it if possible. If we can match resources with students’ eagerness, I can’t imagine where schooling would go.

According to Emily Cupples, what’s the most underrated restaurant in Memphis?

My kitchen. HA kidding a little bit, but not really. I subscribe to a CSA from a local farm in Memphis, and combine those groceries with staples from any of Memphis’ several farmers’ markets and I get a product that is pretty hard to beat. If I were to pick a restaurant, I would have to pick Maciel’s in Downtown Memphis. It’s a local authentic taco shop.

Follow the work of City Leadership and Teach 901 – @choose901 and @teach901.

Advocating For Them

How many of you reading this post were first generation college students? Probably very few. How many of you applied to multiple colleges and universities? And how many college applications did you submit? Six? Eight? Ten or more?  Did you take the standardized college entrance exams multiple times, and in some cases even take prep-courses? Whether we can say “yes” to many of these questions for ourselves or have completed this process with our children, for most economically challenged families and their young high schoolers, they simply cannot. Unfortunately, they are not fully aware of the college application processes, therefore they are already a step behind. There are many colleges and universities eager to embrace an achieving minority student, but neither the colleges know who they are nor the students and their families experienced enough in the complexities of applying to college.

This is a key point in Malcom Gladwell’s important podcast series, “Revisionist History”. Malcolm’s series has had a profound impact on us at Agape North. We strongly encourage the family of businesses, faith-based organizations, and schools that purchase from us and the teachers and administrators that receive gifted school uniforms, to set aside the time and listen to Episode 4, “Carlos Can’t Remember”. www.revisionisthistory.com

 

What Agape North takes away from Malcom’s podcast, mainly supported by the research of Caroline Hoxby and Christopher Avery in “The Missing One-Offs”: The Hidden Supply of High Achieving, Low Income Students” (http://www.nber.org/papers/w18586 ) is that these hard working students from low-income families need a strong, knowledgeable, and determined voice. They need an advocate, someone to support them during the college application process, encourage them to reach for great colleges, and bring college admissions departments and resources to them.

Our greatest take away from this podcast, is that we must bring these students and the institutions of higher learning together. We all can quickly summarize that a college fair night makes sense. We know that colleges and universities would never invest limited resources to visit charter and public schools, in areas like South Memphis or North Nashville. At Agape North we can think of dozens of schools with thousands of students that the economic challenges of visiting colleges is too great. If the students cannot visit amazing colleges, and the colleges do not have the ability to visit them, we might as well admit defeat. This does not sit well with us at Agape North.

Agape North is going to raise its hand and state, “we are going to be an advocate for these students.” Working with many of you, our customers, we will be planning our first Agape North College Night – Memphis 2017! We are going to work with the schools in economically challenged areas around Memphis and invite a defined percentage of the students in those schools to meet a large number of admissions departments representing colleges and universities from around the country. We want these institutions of higher learning to know that Memphis is a city full of potential.

Details will be coming out soon about this exciting event. If you are one of our customers and want to be an advocate with us for our hard-working students, please reach out to us. If you are an administrator or teacher in a school outside of Memphis and would like to bring a group of your students to our event, please email Jason Baker, Director of School Relations, at jason.baker@agapenorth.com.

Michael Deutsch / Partner

The Life of a Donated Shirt

At KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary we believe that we, as educators and school leaders, are responsible for not only academic instruction, but also for ensuring that our students have the character skills they need to succeed in college and beyond.  Educational experts have identified school culture as one of the most critical factors in determining the effectiveness of a school.  We strive to continue to proactively create a school culture where it becomes apparent from the moment you enter the blue double doors on our campus that everything—and I do mean everything— is intentionally designed to create a school culture that remains hyper focused on preparing our students for college.

In December, when we were informed St. George’s Independent School has been partnering with Agape North for their custom apparel to be able to donate t-shirts to our students, we sought to create an opportunity for our students to feel the positive effects of being character-full by creating a dual purpose experience; integrating our character strengths and tracking their progress towards character goals.  Our grade-level chairs took ownership of aligning a character goal for their grade, where students would have the opportunity to earn a character t-shirt as they demonstrated grit, optimism, and self-control in action.  The data supports the idea that there is a positive relationship between school attendance and overall academic achievement. Nationally, one in ten kindergarten and first-grade students are chronically absent, missing nearly a month of school—these early absences have a strong correlation to reading difficulties and poor attendance patterns in later years.  At KMCE we wanted to recognize and incentive the effort students and families are making to be present at school each day.  Students who were present 95% of the school days during an entire month, and made positive choices earned their character t-shirts.  Each student had the opportunity to earn a character t-shirt, and if a student did not meet the requirements during one month, they had the opportunity to earn a shirt the following month.  In December after our first community meeting, (KIPP speak for grade-wide assembly), the disappointment on some students’ faces who did not earn their t-shirts was palpable.  Multiple teachers across our school used this as an opportunity to name and integrate a lesson around our optimism character strength, expecting the best in the future, getting over frustration quickly, and believing that with effort a goal can be achieved despite setbacks.

In December I led the school tour and was fortunate to be a part of the sample lesson with our Central State Kindergarteners, and the students of St. George’s as a part of their t-shirt donation.  Our kindergarten KIPPsters learned a mini-lesson about self-control alongside the students of St. George’s, and cheered when they previewed the character t-shirts they would have the opportunity to earn.  Our KIPPsters immediately began earning their t-shirts in December, each grade included a celebration of students who earn their t-shirts around this in their weekly community meetings.  Below is a picture from the giving experience, when St. George’s visited us at KIPP to learn about the impact of their donated shirts.

Students have the opportunity to wear their KIPP t-shirts and jeans on Friday, if they’ve earned theirs.  We saw a positive effect in having our students be influenced by seeing their peers earn a special designated shirt—they quite simply were motivated to do the same.  Teachers were able to give students feedback formally on a month-to-month basis and have structured conversations around attendance and behavior, connecting to a students’ progress in earning their character t-shirt, while more deeply anchoring the conversation in the ultimate why, ensuring our students have the character skills and habits they need to be successful in school and beyond.  We at KIPP are very grateful for the St. George’s donation and what it has allowed us to do with a “simple” t-shirt incentive.

Julie Poluszejko / Principal, KIPP Memphis Collegiate Elementary

Interview : Danny Song

Agape North recently sat down with our friend Danny Song to learn a little more about his passion for education and the city of Memphis.

Danny is currently a fellow with Building Excellent Schools designing Believe Memphis Academy to open in the fall of 2018. If you are interested to knowing more about Believe Memphis Academy or partnering in the work, please contact Danny at dsong@buildingexcellentschools.org.

How did you land in the field of education?

I was about to graduate from college with a degree in journalism and ambitions to pursue social justice in a very ambiguous and nebulous path, most likely pursuing something overseas. I heard about the Memphis Teacher Residency through a job fair. When I read their vision that “urban education is the greatest social justice and civil rights issue facing America today,” I was hooked. I then was shocked by the statistics in Memphis at that time – an average ACT score of 14, a high school graduation rate barely above 50%. As a product of public schools who believed I was adequately prepared for the rigors of college, I was stunned by the disparities that could exist in our nation. I was faced with a choice to now commit myself to be part of solving this injustice, or continuing on my current trajectory of ignorance and blind perpetuation of systemic injustice. I felt the moral imperative to choose the first path.

Closing the education inequality gap has been labeled “the cause of our generation”, why?

Education has inextricably been tied to power in this country. It has always been a method that simultaneously empowered and marginalized specific people groups. The state of our nation and the existence of the achievement gap is not an accidental byproduct of history – it is the byproduct of intentional systems of oppression that protected access of power, wealth, and influence to the privileged. One of the greatest tools of this marginalization was intentional veil of ignorance placed upon the majority of the population. Ordinary people could claim ignorance, as did I, to the inequities of education running deeply along lines of race. We were conditioned to blame socio-economic divisions, without considering the systems that created those very socio-economic barriers to targeted racial demographics of our country. In the 1960s, through a study called to Coleman Report, the report found that students in poverty were much more at risk to not attain high levels of education and more at risk to drop out, fail, etc. Since that time, we have (color) blindly accepted that it’s socioeconomic factors that determine educational outcomes, even making excuses on behalf of poor students that they could do no more than fail, given their home circumstances. In the age post No Child Left Behind, however, where student achievement data was made much more public and we started disaggregating data according to student demographics, the wider American public started seeing the unequal education offered to children of color, specifically black and Hispanic children compared to white and Asian children. As a generation that grew up largely ignorant of this reality, we are angry. We are angry that these injustices persist today. We are angry that we were blindly complicit to these structures. And we are demanding change, and willing to work to create that change.

How would you describe the current education climate and landscape in Memphis?

Full of opportunity. The Grizzlies’ tagline of Grit and Grind perfectly captures the spirit of Memphis. We are not the city that is shiny and glamorous. We’re the city that recognizes its blemishes and believes that discipline and teamwork beats natural talent. The city is poised to rally around education reform. There is an opportunity of unprecedented collaboration between the private sector and nonprofit sector; faith-based and nonfaith-based organizations; charter schools, traditional district schools, and iZone schools – the entire city is ready to rally behind its children, all of its children.

What built-in characteristics and resources does Memphis have that will help close this gap?

The limitless potential of human capital. The children of Memphis are our greatest asset and resource. The children of Memphis are among the grittiest, most intelligent, most creative, and most resilient humans on earth. And, I just happen to think the most passionate, dedicated, driven educators have and are choosing 901.

In your opinion, how does Agape North bring value to and supplement urban education reform?

Agape North is one manifestation of the spirit of Memphis. What started as a dream, through resilient effort, collaboration, and a bit of luck has created an amazing niche within the education and nonprofit sector. Agape North is poised to serve as a window through which the average Memphian can look into the amazing work of students and educators in the city. It also is a door through which Memphians can enter into the movement.

Talk a little about Believe Memphis Academy, the school you will be heading up beginning 2018-2019.

Believe Memphis Academy will prepare scholars grades 5 through 8 with the academic rigor, robust supports, and leadership development necessary to excel in high school, thrive in college, and lead lives of opportunity.

  • We believe an excellent education is both the necessary foundation and gateway to opportunity in our nation.
  • We believe history contextualizes the present but should not determine the future.
  • We believe Memphis has the students and teachers who can quietly and deliberately change the world.

What does the Song family like to do when there’s a free night in your schedule?

We’ll let you know when we get one. We have the unbelievable privilege of raising a 3.5-year-old little boss lady and identical 1-year-old twin boys. We love walks to the park or around Overton Square. We love going down to the river with take-out Chinese or Gus’ Fried Chicken and watching the sunset. We love invading a small local restaurant like Central BBQ, Casa Blanca, or Memphis Pizza Café and taking all their available high chairs. We love that anytime we go out, we always run into a familiar face. We love living in the biggest small town of America.

Meeting Needs A World Apart

When someone from the U.S. finds himself on the outskirts of Mubende, Uganda, the phrase “a world apart” takes on a real meaning. Food, accommodations, music, traffic, roads, and the general way of life is a dizzying experience that’s difficult to put into words to anyone who hasn’t experienced it firsthand. But upon returning home, the attempt is made. It’s probably my fault, but conversations always end with some sort of sentiment of pity and sorrow – especially when the subject of the children comes up. Maybe this time it will be a little different.

Our Father’s School seems as though it’s in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps it is. Any electricity is produced through a small Honda generator. The plumbing, well, is a hole in the ground. And the water is collected daily by the children from a running stream down the road which is shared by some local cows and goats. A percentage of the children at this school are orphans and are taken care of by Patrick Kibirige, a local Ugandan with a heart for children. The rest have a family. All of them live in a way that is completely foreign to anyone who is reading this.

But if you ever can make it down the worn out mud road and up the hill and through the gate to Our Father’s School, you’ll see the obvious differences. And those differences for sure will create an inward tension. And many times, that tension will produce a feeling of sorrow. But then you’ll see those things that equalize every culture. Those same children who have caused a sadness inside you will be the same ones running, playing, dancing, singing, and yes, even smiling – a lot. And here comes a second round of tension. Why and how? Why are they happy? Why do they even seem happier than some of our own children? How can they be happy when they don’t have anything like what we have?

My time in the developing world has taught me that God’s grace is a global truth. This is where happiness comes from. It is God’s grace that puts smiles on the faces and joy into the hearts of anyone and everyone around the world. This happiness isn’t contingent on what we have or don’t have. Many of us know firsthand how things can be taken away – and sometimes quickly and painfully. True, deep-seated joy is a miraculous gift that is seen even in the hardest places.

“True, deep-seated joy is a miraculous gift that is seen even in the hardest places.”

But another truth that is experienced by all is need. We all have needs in some capacity. And as those who have first experienced love, we are inwardly compelled to look out into the world in order to help those with and in times of need. We don’t close our eyes to the brokenness around us and throughout the globe. Instead, we immerse ourselves even in the areas of life that bring us the most tension, and we try to restore dignity to those who find themselves in difficult situations.

“…we immerse ourselves even in the areas of life that bring us the most tension, and we try to restore dignity…”

This is why I have grown to appreciate and admire the mission of Agape North. As we all do, I like their shirts. But it’s their mission that is compelling to provide school uniforms to those in the under-resourced areas. Seeing it firsthand, this mission shined in Uganda. Not out of pity or feeling sorry for anyone, but by recognizing a need and putting their hand to meeting that need, Agape North provided 200 school uniforms to the children of Our Father’s School – through a purchase of shirts from Hilton Hotels. This provided children who only had one set of clothes with a real uniform which brought pride and dignity to the children, the teachers, and the school. That was a good gift, but that in itself didn’t impress me as much as the way they went about it. They spent time communicating with the director of the school about the need and the context in which they were serving. During that time, they realized that the Ugandan culture needed a certain type of uniform (both top and bottom) and in a different style than what’s typical for Agape North to provide. Not only were they culturally sensitive and flexible, they even allowed the uniforms to be made in Uganda by a local seamstress in order to help her, her family, and the local economy, forgoing their branding and symbol being placed on the shirts.

Meeting needs without a posture of superiority or an attitude of pity but with humility and contextual sensitivity is how to do work in God’s kingdom throughout the world. This is what Agape North is doing. And their working is making an impact.  A student named Ahiro says this,

“Hello every one, my name is Ariho Silver, I go to Our Father’s orphan School Uganda, am in primary seven. I thank Agape North for providing me with a school uniform, I have never dreamt of having a school uniform because I couldn’t afford getting one for myself since am an orphan but so thankful to God that I got one. Long live Agape North.”

I am happy to be connected to this business/mission and thank them for the work they do in the city of Memphis and throughout the world.

Will Savell / The Grace Institute / www.thegraceinstituteintl.com

Meant For Stories

We’ve decided we need a space for stories here at Agape North, a collective space for all who make our work possible to come together and simply swap stories. Human beings are meant for stories: reading stories, telling stories, getting lost in a story, and most of all, creating our own individual and community story.

Last night I carved out an entire evening to go spend time with a friend of mine who is a master storyteller, he remembers every good and wild story and every time we’re together, he retells them. I like being around him because he recalls stories and laughs a lot, that’s what he offers and people love him. Something within us craves a good story, and perhaps that’s a snapshot of our lives as a whole. We all enjoy a good story because at the end of the day, the overarching theme of our lives is to find a good story and jump in.

The first step to having a decent life is to make sure you’re living a good story (more on that in later posts, perhaps), but the next step is to invite others into good stories. Folks who do that very thing are folks we remember. Agape North exists to invite you into a good story, an often overlooked story right in the middle of your own city and community. We create a bridge between two communities and invite them to tell each other the story of their lives and community.

Jason Baker / Director of School Relations, Agape North

Jason Baker enjoying an interactive game at Binghampton Christian Academy.

Jason Baker enjoying an interactive game at Binghampton Christian Academy.