Interview: Art Team

Interview: Art Team

We wanted to take a moment here on the blog and spotlight our Graphic Design team: Elizabeth Dunaway and Aaron Tucker. They are truly the individuals that make Agape North go! Without them our clients do not receive high quality products with fun designs, and the schools we give to do not receive high quality donated shirts with fun designs. Enjoy getting to know them in this interview-style blog post!



How did you end up in the field of graphic design?

Elizabeth: Most of my life I have had an artistic inclination. Throughout high school I drew and painted, but I did not desire to be a studio artist by trade. Funny enough, I didn’t actually know that much about Graphic Design when I started applying for colleges. I always noticed and admired well-designed magazine spreads, hand lettering, and creative logos, so I thought I would just give it a shot. I knew I wanted to stay in the art industry, so I declared my major as Graphic Design and the rest is history!

Aaron: I dabbled in graphic design-type things in high school, through my IB Art Program and fell in love with different aspects of design like color, photography, typography, and packaging. I went to college with the goal of making money, and then developed the mindset of wanting to enjoy what I do for a career. After changing my major three times, I chose to pursue my BFA in graphic design.

What types of design are you drawn to?

Elizabeth: It’s so hard to pick because the industry is constantly growing and changing. Though I would say my “specialty” is illustration, I’ve always been interested in product packaging design. The identity and the packaging contribute to the experience consumers have with the product, and as a problem-solver, I’ve always been attracted to packaging design. Currently, hand lettering is an area of design that I am drawn to as well!

Aaron: I am drawn to many aspects of design. I think ultimately I am drawn to arbitrary aspects of design. Graphic designers are problem solvers. We seek ways to solve and communicate messages. Some of those messages are heavy, and some are fun and light. So, I am drawn to how different elements of design come together for a purpose.

Why do you choose to use your design talent at Agape North?

Elizabeth: I was drawn initially because it was a chance to work in design without being confined in a corporate design firm. However, this job is so much more than a sweet design gig, and this company is so much more than just giving shirts back to students. It has given me relationships with co-workers and clients who believe in my city, and are passionate to see students empowered. I really cherish the fact that I get to use my design talents here.

Aaron: Originally, I began working at Agape North because they recruited me to come work for them via the Downline Emerging Leaders program. I was really excited but really didn’t know what all I was saying yes to. I quickly learned the heartbeat of Agape North and saw how it was similar to mine. As I grow in design, I am searching for opportunities where design overlaps with community development. At Agape North my design skills are able to impact students and remind them that they are loved by those within and outside their own community.

How would you describe the Agape North staff team?

Elizabeth: The best people to work with. The passion to invest in and connect with students throughout the city is evident in all of our team. At the same time, we have a company atmosphere where we have a lot of fun doing what we do.

Aaron: I would describe our team as a tray of cupcakes. When people order cupcakes, they are normally celebrating something. As a team we get to celebrate with the individuals, businesses, and schools we partner with. Everyone loves cupcakes, we all have different flavors (talents) and our team is pretty sweat just like a great cupcake.


What song best describes your personality?

Elizabeth: I really had to think about this one, but I’d probably say “Crazy” by Ben Rector. It’s all about living a pretty normal life of Netflix, Bed Bath & Beyond visits, and having fun in the “normal”. I feel like that sums up my personality pretty well – nothing too flashy.

Aaron: I would say many songs could describe my personality because my personality is very complex. The first song that I can think of is “Let’s Be Birds” by Jacob Whitesides. This song reminds me of a journey, and really expresses the free bird inside of my personality that I LOVE! It also speaks to how I really want to travel and see the world.

What is a fun memory you have from an Agape North donation at a school?

Elizabeth: A fun memory I have from a donation event was at Bluff City High School with the University of Memphis. Small groups of students and community partners were given a few fun icebreaker questions like, “What ice cream flavor best describes your personality?” After we all felt well acquainted with one another, the students began to tell us why they loved their school. The pride all the students and staff had for their school was inspiring.

Aaron: My favorite memories are when I see kids transform in the 45-minute window we are there at their school for an event. This happens at many donations, but sometimes I notice it more. At one particular event, a partner organization was in the room, and then the students came in the room. The students were an older group and they looked upset and/or nervous. Honestly, I felt like some didn’t want to be there. But by the end of the donation event the kids were smiling, and they all seemed to really enjoy themselves.

Teacher Appreciation Week 2018 Interview: Arion Clanton

Teacher Appreciation Week 2018 Interview: Arion Clanton


What is your background and how did you find yourself in the world of teaching/education?

I was born and raised in East Chicago, IN by my loving mother, Loretta Vaughn. I'm a proud graduate of Wabash College, located in Crawfordsville, IN where I majored in English: Creative Writing. Following graduation, I began a teaching career in 2015 by joining Teach for America-Memphis where I received rigorous coaching and training through Teach for America’s instructional/leadership team. Upon completion of a two year commitment to TFA, I received a Masters of Education from Christian Brothers University in the summer of 2017. I'm now in my third year of teaching, and look forward to many more years to come.


Where do you currently teach and what do you teach there?

Currently, I am the 6th and 8th grade Humanities teacher at Aspire Coleman Middle School, located in the Raleigh community. In my three years at Aspire Coleman, I have had the opportunity to teach Reading, Writing, and Social Studies. Along with teaching, I also serve as the school’s founding Athletic Director and Assistant Basketball Coach.



How would you describe the students you teach? What are some descriptor words that come to mind and why those words?

I would describe my scholars using three words: Resilient, Resourceful, and Respectful.

I refer to my scholars as resilient because many of my kids have been through the worst. My kids are facing battles that other kids their age don’t have to worry about. I have spoken with many of my scholars and some of them take care of little brothers or sisters at home, some of them are in charge of the cooking and cleaning at home, and unfortunately some of them are facing situations that are too personal to share.

I refer to my scholars as resourceful because from the moment my kids enter my classroom to the moment they leave, it is full throttle, pedal to the metal. However, I often tell my scholars that I believe that I learn more from them sometimes than they learn from me. The level of creativity, originality, and ability to make things happen, even with the absence of resources given to them is outstanding. My scholars truly know how to create excellence, even when excellence has not always been the model for them.

I refer to my scholars as respectful because that is what they are. Too often people, those from the outside looking in, paint images of what they THINK our scholars are like, and that is majority of the time completely an inaccurate portrayal of who they really are or what they really are capable of. I refuse to create a negative image of my scholars because the world has already created a false image of my kids.


What is one thing you want people reading this to know about teachers?

Teaching is one of the most difficult and seemingly unappreciated professions in the world. Something we all fail to realize is that we are in the positions we have today because a teacher helped pave the way for us. Teaching isn’t simply standing in front of a classroom and presenting material. The tool belt of a teacher is loaded with so many things that make teachers extraordinary. Teachers are not only educators; teachers are parents, counselors, therapists, nurses, doctors, and so much more. The next time you encounter a teacher, similarly to how to thank veterans, take the time to thank a teacher because they are molding our youth to eventually lead our communities.



You won a teaching award recently, what was the award and how do they select a recipient each year?

This year I had the honor and privilege of being nominated “Teacher of the Year” for the Achievement School District. The qualities for this award consist of teachers who have the respect and admiration of both their students and colleagues. Teachers earn this respect and admiration by serving as role models for their students and always having the best interests of their students in mind. They gain respect by treating students fairly, setting high expectations and being consistent with discipline. A Teacher of the Year goes beyond interacting with students on an instructional level and works to make sure their physical and emotional needs are met, as well. My school, Aspire Coleman, was asked for the first time this year to nominate candidates for the Achievement School District and Shelby County Schools teacher of the year. I received an email from Christopher Ferrell, Executive Assistant of the Achievement School District, to interview for the award. Following the interviews, I was then recognized by the Achievement School District superintendent, Dr. Airhart, as winner of the award for Aspire Public Schools.


What does Arion Clanton enjoy doing outside of the classroom?

In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my son, Amias, playing sports, particularly football and basketball, watching my favorite shows, and purchasing shoes. I'm really big on family and friends so I enjoy any time spent fellowshipping with individuals I care about. I'm also extremely competitive and one of the things I love doing most is playing spades and consider myself one of the greatest spades players in Memphis.

Silk-Spun Webs of Love

Silk-Spun Webs of Love

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In the non-profit/charter world, we all wear many hats. Though I’m the Sr. Director of Marketing and Communications for Freedom Prep, I have the privilege of doubling as a Community Outreach team member. One of my responsibilities in that role is seeking out new, mutually beneficial relationships with community partners and cultivate existing ones. In order to give our students a well-rounded education, our school depends on community partners to fill in the gaps. Our mission is to prepare students PreK-12 to excel in college and in life – and we know that takes a village!


A couple of years ago, our Community Outreach Team started working with Agape North and they quickly became one of our trusted, and (dare we say, favorite) community partners. When we first learned about the concept and strategy behind “Giving Days,” we were shocked to learn that such a selfless, impactful program existed. In the education business, we are always careful that no one feels like they’re “saving” our children, not even us. So we very cautiously approached the partnership and the relationship building with our school partners, Houston Middle School and University of Memphis (U of M). Those relationships began to flourish in ways we couldn’t have ever imagined, and we realized that the motives of Agape North were pure. And that this would be a partnership that would continue to grow and flourish throughout time.


As our community partners are an integral part of the larger Freedom Prep community, we believe we have a responsibility to appreciate and honor those who give their time, talents and treasures to Freedom Prep. Every year, we host a Community Partner Banquet and awards ceremony, whereby we honor those connected to us through their service. We traditionally select five community partners who demonstrate the core values that drive every interaction at Freedom Prep: Respect, Responsibility, Integrity, Community and Excellence. However, in addition to these awards, we choose one outstanding organization or individual to receive our Ubuntu award, which represents the Zulu philosophy that I am because we are, humanity towards others, and the belief in a universal bond of sharing and caring that connects all humanity. When we hosted our 4th Annual Community Partner Banquet in the fall of 2017, we couldn’t think of anyone more deserving of the Ubuntu award than Jason Baker and the team at Agape North.


When we form a new relationship, we look for a partner that is not only going to enhance the school experience for our students, but will find fulfillment in the work they do with us. Agape North is one of those organizations that seems to get more joy out of connecting people and possibilities, and working with schools than making T-shirts (arguably, the bread and butter of their operation). The company’s vision to serve and give back while providing a quality service is one I’ve never seen before. They are literally creating little silk-spun webs of love, care, smiles and community all across the south, country, and even globe. And we love them for that.

Connecting people in neighborhoods that might never cross paths is something that our separate and many times segregated communities need. We look different, we talk different, and our homes are different. But on the inside, we have similar thoughts, similar dreams and aspirations and similar spirits. Our fellowship with Houston Middle and U of M, through Agape North, has taught us that first-hand. Sure, some might say together we just we play basketball, do cheers, talk and laugh. Spend 45 minutes horsing around. Contrarily, these activities seem simple but they are oh so powerful. Through these activities, Agape North has given us the opportunity to share and connect with one another and learn about cultures and traditions that are new to us and different from our own. THIS creates the foundation of a collaborative, accepting and understanding society. THESE are the types of interactions and connections that make our beautiful and troubled city, country and world better places. When we take time to share and learn from each other, our divide decreases. We are more ONE than TWO. And when that happens, everyone wins.

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We look forward to continuing these partnerships and to establishing new ones with new partners Agape North will surely enable. And as our Community Outreach Team sets out to establish new partnerships on our own, we will take with us the learnings and principles we’ve used to build our relationships with Houston Middle and U of M. Our hope is that more community organizations, schools, companies, etc. would adopt the vision of Agape North and help bridge the gap to our communities in their own unique ways. They’re onto something…

We are thankful for all of our community partners, including Agape North, Houston Middle School and University of Memphis. We can’t wait for our next opportunity to connect with someone new and learn something new about our friends and about ourselves.

Candace A. Gray

Sr. Director of Marketing & Communications

Freedom Preparatory Academy Charter Schools



Non-Toxic Giving

Non-Toxic Giving

As a company, we spend a good bit of time thinking about the give back component of our business. It is, after all, the foundation on which our concept was built.  From the outside looking in, it may seem like we just give shirts to students, but it is so much more – it has to be more.

Some of you may be familiar with the book Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton. A few of our team members have read it, and we found his writings to be insightful and thankfully, very much in line with our way of thinking. In the book, Lupton discusses how even compassionate people with the best intentions can actually harm those they try to help (coining the term "toxic charity"). Though it can be hard to stomach, the fact of the matter is that the ideas of charity, mission work, corporate social responsibility, and many more have exploded in recent years, yet poverty is still a very real problem in our world. Lupton writes to bring light to what’s happening and ideally reverse some of the not-so-helpful practices. In this post, I’ll be discussing Agape North’s charitable practices and how we strive to keep them non-toxic.


The majority of Lupton’s book focuses on impoverished communities as a whole and the necessary steps to make those areas flourish. He pinpoints the following as indicators of community health:

1.     Public Safety

2.     Education Improvements

3.     Economic Vitality

4.     Homeowner/Renter Retention

5.     Neighborhood Associations

6.     Spiritual Vitality

While it would be nice to tackle all of those issues, we at Agape North have found our niche in the education realm. The education system, regardless of where one lives geographically, tends to keep its status as a hot-button issue. It’s one that is multifaceted, complicated, divisional, and yet of utmost importance to most people. Lupton repeats throughout his book that “there are no quick fixes,” and this description could not be more accurate for education. Regardless, change is happening, and whether it is two steps forward or one step back, we are proud to be a part of this movement.

I said before that we do more than give school uniform shirts to students, and here’s how. Providing a new school shirt, be it a uniform polo or a fun school spirit t-shirt, to a student in need is a small thing, but it’s the switch that starts a domino effect. Having a clean school shirt to wear can be the difference between a child coming to school or staying home, and as we all know, attendance is imperative to learning. Providing shirts to a school body means the administration is able to allocate those funds to other necessary things like books or curriculum. There may not be long-term quick fixes, but these short-term fixes can have long-term impacts.


Going back to Toxic Charity, Lupton describes the ideal outcomes of any short-term charity project or service work:

1.     Empower those being served

2.     Engender healthy cross-cultural relationships

3.     Improve local quality of life

4.     Relieve poverty

I imagine you would be hard-pressed to find someone who thinks the above outcomes aren’t worthy. Along those same lines, these days it is rare to find an organization with no interest in giving back; social responsibility is very much at the forefront of our thoughts. We see this all the time with our clients – there is a strong desire to do something more and give back by partnering in the community, but oftentimes there is a gap filled with questions like “Where do we start? How do we get our employees involved? What makes the most sense?”

Agape North exists to bridge the gap.

We have spent the last few years building relationships with local schools, so we can more easily connect our clients to schools in need of support. But there’s an important distinction to make here – we don’t just tell our clients which school they’re donating to and then send some shirts. As Lupton states, “What we look for is likely what we will see.” By planning a giving event and inviting our clients into the schools, we introduce them to a world they may not otherwise see. It is a world of incredible hope, dedicated people, and world-changing work – and yes, it is often in the most poverty-stricken areas of town. 


The giving events at schools don’t last long and each one looks a little different, but the four outcomes above are the common goal:

1.     Empower those being served. - Empowerment is key, and yet something that can often be lost in charitable exchanges. In many cases, the shirts we donate are given as an award for academic achievement or good behavior. Even if there’s not a high test score to celebrate, though, we try to make it clear to the students that the shirts they’re receiving are the result of their efforts as learners. Our clients do not donate because they feel sympathy, but because they want to let the next generation know that someone is supporting them and cheering them on.

2.     Engender healthy cross-cultural relationships. - It’s no secret that people, as a whole, struggle with cross-cultural interactions. This is why our giving events are so important – it’s where the barriers come down. We try to incorporate small-group or one-on-one discussion time between students and our clients because it gives both sides a chance to recognize the humanness in the other. Instead of a wealthy, mysterious benefactor and a poor kid who just doesn’t try, our clients become the kind visitors who read a book and actually show they care and the students become a bright spot in an otherwise dull outlook on a particular zip code in the city.

3.  Improve local quality of life and relieve poverty. – A new shirt can do a lot, but I can’t sit here and tell you that it will lower the poverty rate a certain percentage. What I can tell you is that it instigates movement in the right direction. New, clean clothes invoke a sense of confidence and pride, improving self-esteem. Students with higher self-esteem tend to be more engaged, better learners. From a parent’s perspective, additional school shirts for their children could mean one less load of laundry to do or at least one less uniform polo or school spirit t-shirt to buy. What we value as even more important, though, are the relationships that develop between our clients and the schools. In his book, Lupton encourages people to shy away from transactional interactions in favor of relational ones because these hold significantly more meaning. Relational interactions are more time-consuming, require accountability and vulnerability, and are definitely not a quick fix, but it is in these kinds of relationships that trust develops and people and communities flourish.

Our work at Agape North isn’t rocket science, but thanks to our clients and partner schools, it has the potential to make a big impact in cities around the globe. There are no quick fixes. There is no secret sauce. There IS compassion, and there are opportunities for change in our community. Let’s build some bridges.

Carly Warner, Agape North Director of Operations


Houston High and KIPP Collaborate on the Arts

Houston High and KIPP Collaborate on the Arts

As Choir Director of the choirs at Houston High School, I am extremely proud of our partnership with Agape North and KIPP Memphis Academy Middle. What began as a thought in a Houston Choir Booster Board Meeting has resulted in a relationship that we hope to continue and cultivate.

The Booster Board’s past President, Leigh Sistrunk, suggested that we purchase all of our t-shirts from Agape North with the intent of joining their mission of giving back to schools within Shelby County. Agape North then connected us with KIPP Memphis Academy Middle, knowing there is a growing choir and fine arts program at KMAM. This partnership has been an incredibly rewarding experience for our choral students. 


In the spring of 2017, Agape North and Houston High School Choirs made their first donation of school pride t-shirts in the form of a KMAM choir shirt. To help foster a relationship, Houston High's a cappella ensemble, Fifth Measure, visited and sang for the students in the choral program at KMAM. In addition, their students sang for our students. The visit ended up being a wonderful blend of two great Memphis schools seeking to elevate the arts. We also hope our visits continue to be an encouragement to middle schoolers who are pursuing the fine arts, and who will grow into their talents as future high school choral students.


We were thrilled to hear the KMAM Choir students had actually been asking KIPP faculty when they would see their friends from Houston High again. When Agape North gives, they try to do it in a way that feels more like partnership than charity. How could we not go back to KMAM once we saw the enthusiasm to continue the partnership from both sides? So, in the fall of 2017, Agape North and Houston High School Choirs once again gifted more choir shirts, alleviating a budget item for the second consecutive year. In addition, Houston High School’s Concert Choir, performed for the students in the Middle School and High School Choir programs at KIPP. Following the brief concert, students from each of the schools paired together to share experiences and learn from each other. Finally, the students at KMAM gave the Houston Choir students a tour of their school. The KIPP students were incredibly proud to show off their school to the Houston, and the Houston students thoroughly enjoyed learning the story of another school in our great city.


Moving ahead, Houston High Choirs look forward to the continued relationship with KMAM and Agape North. It is rewarding to give, but more importantly it is educational for the students of both schools to learn and grow together. We are extremely appreciative of the vision and mission of Agape North that facilitates this relationship.

Dr. Rayburn, Houston High School Choir Director

Briarcrest Gives Back in Ecuador

Briarcrest Gives Back in Ecuador

Working at Briarcrest has provided me many opportunities to serve the Lord using the gifts and talents He has given me, as well as to pour into the lives of students at the school. I was thrilled when I was asked to travel with one of the groups of students that Briarcrest was sending to Ecuador this summer.

The trip to Misahualli, Ecuador was filled with site-seeing as we stopped along the way at beautiful waterfalls and the tourist town of Baños. We also stopped at the “Saint House”. This served as Nate Saint’s family home as well as the main base for pilots as they witnessed to the tribal groups of Ecuador back in the 50’s. We arrived in Misahualli late one night, ready to serve the Lord through VBS to the children at Antioch Christian Academy the next day.


One of my favorite things about the trip was being able to witness firsthand how the Lord brought out the unique talents and abilities of the Briarcrest students. By the end of the week, when an issue arose, the group was able to pinpoint the person best equipped to deal with each situation. It was also incredible to see the Lord work to match the personality of a Briarcest student with an Antioch student to build relationships. Students who returned to Ecuador this year saw Antioch students that they had built relationships with the previous year, and were able to pick up right where they left off. It was powerful to observe.

The students at Antioch speak Spanish, but are taught English at school. Classes are taught primarily in English with the goal of promoting fluency after they leave school. This skill allows students to interact more efficiently with a variety of different people as well as to be able to share the gospel with a wider audience. The hope is that the students will learn the truths of the gospel at school so they will be able to take them home and beyond. Antioch desires to be a place that equips and sends out disciples of Jesus Christ.


Antioch is not what one would expect of a school in the middle of the jungle. The classrooms are advanced, there is a nice playground, and a new school building is in the midst of construction. Antioch, like many private schools in the United States, is payed for by tuition, but only 50% of the school’s operating costs are covered by this tuition. This means that things like new school construction, textbooks, uniforms, and computer labs must be paid for by donors.

When I was reviewing the footage from the trip, I couldn’t help but notice the blue uniform shirts each Antioch student was wearing. In the States, students often complain about having to wear uniforms, but these students were glowing with pride in the fact that they had a nice shirt and pair of pants to wear to school each day. When they go home they may not have as nice of things to wear, but there is a confidence that each day at school, they will be dressed to learn academically and Spiritually. Agape North supports Antioch with the help of Briarcrest. Briarcrest purchases custom shirts for their “House Groups” each year and, in return, Agape North donates uniforms to Antioch with the proceeds of the House Groups shirt orders.


It was amazing to see how God is working through Antioch to equip students to be lighthouses for His kingdom. Briarcrest and Agape North play a small but important role in that process, and I am thankful the Lord is using individuals’ specific talents and abilities to further His kingdom.

First Evan Takes The Next Step

First Evan Takes The Next Step

 Eli Berry, High School Student Pastor at First Evangelical Church.

Eli Berry, High School Student Pastor at First Evangelical Church.

Eli Berry serves as the High School Student Pastor at First Evangelical Church in Memphis, Tennessee. First Evan purchases custom apparel for church events through Agape North in order to give back school uniform shirts to students at Libertas School of Memphis each year. The students at First Evan have decided they wanted to take their partnership with Libertas a step further, serving more consistently throughout the school year. Part of their deeper partnership involves doing summer clean-up projects in order to prep the building for the upcoming school year.

Check out the short Q&A with Eli below, as well as a video highlighting the work First Evan did this summer. Thanks First Evan and Eli for being difference makers!

Why did First Evan decide to partner with Agape North for their custom apparel?

We wanted to provide our congregation with cool shirts that were more than just “cool shirts”. By working with Agape North, a quality event shirt is also a way to provide school uniform shirts for students in Memphis. Agape North makes it easy for us to give back to our city in a unique way.

Describe your initial impression of Libertas from your first Agape North Shirt Giving Day?

I immediately was intrigued with the way Libertas goes about educating their students. The fact that they are a neighborhood, free public Montessori school blew my mind. Libertas provides a hands-on, individualized education that caters to the needs of each student that comes through their doors. Also, any school that has chickens onsite is awesome in my eyes.

How did First Evan decide to take another step in serving at Libertas? What has that looked like?

Not only have we chose Libertas to be the school we donate uniform shirts to, but we have also made them one of our Mission Memphis partners. The past two summers we have worked alongside of Libertas during our Mission Memphis service week. We have added on to their playground, assembled and arranged furniture, and have also painted a few things inside of the school. It has been an honor to work with them.

How are your students different from having served at Libertas?

I think our students have seen a really cool and unique side of Memphis that they would not have seen otherwise. There are a lot of really great things happening at Libertas and the buzz there is contagious. The way Libertas’ staff cares for their work and their students is inspiring.

How would you describe a healthy urban/suburban partnership?

Libertas has helped us more than we have helped them. It is a two-sided relationship, to be sure.  Libertas does not need our help, but we GET to work with them. I think a healthy urban/suburban partnership stems from realizing truths such as that. We are all in it together, and together, we are better.

What’s your favorite moment from all your visits to Libertas?

My favorite moment from all our visits to Libertas was when we went to their end of the school year poetry recital. Seeing all of the proud parents, students, and teachers was such a joy. It was a small picture of the big wave of an impact Libertas is having in their neighborhood.

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.


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!


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.


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 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.

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”.


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” ( ) 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

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

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 /

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.