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.