Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Complete Tennessee Executive Director Kenyatta Lovett reflects on the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and points to progress in postsecondary education in Tennessee.

As we celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day and commemorate the upcoming 50th anniversary of his death, I find both inspiration and urgency in his final book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community? Published in 1967 – one year before his assassination in Memphis, Tennessee – Dr. King’s book called for systemic change to address the greatest challenges facing our nation.

It is troubling that we are still fighting too many of the racial and income-based disparities of yesterday. However, we must remember, as Dr. King wisely noted, “the line of progress is never straight.” Despite shortcomings, we have far more opportunities today to manifest real change and build a brighter, more equitable future – especially here in Tennessee.

For nearly a decade, Tennessee policymakers have advanced programs designed to promote improvement and excellence in education. Throughout the education system – in elementary schools, high schools and postsecondary institutions across the state – a combination of great leadership, hard work, and innovative programs are generating positive results for students and communities. 

This progress is especially evident in Memphis, where Dr. King spent his last days. Area higher education institutions, such as Southwest Tennessee Community College, philanthropic organizations, such as the Hyde Family Foundations, and community organizations, such as Graduate Memphis, have all demonstrated a clear commitment to helping underserved citizens access valuable education opportunities necessary for success. 

As we look to the future, we must not forget that the pursuit of excellence and equity is an ongoing process. Policymakers, education leaders, communities and families must continue to demand improvement and hold institutions accountable for ensuring all Tennesseans – regardless of race, background or circumstance -  have the opportunity to succeed.

Complete Tennessee will dedicate 2018 to working directly with county leaders and area stakeholders to advance community-driven strategies designed to expand access and completion in postsecondary education. By deepening our local engagement statewide and cultivating cohorts of passionate higher education leaders from the ground up, we can help support the state’s Drive to 55 goal and ensure our most vulnerable populations aren’t left behind.