Urban League of Greater Chattanooga: Empowering People of Color and Striving for Social Equality
The Urban League of Greater Chattanooga became a part of the community 40 years ago as an economic development-focused organization that helps people of color, women, and other disadvantaged persons achieve economic self-reliance, parody, power, and civil rights.
According to Candy Johnson, President and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga, the organization has three empowerment centers they offer to residents. The first is the Center for Education, Workforce, and Family Empowerment. In this program, the Urban League has after-school and youth development programs and the family prosperity imitative that will help 100 families out of poverty. Next, is the Center for Economic and Black Business Success. This program is designed to not only support African American business owners, but all minorities, and all of those who are facing challenges and barriers to owning and accelerating growth within their business. Johnson says the Urban League has two signature programs, one for businesses just starting out and the other with a little more experience. The final empowerment center is the Center for Equity and Inclusive Leadership. This center engages and empowers diverse community members to promote a shared understanding of racial, social, and economic equity. Under this center they have two more programs, the first being the Inclusion by Design Executive Leadership Development Program. Through this program, the non-profit works to help women of all races gain the knowledge, skills, and networks to thrive in an executive role. To date, there are 58 alumni from the program, as well as a 58% success rate of those who have been promoted into senior-level leadership roles within their companies and also executive roles. The program lasts around nine months, and several local corporations participate. The young professionals are also part of this empowerment center. The goal here is for those 21 to 40 to gain leadership experience, no matter their nationality. At the end of the day, Johnson says they hope Young Professional members grow as leaders in the community, but also understand what it means to be civically involved give back, and the importance of voting and exercising your right to vote.
As the midterms approach, the Urban League will play a role in getting the community out to vote through the Young Professionals program. Individuals will phone bank, door knock, and campaign. However, the Urban League does not promote or endorse a specific candidate or party as they remain nonpartisan. Their goal is to make sure community members know who is on the ballot and to actually get out and vote. Johnson says through the years they have held candidate forums and will continue to do so to gain new voters.
In 2022 the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga released a detailed report on the State of Black Chattanooga to inform the community where there are gaps, and allow employers to use data gathered to help those who are being impacted. Local leaders, including Mayor Tim Kelly, have also used the report to help guide his initiatives for the communities of color, this comes as the report states Black Chattanoogans only receive 60% equality compared to white people in the community. Johnson says at the end of the day they ultimately want to promote and achieve racial, social, and economic equity.
The Urban League of Greater Chattanooga also cares about the health of those in the community, they have created a pre-diabetes prevention program that uses the curriculum of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The goal of the program is to help provide a healthy lifestyle for people of color and women.
If you'd like to volunteer with the Urban League, Johnson says they are always looking for professional guest speakers, those who would like to serve in their quality youth mentorship program for elementary and high schoolers, as well as volunteers for their Income Tax Program. In this program, volunteers will help those in the Chattanooga-Hamilton County area. Volunteers will complete 9,000 to 10,000 tax returns, so the Urban League says they are always searching for retired CPAs, those in the finance industry, or people who just like to do taxes. There are also opportunities to volunteer with big companies such as EPB, TVA, BlueCross, and Unum.
You can check out the Urban League of Greater Chattanooga on Instagram, LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter, all linked below, or check out their website linked here.
East Nashtivists: A Community Fighting For Reproductive Rights & A More Inclusive Tennessee
When it comes to bodily autonomy, it's not just for reproductive rights, we've seen that it affects all of us. And so they start taking our rights away to decide, you know, whether we're going to get pregnant. And then they're taking away the right to decide what kind of medications or treatments you're going to give to your children. - Katrina Green, Emergency Physician/East Nashivists leadership team
East Nashtivists attends legislative sessions at the Capitol but has partnered with other organizations like Inclusion Tennessee and the Tennessee Equality Project to fight for LGBTQ+ rights. The Equality Project has held phone banks, organized protests, and press conferences, and encouraged advocates to show up when anti-LGBTQ+ are voted on. However, these organizations are also encouraging those in the community to take care of themselves, and know they have a shoulder to lean on when things are tough.
It's also been a tough fight for reproductive rights, in 2022 the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade, which enacted Tennessee's trigger law banning abortion, with no exceptions, it only includes an affirmative defense for doctors. This means the medical professional must prove the abortion was medically necessary. Since the ban, advocates for reproductive rights have taken to the streets in protest and made their concerns heard at the Capitol, and now the legislation is stalling to modify the ban.
Folks are hurting right now, there are pregnant people that are suffering, because there are delays in care, there are doctors who are leaving the state, because they're afraid to practice in this kind of environment. And that's gonna affect all of us, right, like fewer doctors means worse health care for everybody. And so even people who are pro life are really anti choice, is what we like to call them, they should be concerned about this situation, too, because fewer doctors means worse health care means higher maternal mortality. - Katrina Green, Emergency Physician/East Nashivists leadership team
Right now, Tennessee is ranked 44th in the country for overall health, we were in the same position in 2019, so not much has changed, but it needs to. One way East Nashtivists is trying to make change is by encouraging Nashvillians to get out and vote, the organization will be at several events this year for voter registration, as they partner with local groups as well as going door to door around the community. If you'd like to get more involved, East Nashtivists meets the second Wednesday of every month at East Nashville Beer Works from 5 PM until 8 PM. For the first hour, they host a happy hour, giving people a chance to show up, mingle, and socialize. Then, from six to eight is when they have their speakers. The week of March 13th, (On Sunday) they are holding a community engagement event at a vegan bipoc lesbian-owned, bakery called Yellow and Lavender.
Even if you are not in the East Nashville area, you are encouraged to come and join and help make a difference in the community.
According to CEO Eden Murrie, Operation Stand Down first started in 1993. She says they have three focus areas: engaging, equipping, and empowering military veterans and their families through their crisis, career, and connection services.
Federal funding allows this organization to help Veterans with temporary financial assistance if they struggle with rent, utilities, and security deposits. Operation Stand Down also offers some services to surviving spouses, however, federal money cannot be used for that.
Through their connection services, OSD reaches out to those who served and connects them with other vets, the VA, or other organizations. They look at how they can help veterans with their careers, help them find more affordable housing, and with food assistance. Through their Operation Commissary, the program sets up veterans with one food bag per family member, per month. It also sets them up with case management to check and see if they enrolled in their Veteran Affairs (VA) benefits, or other programs to help with finances, employment, and housing. For those transitioning out of the military, or moving to Tennessee, Operation Stand Down helps you through their career services. They assist veterans in finding a job, help build their resume, help with the equipment they may need, or help you with any certifications or licenses a vet may need. Operation Stand Down's biggest goal is to connect veterans with other veterans. Murrie says they hold events just for that, such as going to a brewery, a picnic, or gun range. Murrie knows some vets want that connection, and some don't, but even if you do not want to meet up every day or at every event, occasionally talking about the past and going to events can be nice.
One reason Operation Stand Down focuses on connection so much is because of the suicide rate among veterans. Statistics show 17 to 22 veterans take their own life every day, and according to Murrie, 50% of those vets are not connected to a veterans organization or the VA. While this organization isn't a mental health provider, it can connect a veteran with one. To make that connection, they must get veterans needing help to reach out to Operation Stand Down through their outreach program, where they meet and just chat with veterans. This organization welcomes vets to their offices to chat if they need help, they are located in Nashville, Clarksville, and Colombia, each office has a coffee bar, so vets can grab a cup of coffee while they chat.
Along with connecting with other veterans, Operation Stand Down encourages those transitioning out of the military to enroll in their VA entitlements, which can help with burial costs and survivor compensation. OSD's health care navigators help veterans enroll in the program, and let them know of any changes the VA has made with their care. Newly introduced, veterans at imminent risk of self-harm can go to any VA or non-VA health care facility for emergency health care at no cost. It includes inpatient or crisis residential care for up to 30 days and outpatient care for up to 90 days. Veterans aren’t required to be enrolled in the VA to use this benefit. According to Murrie, post-911 veterans could be entitled to GI Bill benefits, Yellow Ribbon benefits, and veterans could go back to school almost for free.
If you'd like to honor a veteran or veteran supporter, you can do so with the Portraits of Patriots. After your purchase, a plaque will be hung at the entrance of the Nashville Veteran Service Center. Another way you can recognize a veteran is through the Dog Tag Flag. For $100 you can memorialize a Veteran, family member, or friend with a pair of personalized dog tags. One dog tag will be displayed on a custom American flag made by those dog tags at the service center, and the other dog tag will be yours to keep.
The Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga unites efforts for social change that improve life for women and girls across the region. Through advocacy and philanthropy, they catalyze movement toward a just society that is safe, nurturing, and full of opportunity for women. The Women’s Fund of Greater Chattanooga is made up of advocates, volunteers, and philanthropists.
Executive Director Erika Burnette says the work of the Women's Fund can be summarized into three key areas: Addressing the root causes of issues with no champions. They focus on issues that have the most significant impact on women and girls in Tennessee, as revealed by research conducted by the Institute for Women’s Policy Research. The second key area, those in the organization are advocates, not politicians. They take collective action, encouraging individuals to advocate for themselves and each other. The fund also changes laws. They write and support legislation that directly impacts women and girls in our region.
According to the Institute for Women’s Policy Research, Tennessee ranks 49 out of 50, as one of the worst states for women. One specific area Tennessee is worst in is reproductive rights for women. Burnette says in the years since, the fund has worked to take Tennessee to number one by organizing its work around the seven factors impacting the quality of life for women in our region: Employment and Opportunity, Poverty and Opportunity, Health and Well-being, Violence and Safety, Political Participation, Reproductive Rights, along with Work and Family. She says the organization continues to work to change "this deplorable reality by identifying the root causes of pertinent issues and championing for change through policy change, philanthropy, advocacy and education, and collaboration."
As mentioned, Tennessee is ranked low for reproductive rights for women, and amid the overturning of Roe V. Wade, the state has only gotten worse for women’s freedom. I asked the Women's Fund of Greater Chattanooga how this has impacted their mission. Executive Director Burnette says the overturning has “facilitated a sense of urgency for us as an organization to educate the community as a whole on the power and impact of legislative decisions and ultimately the power of their voice and advocacy." She says, "the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision to overturn Roe v. Wade will place an additional burden on the need for women and children’s health resources across our communities. In a state already ranked low for women’s health and advancement, the Court’s decision creates additional urgency to increase access to services that will be needed by more women and children." Burnette says their advocacy efforts focus on the growing need for maternal and prenatal care, early childhood education, childcare, nutrition and food insecurity, contraception, sex education, and more.
Along with its advocacy work, the Fund does philanthropy work through their Nightingale Network. Burnette says the group works together to create a positive social impact on the community. She says one hundred percent of membership fees and matching gifts are used to fund their annual grant for a community organization chosen by the Nightingale Network. Since 2011 the Nightingale Network grants have awarded more than $98,000 to area nonprofits.
The Fund does not have service volunteer opportunities, but they look to expand representation on their Advocacy Committee and the Nightingale Network. To take action alongside the Women's Fund of Greater Chatt, their primary mission is to get you and others out to vote. Burnette says Tennesseans can sign up for their Advocacy emails to learn more and act to support women and girls in the community and the whole state.
Once the Legislative session begins in the new year, the Fund is hosting a "Day on the Hill" in Nashville this Spring. Burnette says they would love the community's support and attendance alongside them.
Mundito Spanish is a language and culture learning organization for children. Founder and Lead Teacher Casey Cabbage says she had the idea to create the program after she spent some time overseas teaching English as a second language. She wanted to come back to the U.S. to create something for children using her experience abroad.
Mundito Spanish targets kids in grades K through five. Casey says she specifically targets that age range, because there are more options for learning a different language after elementary school. Casey says her program consists of 90-minute sessions, in the first 35 to 40 minutes the kids will learn vocabulary, and numbers, and just work towards objectives, next during a break the children will have traditional Spanish food as a snack so that they can learn more about the culture. The food either comes from local restaurants or staff, and their groceries come from a local Latino market, so it is all authentic. The class will then have independent learning time, where the kids will play with puzzles, books, and interactive activities, where they are encouraged to speak in the Spanish language. This program also offers private lessons, and if a school is interested in adding a Spanish curriculum or enhancing their Spanish already in place, the program partners with Nashville home schools, Metro Nashville Public Schools, and other organizations.
Class times for Mundito Spanish vary throughout the week:
Mondays - Franklin - 4:30 pm
Wednesdays - Berry Hill - 4:30 pm
Thursdays - East Nashville - 3:30 pm
Saturdays - Berry Hill - 10:00 am
The program has a non-refundable $75 registration fee that will be charged upon acceptance of class registration. It's due once a semester. For tuition, they have two payment options, monthly and semester. If you chose monthly, $99 will be due at the beginning of each month. The semester installment will cost $425 due at the beginning of each semester. During the Fall students will attend class from August through December, and during the Spring, class is in session from January through May. Mundito Spanish is a year-long program, according to Casey, she says it's not so much a month-by-month program. She says this option is more for those unsure if taking Spanish is right for their child.
The program usually consists of six team members, but right now they are a team of four. Casey tells me she is looking to hire a teacher's assistant, lead teacher, and life teacher. To be hired, a background check is required, teachers must be vaccinated, and be able to speak the Spanish language. There is also travel involved since the program meets at different churches at different times throughout the week. Teachers will also be required to volunteer with local non-profits each semester. If you are interested you can read more and apply here. For those interested in volunteering you can also find that information on the same page.
Mundito Spanish partners with non-profits each semester, right now it's the Nashville Adult Literacy Council, and next semester it will be TIRRC. Casey says the partnership includes different donation cased activities and market events, where the funds will go back to the non-profit. Casey tells me another great thing about this learning organization is that they value the work of other non-profits in the community and want to be a part of the change they are creating with the minority communities. Casey tells me they are also looking for sponsorships so they can have their own place, this way their teachers can have their own set-up and a designated area to work on their lesson plans after class. If you are interested, their website is linked below.
If you would like to learn more about Mundito Spanish, head to their website here. Their social media is linked below.
Hispanic Heritage Month 2022
National Hispanic Heritage Month takes place September 15th to October 15th every year as a time to recognize and celebrate the many contributions, diverse cultures, and extensive histories of the Latino community.
So, in honor of this month, I've made a list some great organizations, groups, and non-profits you can donate to, volunteer with, and are here to help if you or someone you know needs it.
Linked below is my YouTube channel where you can watch the interviews with the listed organizations! My web articles on each organization are also linked with each bullet, there you can also find the organizations personal website and social media.
La Paz Chattanooga is seeking help as they aid migrants passing through the city of Chattanooga seeking asylum. Reports say the bus of migrants were sent from Texas Governor Greg Abbott’s administration. There are also headlines of the republican governor sending those seeking asylum to D.C. and New York as well.
Right now, our assistance is needed here in Tennessee. As these individuals are legally seeking asylum, La Paz Chattanooga is performing case management and supplying them with essential items they will need as they continue their journey.
As La Paz helps these individuals with their journey, the non-profit is also in need of donations for the asylum seekers. They are accepting the following:
I reached out to La Paz Chattanooga this week, and if you live out of town and would like to send a package, they are accepting those too. However, if you would like to make a monetary donation to help with transportation and lodging, you can click on this link. Before you submit your donation, include "funds for transient migrant travels and lodging" in the comments space.
In response to the migrants passing though Chattanooga, the city issued the following statement to a local news provider, saying in part "This administration will respond with compassion to vulnerable people fleeing extremely difficult circumstances."
For more on La Paz, links to their social media pages are below. For their address check out their website here.
Project Return is a non-profit that helps provide support for those beginning a new life after incarceration. Right now, they have two locations in Tennessee, one in Nashville and the other in Chattanooga.
I spoke to Project Return's Operations Director Corey Richard about how they provide support to those leaving jail or prison. Richard says their primary focus is on employment because if people can work and support themselves they are less likely to go back to prison. Project Return helps individuals by helping them find jobs with either a referral partner, independent search support, or in many cases transitional employment. The non-profit also has hard skill programs, such as construction readiness. With this program, they pay participants a daily stipend, so they are not losing money while learning skills, participants will also receive an OSHA certification and NCCER certification after two weeks. Project Return is also working on a CDL program and is working towards bringing in a computer literacy class, as they help those in the program build up their resume.
Project Return also has a high-quality staffing agency. This is where they partner with local businesses to provide staffing in the form of their participants, and also provide transportation to and from those jobs with a fleet of vans that run through the city 24/7. They also take participants their paychecks every week and ensure they have clothing, IDs, food, and other supplies they may need. Their second enterprise, called PROPS, is a property make-ready company where Project Return employs participants directly where they will do commercial cleaning or landscaping. Their last enterprise program, Pro Housing, provides long-term housing for their participants. The non-profit buys a property in a neighborhood, pays its participants to renovate the properties, and rents them out to those in the program for an affordable rate. Operations Director Corey Richard says this program addresses that many landlords will not rent to someone with a felony or criminal record.
How do those currently in prison learn about Project Return? Richard says they physically go into the prisons and local jails at least once a quarter. During their visits, they go in with materials about the program, tell people how they can access Project Return, and answer any questions they may have.
It's also important to note that right now the state of Tennessee has an incarceration rate of 838 per 100,000 people, which according to Prison Policy, we lock up a higher percentage of people than any democracy on earth. Most of these crimes aren't even criminal offenses, according to Sycamore Institute, property crimes accounted for the largest share of entries to state incarceration in FY 2018.
If you would like to volunteer with Project Return, they have resume development days on Thursday and Friday, you will also conduct practice interviews and coaching. They also have food packing opportunities. Volunteers are also needed to answer phone calls.
For more on Project Return follow their social media pages below or head to their website with this link. To watch our interview, click here or scroll to the video below!
Healthy & Free Tennessee: Fighting for Reproductive Care And Against Discrimination
Healthy and Free Tennessee is an organization with many focuses, the main three are intersections of racism, the criminal legal system, and reproductive justice. They fight for better access to reproductive care for marginalized communities and fight policies that are determined to criminalize reproductive outcomes.
In the criminal legal system, Healthy and Free Tennessee work alongside an organization called Free Hearts which is run by formerly incarcerated people, and who also works with formerly incarcerated people. Together, in the most recent session in 2022, they were able to pass the Anti-Shackling Bill, which would prevent the harmful practice of shackling pregnant people while they are in prison. Another bill brought to the state capitol and signed by the governor is Senate Bill 2150, which Introduces TennCare Coverage for doula services. Healthy and Free Tennessee also worked to amend the Medication Abortion Ban, and stop Tennessee's Bounty Hunter Abortion Ban.
With a lot of talk in Tennessee over bills that discriminate against women, our undocumented community, the LGBTQ+ community, and people of color, Healthy and Free work to share the most accurate information when it comes to understanding and comprehending these bills. Most are set out to have confusing and hard-to-understand language, which makes it unclear as to what they are doing, and whether it's legal. Because of this, the organization posts slides of easy-to-share information on its Instagram account to spread the message of what is happening in our legislation, and nation, and how we can take a stance against it.
Right now many individuals' health and lives are at risk, with the strong possibility of Roe v. Wade becoming overruled. In Tennessee, if it is overturned, abortion will be immediately banned because the state enacted a "trigger law." According to Planned Parenthood, this law makes abortion not only illegal, but also a felony in all circumstances including sexual assault, or incest. Planned Parenthood says providers who handled or attempted to provide an abortion could face prison time and fines, but not the person seeking the abortion. During my conversation with Heather Allison, who is the reproductive justice fellow with Healthy and Free Tennessee, we talked about what our state would look like post-Roe. There will be those who can travel out of state to seek an abortion, however there are many who will not be able to, due to a disability, their job, childcare, immigration status, or criminal status. Healthy and Free TN say they are also preparing for an increase in policies that will criminalize pregnant people, based on the circumstances in other countries where abortion is banned. Right now, they are focused on encouraging healthcare providers to not report their patients who have pregnancy loss and asking district attorney's not to prosecute people for self-managing their abortions. For those who are wanting to learn more about self-managed abortions, Healthy and Free are offering training for that as well. They are also encouraging those who track their menstrual cycle or pregnancy through their cell phones to stop doing so, due to privacy concerns.
With Roe v. Wade in danger, those who are experiencing pregnancy loss due to miscarriage will be turned away from life saving-care. Heather Allison says when a patient goes to their doctor, there is no way for the provider to know whether the patient took an abortion pill or suffered a miscarriage. If a doctor suspect's a person had an abortion, they can call the police. Earlier this year Governor Bill Lee signed a bill increasing criminal penalties for anyone distributing abortion medication through telehealth or mail. According to the Tennessean, the bill prohibits any distribution of abortion medication, except when it is done in person, by a physician. However, their doctor is not required to monitor the patient during or after they are given the medication, except for a required follow-up appointment within two weeks. If this is not followed the legislation makes the procedure a Class E felony punishable by a fine of up to $50,000. The FDA approved the delivery and telehealth dispensing of the medication last year. It's also been endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists as a safe procedure.
If you or someone you know wants to learn more about abortion access or self managed abortions, Healthy and Free Tennessee has a section of their website completely dedicated to that, just click the link here.
For more on immigrant rights, click this link.
To contact Healthy and Free Tennessee you can send them an email with this address: email@example.com and their socials are linked below.
In 2022, TIRRC Votes received a massive win for immigrants living in Tennessee with the Workforce Expansion Bill. This bill allows more than seven thousand DACA recipients and three thousand TPS Holders to obtain a professional license in many careers, including nursing, cosmetology, contracting, and more. TIRCC Policy Coordinator, Luis Mata, says the campaign for the bill was built and progressed through directly impacted community members. They advocated for the bill to legislatures in the Tennessee House and Senate, along with members of TIRRC Votes, back in January 2022 when legislation was in session. In April, the Legislative Branch passed House Bill 2309. It advanced to Governor Bill Lee's desk, where he signed it into law, creating many opportunities for many people in the community. The effort was bipartisan, the House sponsor was Democratic State Representative Bob Freeman, and the state sponsor was Republican Senator Shane Reeves, so there was support for the bill on both sides of the aisle.
Despite this major victory, representatives in Tennessee have tried to pass many unlawful and heinous anti-immigrant laws in the past. We have recently, seen House Bill 2222, which would require the Tennessee office for refugees to, at least quarterly, transmit to the members of the general assembly and the legislative librarian a report of the total number of individuals placed by the office in this state for that quarter, the cost to the office of services provided to the placed individuals, and the communities where the individuals were placed in this state. Another that has made headlines include House Bill 1648 by Bruce Griffey which would have given schools the option to refuse to enroll undocumented students. As well as bar districts from receiving state funds for educating these children, and from counting them in funding requests.
Luis says seeing these bills year after year does not deter their mission, because year after year they defeat this legislation, showing the community the power they have as a whole. TIRRC makes sure community members see how much strength they have.
For those wanting to learn more about the laws and rights they have, TIRRC has launched a summer series in partnership with the Nashville Public Defender's Office. The "Know Your Rights" outreach consists of evening workshops on the criminal justice and immigration system. All sessions will be in Spanish and English. To register, text the word "Criminal Justice" to 615-212-9860.
Along with the Community Info Sessions, TIRRC also offers integration services consisting of English learning classes, family defense (presentations on what to do for potential encounters with local law enforcement and ICE, help with legal screenings and document preparation), help and information for becoming a citizen, and much more.
At the end of the day, TIRRC will continue to provide many opportunities for the community and be visible in a place they and others belong.
To watch our entire interview visit In Your Community's YouTube here or scroll to the bottom of this page.
For volunteer opportunities, click here, or to donate, follow this link.
My name is Jess and I love telling other peoples stories and bringing awareness to the community.