Emerge Tennessee is a premier training program for Democratic women in the state and part of a national organization called Emerge America. According to Executive Director Freda Player, they have trained around 5,000 women nationwide, and more than 1,000 were elected to office. In Tennessee, Emerge has trained nearly 150 women, and 40 have been elected or appointed to office.
How does Emerge Tennessee recruit women who want to run, but may not know how? According to Freda, when the program began, they sought out those who had run before but did not have all the tools in their toolbelt. As the program progressed, and after the 2016 election, they say more women came forward wanting to become more involved and do something to help their communities, to help other women who are struggling. Now as women go to them, they continue to reach out to those who are advocating within the city council or their local school board and just have a conversation with those women about government, if they are ready to run, and if they are considering running, what they will need help with.
As women decide to run for government, or if their decision is still under consideration, they can go through one of Emerge Tennessee's three Candidate Training programs. Through Emerge Tennessee's signature program, women will go through a six-month, 70-hour program that will teach them how to fundraise, spread their story, find their win number, use digital media, and more. Women will speak to a variety of campaign and election experts, along with other women who have been elected or appointed to office.
Some people have a very specific image of a candidate and even us as women.
For those with a partner and children, running to become an elected official can be difficult. Emerge will bring in spouses of candidates and elected officials and speak on what it was like to go through the process, being on that side of the campaign, how they supported their partner, and how they made the decision as a family to go through this.
Some women may not want to commit to the Signature Training program but still want to learn, this is where the Step Forward program comes in. This program helps women figure out their path to political leadership and how to get started.
Studies show that women in office are more involved with their community and gender-salient issues such as healthcare, the economy, education, and the environment.
Women are natural leaders, they're leaders in their community, whether it's in their neighborhood association, HOA, PTO booster, church group, you know, their local advocacy group, they've already doing it, and that's where their network in their base comes from. And so they've already had that experience before they run. And that's usually the foundation where a lot of it starts
Freda says women tend to be overqualified compared to men. She says it takes seven times to talk a woman into running for office, but if you speak to a man once, he is more likely to say yes. Freda says as women are already taking on roles in different groups they already have the experience to run because leading and networking is usually the foundation of where campaigns begin.
If you don't think you're like this polish lawyer, businesswoman come from this pedigree of family or this political legacy, people are tired of that they don't want that they want to know that you have struggled and overcome.
I also spoke to Freda on seeing names like Tennessee Senator London Lamar, Senator Heidi Campbell, and council women who have gone through the program, ran for office, and were elected. She says it's like a sense of accomplishment that these women are speaking truth to power and real authentic stories. This reaffirms our belief in democracy.
You become like a proud sister and saying, like, that's my family, that's my person. That's my girls doing out there, and doing great and wonderful things. And yeah, it's the best feeling in the world. That the reason I still do this job is for that very reasons that we you see those light bulbs go on. You see people go through the trials and tribulations of running for office and they succeed.
According to researchers from LinkedIn, globally less than a third of leadership positions are held by women. They say in the United States only 37% of leadership positions are held by women, even though women make up 47% of the workforce.
If you would like to would like to learn more about Emerge Tennessee you can visit their website by clicking here.
ArtsBuild's mission is to build and encourage a stronger community through creativity and learning through the arts.
Art conveys with children beginning at a young age, and ArtsBuild encourages their creativity through their "Imagine" program. Through this they provide a field trip in the arts for every child in Hamilton County Schools. According to ArtsBuild President James McKissic, they conducted 14 thousand field trips for 14 thousand students in 2022. He says children visited local museums, the ballet, plays, and the symphony, all at no cost to the children; he says the organization will also cover the costs for a substitute teacher to stay with children who do not go on the trip.
ArtsBuild also advocates for the arts during election season. McKissic says the organization holds forums related to the arts for the candidates, where artists will ask those seeking office how they will support the community in their administration. One of their biggest advocacy efforts is related to the Tennessee Specialty License Plate Program. When someone purchases a specialty plate, some of the funds from that purchase will go programs that support the arts, including ArtsBuild.
I asked McKissic how someone can get assistance through the non-profit, and he told me they have different grants throughout the year for individual artists and organizations, and you can view those here.
Another way ArtsBuild supports dreams is through the Racial Equity Grants for Individual Artists (REGIA) program. This program renews grant-funded support for artists of color, building on ArtsBuild’s Equity in the Arts grant program. McKissic says a couple of years ago, they looked into how their funding is being equitably distributed. He says the realized funds for artists of color were going to organizations led by BIPOC individuals. They then instituted this grant to change that, and now nearly 40% of the grant is going towards artists of color, syncing with the city's population.
According to ArtsBuild President James McKissic ArtsBuild also has support through the City of Chattanooga, specifically with the Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy, as well as the Hamilton County government. One way the community can support this non-profit is by donating and volunteering to be one of their grant reviewers.
ArtsBuild will also host their first large gala, called 'The Intermission' on September 14th. McKissic tells me this will be a celebration of the arts in Chattanooga, and honor this year's recipients of the Ruth Holmberg Arts Leadership Awards. Tickets are limited and are on sale now, and the celebration does feature a very special guest.
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.
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.
Girls Inc. of Chattanooga is a nonprofit that provides activities and programs for girls ages six through 18. Their mission is to equip and inspire girls to be strong, bold, and smart. CEO Toccora Johnson-Petersen says this equates to girls being healthy, educated, and independent. The program has 80 affiliates across the country.
Girls Inc. has in-school, after-school, and seasonal day camp programs for girls in elementary, middle, and high school. The Bookworm Club focuses on literacy for girls in kindergarten through third grade. Another program, called Techno Girl, focuses on the intro to disciplines of steam, science, technology, engineering, art, and math for fourth and fifth grade girls. The Road to College and Career Successes is designed to set girls up for success in high school and college. For a list of others, you can check out the programs page on their website by clicking here.
Toccora says they design and create programs to fit the needs of their students. An after-school program or a seasonal camp is based on surveys from the girls and their parents.
The camp this year is April the 11th through the 15th and is themed "Garden Girl." That's for girls ages six through 18. They chose this theme by listening to the girls and parents who expressed that they want more information and hands-on activities around food sustainability, agriculture, nutrition, and farm-to-table lifestyle change. The girls will learn about nutrition, self-care, and agriculture. They will also receive hands-on experience in a garden at their new United Methodist Church location. There is a fee of $50, which provides two snacks, a t-shirt, and also admissions for any weekly field trips that they will take.
Just last year Girls Inc. hosted its first Back to School drive. According to Toccora they knew their girls were headed back to school in person and wanted to make sure they were equipped with supplies, but also support. So, tutoring centers, Big Brothers Big Sisters, and Erlanger representatives were brought in to talk about how to properly return back to school, in addition to giving them supplies. Working alongside experts in the community allows the girls to thrive inside and outside of the school building.
If you would like to help Girls Inc. of Chattanooga's mission, you can make multiple types of donations, including monetary, gifts, buy merch, and more. Toccora invites those who want to donate to volunteer or go on a program tour so that you can see firsthand the interactions between the program staff and participants, and what your money is going towards. If you would like to become a volunteer you can view volunteer opportunities and sign up online, by clicking the link here.
Right now the non-profit has one event coming up on May 3rd, their 18th annual Unbought and Unbossed luncheon. Over the years, 150 influential local women have been selected by teen mentees to be paired with mentors. At the luncheon, teen mentees will honor their mentor as Unbought and Unbossed. The luncheon is in recognition of the late Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm, who was the first African American woman to make a serious run for the Democratic nod for President of the United States. Toccora says the late congresswoman always told her constituents that no matter where this political journey took her that she would remain "unbought and unbossed." To find their honoree, the girls choose from leaders and entrepreneurs that community members nominated, who they feel embody those traits of Shirley Chisholm.
If you would like to know more about Girls Inc. Chattanooga their social handles are linked below, along with the interview with Toccora, or you can check out their website.
A Step Ahead Chattanooga is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to remove barriers to contraception through education, outreach, and access to free birth control. They serve an 18 region county: 11 counties in Southeast Tennessee, five counties in Georgia, and two in Alabama.
Mandy Cowley, executive director of A Step Ahead Chattanooga, says their outreach is done by going out into the community, and building trust and awareness of who they are. Through education, they believe everyone has the right to know how their bodies work, and having that information allows them to make the right decision for themselves concerning contraception.
A Step Ahead does not deliver services to free birth control directly. They work with partner clinics, medical clinics, and medical providers in the region.
But, how does that work? Mandy says someone needing access to free birth control will contact them, the non-profit then gets some information from the caller through an intake line with highly trained volunteers. Based on that information, and where they are in the region, A Step Ahead finds the best clinic for them. Mandy says the only qualifications for their services are that you must live or go to school in one of the 18 counties they reach. They do not care about insurance status or your income. After they find a clinic that best fits you, they connect you directly to that clinic partner, during your phone conversation with A Step Ahead. The medical provider will then take over to schedule an appointment to get you access to free birth control. At your appointment, they may conduct a pap smear, testing, and general health assessments. Again, A Step Ahead covers anything related to that visit that isn't covered by other means. Mandy says even if you have insurance, they will pay the co-pay or deductibles. If you do not have insurance, they will pay for everything related to the visit, meaning it's totally free. In addition to helping someone access free birth control, they also mail free condoms and other things that help connect people.
According to Mandy, sometimes 20-year-olds are still on their parent's insurance, and they do not want them to know they are getting free birth control, or sometimes a person in a domestic violence situation and they do not want their partner to know she is seeking birth control. Mandy says there are a number of reasons sometimes people who do have insurance are not able to access a contraception method that is right for them, and they are able to help.
Education is also a core component of A Step Ahead's mission. Right now, they have six health educators on staff, including two part-time bilingual health educators. The educators will do presentations throughout the region, which includes family planning with couples, working with churches, and after-school sex education. Tennessee only teaches abstinence in schools, so kids will have questions and turn to the internet for answers. Mandy says that A Step Ahead would rather provide them with a trusted source with accurate information. She says they work with partner agencies who invite them in, and parents are given information about what sex education is, and they can choose to participate or not. A Step Ahead also focuses a lot on education for parents and guardians. This is for when the parent wants to have that conversation with the children in their lives, but are unsure where to begin, what the information is now, or what their kids are exposed to. So, a presentation is given on how to have those tough talks with kids, so as a parent or guardian they feel equipped to have that conversation on their own.
A Step Ahead is also focused on breaking barriers. As mentioned, they have two bilingual educators apart of their team. Mandy says they are currently working on adapting a curriculum that will be predominantly in Spanish and culturally relevant to the Latinx community. She says they know everyone has a different connection to the healthcare system, so being able to meet people where they are, and give them the information will help remove those barriers. Mandy says this was really a byproduct of listening to the community and trying to meet that need.
A Step Ahead Chattanooga does have volunteer opportunities with their appointment line. Those who sign up will go through training, and the shifts are just four hours and run from 9 AM-5 PM. The non-profit does welcome donations to support their work since all of their services are at zero cost.
If you would like to learn more about different contraception methods, you can find that in our interview at the bottom of the page, along with their social media pages, or if you would like to check out A Step Ahead Chattanooga's website, click here.
(Note: There are six A Step Ahead's around the state of Tennessee so if someone you know needs access to free birth control in Tennessee, or if you move out of the region, they are also avaliable elsewhere.)
When talking with HOLA UTC’s current president Briana Bautista and member Estefani Vera they told me the purpose of this organization is to unite the Hispanic and Latino communities on campus. HOLA raises awareness, shares, and celebrates the culture, but you do not have to be Hispanic or Latino to join the group. Briana says it is a safe space for everyone, to enjoy each other’s company and learn about the different backgrounds of its members. They encourage any student to join HOLA and learn more about the culture and be be more involved in the community.
Estefani says organization members consider themselves like a family, and that is the support system they want to have within the school. She says if you're a first-generation student, college can be a little bit different for you than other students. At HOLA members can understand what you're going through and provide that family-like support system to keep pushing you through college and also have a friend to lean on.
Briana says the program was on pause for a while but in 2020 they started back up again. The group meets weekly, sometimes biweekly, in a safe space to talk about their experiences, what’s going on in their lives, or what is happening in the community. They volunteer with local organizations such as La Paz or Tennessee United and hold collaboration events with UTC’s Office of Multicultural Affairs. They are also known to hold events for Hispanic Heritage Month, movie nights, dance exhibitions, and informative meetings on immigration.
Briana also tells me many members are first-generation students, trying to figure out how to register for classes and get their FASFA completed. For those who need help, HOLA hosts workshops and provides resources to students who want help with resumes, networking, and other paperwork. She says sometimes it can be a little intimidating to approach someone else for help because they do not understand your background, and that is one reason why they have these workshops, to bring the resources to the students. HOLA will also have members who have graduated come back as guest speakers and talk about their careers, job opportunities, or internships.
About two hours away in Knoxville, Students for Migrant Justice (SMJ) is educating the UTK campus about the immigration system, mobilizing on and off-campus, as well as building power with student immigrants. I spoke to co-founder Luis Mata back in May, when I first asked him about SMJ, he told me the founders, do not want to take credit for creating this organization. Luis says the work they are doing now, was happening before them, with them, and will continue after them. He says before they started this organization, UTK was not exhausting their resources like they could have been with the Latinx community.
We see it as a collective work that wouldn't be possible without the many supporters and without the people who did the work before us.
Another call to action Students for Migrant Justice is currently working on is ending the 287(G) policy in Knoxville. This policy is a contract between local law enforcement and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), it essentially deputizes officers in the Knox County Sheriff’s Office to act as ICE agents in the community. The program has been in effect since 2017 and has since illegally detained more than 13 hundred people in the area, according to Luis. During the summer SMJ rallied with the community, spread the word, held rallies, and gained nearly one thousand signatures to tell local leaders 287(G) is not welcome, or wanted. Ultimately, the sheriff’s office did not just renew the policy but renewed it indefinitely. Recently, Knox News has reported the policy never got proper approval. Making the effort to end the policy in Knoxville, and around the country, more steadfast.
SMJ also partners with local organizations and advocacy groups such as Allies of Knox's Immigrant Neighbors who have been doing a lot of work in the Latinx community for many years. They have also partnered with Forward About Us, which is a national bipartisan political organization spanning the fields of policy, advocacy, and technology. In February, FWD.us partnered with SMJ on a nationwide campaign called “To Immigrants With Love” where you send messages of love to immigrant families on Valentine’s Day.
For more information on HOLA UTC or to find them on social media, you can click on the link here.
For more on Student's for Migrant Justice, click the link here or follow them on Twitter.
My name is Jess and I love telling other peoples stories and bringing awareness to the community.