Few 20-somethings have a LinkedIn profile that reads like a professional whose experiences expand over a couple of decades. Perhaps that's why Mendell Grinter, was
recently named to Forbes' 30 under 30. Since graduating from college, Mendell has served in a number of high-profile capacities from New York to Washington State. Currently, he pours his talents and passions into his own organization,
Campaign for School Equity (CSE), in Memphis, Tennessee.
Based on your work history, you choose gigs that require high energy! Are you naturally energetic or do you require some caffeinated assistance? Naturally, I think I'm very high energy, but I really enjoy a good cup of coffee or two each day. I’m also very personally committed to using my talents to help children who are underserved and/or disadvantaged. This passion is what really drives me daily.
Speaking of work history, your resume is very impressive. From working the Obama campaign in 2012 to launching your own education organization Campaign for School Equity, what is the thing that drives Mendell Grinter? The thing that most drives me is the reality that many of our children are still trapped in low-performing schools with no way out and parents lack alternatives or the resources to help them succeed. I graduated from a low-performing high school and felt ill-equipped for college. Yet, I made it through because I had people in my corner consistently rooting for me to do well. My experiences have shaped my firm belief that I have a personal responsibility to advocate for equity in schools, and help position more children to beat the odds stacked against them.
Your work has to taken you to New York, Washington state, Kentucky and now Tennessee. Why did you choose Tennessee to launch Campaign for School Equity? I moved to Memphis about a year and a half ago to lead a state chapter for a national education reform organization. When that organization last year announced its plans for transition, I still felt a strong connection to the work occurring in Memphis—that it was not yet complete—and believed that we owed it to our students to keep going and advocating for them. I think that ideally, CSE would exist in each of the places that I have worked, Kentucky, New York, and Tennessee—as all states could be doing more to provide equitable school options for children.
My blog, Volume and Light, seeks to provide a platform for Nashville's parents of color. We are not even close to the engagement seen in the Memphis system. What advice would you give to Nashville organizers focused on increasing parent engagement and ensuring parents are informed? The best advice I could give is to commit to connecting with the community authentically. If you're trying to engage with Nashville parents, go and talk to real Nashville parents and allow space for them to share input and listen to their concerns. Really listen to their personal stories and seek their advice on how to move forward and work together to better serve their children. Too many times in the education reform space, parents’ feedback isn’t sought or requested. However, we understand that it is essential to guide our advocacy work with CSE. So we focus on forming real relationships with parents and referring to them to set our strategy and advocacy agenda.
When are you celebrating the big 3-0? I celebrated my 26th Birthday on January 10 traveling, so I have a few years.
I would love for you to share a little nugget of wisdom. In October I had the pleasure of being quoted for Forbes’ “quote of the day.” It was "If you believe in yourself first, you're unstoppable." These are words that guide me everyday. With belief and trust in yourself and your abilities, you can accomplish whatever you set your mind to.
Vesia Wilson-Hawkins is a former Metro Nashville Public Schools student, parent and staffer. She is a staunch advocate for better public school options, particularly for the Black community in her hometown. She doesn’t care if that school is run through a ...