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<br />‘Time for us to put up or shut up!’

As the clock ticks on early voting for the March 8 referendum on the future of Memphis City Schools, the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association and SCLC Memphis – are sounding a singular alarm for more church members to get involved with Memphis City Schools. by Tony Jones
Special to the Tri-State Defender

As the clock ticks on early voting for the March 8 referendum on the future of Memphis City Schools, two intertwined groups – the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association and SCLC Memphis – are sounding a singular alarm for more church members to get involved with Memphis City Schools.

A Thursday night rally at Cane Creek Baptist Church in South Memphis is designed to drive that point home.

Officially, SCLC and the Memphis Baptist Ministerial Association (MBMA) are on the “No” side of the referendum and opposed to transferring the administration of MCS to the Shelby County Board of Education. And on Wednesday, the Rev. Dwight Montgomery, president of the SCLC local chapter, said that irrespective of the voters’ final decision, the civic battle over the schools points to a failure of the church community to get involved with the problems kids face.

“The Bible says it in the Book of James: ‘Faith without works is dead,’” Montgomery said.  “If you are a person of faith and do not exercise that faith then you have a dead faith. It is obvious that as a community we have not stepped up to help our children.”

 From storefronts to mega-churches, there are over 2,000 faith based institutions in Memphis,” said Montgomery. “We certainly have enough people in these churches to fulfill the need for mentors, tutors and whatever these children need—and the county, too.  Kids in the county have problems too.”

The rally and the call for mentoring are follow-through steps associated with the SCLC having been recently tapped by the Shelby County District Attorney’s Office to oversee the spending of $61,000 that the Plough Foundation awarded the D.A.’s truancy reduction program. The call for engagement in City Schools, however, is not new, said Montgomery, recalling a clarion call 10-plus years ago.

“There were rallies, meetings and summits to engage the public about the matter and ten years later we have nearly 90,000 kids attending public schools on the free or reduced lunch program,” he said. “That is a direct reflection of the needs they are facing to fight through the problems that poverty causes and it is a sad commentary on us, the church community, that gang growth continues to flourish because we are not engaged with these kids.

“That is the positive effect of this schools consolidation issue, it’s time for us to put up or shut up!”

‘Many, but not enough’

“Many, but not enough” citizens do lend their talents to the schools, said Montgomery, offering as an example a SCLC initiative undertaken with Airways Middle School.  

“Through our C.R.O.W.N.S. program we implemented a sports program that brought in kids from Airways, Sherwood and Melrose into a recreational basketball league and a tutoring program. We had teachers that were being paid and volunteers who came into assist. I believe we were able to help Airways get off the troubled schools list. I certainly know we were able to help some of those children.”

But will this renewed call to action actually resonate and produce results?

Shortly after the January announcement of the Plough Grant, MCS Supt. Dr. Kriner Cash challenged MBMA members to immediately produce 200 volunteers and mentors from their church congregations.

Chiquita Epps is the newly appointed assistant director of the truancy program and is charged with visiting churches and recruiting corporate support. After Thursday night’s rally she plans to hit the streets hard to fulfill the mentoring goal. Potential mentors must first pass a background check and attend orientation training.  

“You know that old saying about do what you love and success will follow?  That’s what’s beginning to happen here,” Epps said.  

“We immediately signed up 28 mentoring candidates and just finished the first class, seven of which passed the background check and will be assigned. So I’m very optimistic that we will make our goal by August. I’ve been contacted by fraternities and sororities and I will be visiting every church I can seeking recruits.”

(Volunteers may contact program director Harold Collins at 901-545-5987, e-mail him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Chiquita Epps is available at 901-653-0610, or by email at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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