Mid-South Hero: Breaking barriers for children’s education

Published: May. 26, 2022 at 6:28 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - An encourager, a motivator, and an advocate to see all Memphians thrive and not just survive – this month’s Mid-South Hero has a cause worth fighting for.

“I really think that if we’re going to talk about helping youth, we have to do it with them and not to them.”

Years of experience have taught Natalie McKinney that the greatest barriers to education are often over looked.

“60% of the changing test scores are due to out of school factors…we’ve done all of this education reform to just focus on teachers, focus on curriculum and focus on facilities, and you can have all beautiful these things happening in the building, but if the child is not getting there, and they’re not able to stay there, how engaged are they based on what’s going on in their lives, right? So we’ve got to deal what is the issue of the external barriers, and that’s poverty, that’s the biggest thing.”

Without proper education, underserved communities can never break the cycle of generational poverty.

“The scenario I like to give is Natalie doesn’t have uniforms. If Natalie doesn’t have uniforms, then Natalie can’t go to school. If she can’t go to school, then she’s not able to learn. So you have to ask, why doesn’t Natalie have uniforms? Natalie doesn’t have uniforms because her parent or guardian cannot afford to buy her uniforms. Then you have to ask why? And you keep asking why until you can’t ask why anymore.”

According to Natalie, why is one of the most important questions you can ask, and a question that must be asked of all of our systems.

“We’ve got to get these systems to align – the healthcare system, transportation system, we’ve got to get our food system, because that’s an ecosystem…all of these systems have to begin to align…so that communities first, then families, and then children can be supported. "

Determined to identify root causes, Natalie helped co-found Whole Child Strategies, a non-profit that puts boots on the ground in Memphis to find out what the greatest needs are in individual communities. Once these communities make their needs known, Whole Child Strategies partners with other agencies to help these areas meet their needs.

Congratulations Natalie McKinney, you are this month’s Mid-South Hero!

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