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The first in her family to ever attend and graduate from college, it's little surprise that Kenya Bradshaw, 32, has found her life's passion in education. Whether it's educating voters, teaching citizens about the importance of racial reconciliation, or promoting early childhood education, Bradshaw is, at heart, a teacher.
Her degrees, a bachelor's in marketing and an MBA from the University of Tennessee, might not match that of a typical educator, but her desire to spread the knowledge is woven throughout the jobs she's held and the community leadership positions she's chosen.
Born in Miami and raised in Memphis, Tennesse, Bradshaw's education in being a community educator began when she was a student at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. As a first-generation college student, she participated in the federally funded TRIO program. She impressed program directors so much that she was hired as an academic advisor to boost the retention and graduation rates of other first-generation, low-income college students.
In 2004, she was lured away from a job at the Tennessee Valley Authority to start Stand for Children's branch in Memphis, working as the lead community organizer. Her campaign, "Education is Our First Priority," led to a triumphant first: The Shelby County Commission voted unanimously in June 2005 to fund the city and county public school budget requests. This was the first school funding increase in 13 years, netting $21 million more dollars spent on children in Memphis and Shelby County. Bradshaw got the county commission to agree, in its budget process, to appropriate funds for schools before assigning funds to anything else.
You might guess that Bradshaw's motivation stems from a maternal instinct, but she has no biological children. However, she does have two school-age nieces, Kerrigan and Brianna. Her love for her nieces is behind her desire to ensure all students get the best public education possible.
Bradshaw also played a key role in coordinating West Tennessee's grassroots response to Pre-K legislation. With the backing of more than 100 businesses, schools, child care providers and parents, in the spring of 2006, Bradshaw took more than 200 people to the state capitol in Nashville to lobby state government for Pre-K. The legislature responded by opening 200 classes statewide for Pre-K education; more than 2,000 low-income four-year-old children were able to enroll in Pre-K in August 2006.
That effort led to her work with the Early Care and Education Initiative in coordination with Shelby County government and the First Years Institute. She worked tirelessly to help child care providers by successfully lobbying the state legislature to increase their reimbursement rates, increasing their professional development opportunities (in 2008, more than 500 child care providers received training in developmentally appropriate childcare practices), and by negotiating a shared purchasing contract for the providers. Of course, this was all accompanied by a public awareness campaign in partnership with the local ABC affiliate. The campaign's seven public service announcements educated the community about the importance of putting babies to sleep on their backs, which child care providers were providing exceptional service and the importance of early childhood education.
Bradshaw extends her professional work throughout the Memphis community. In September 2007, she co-founded Concerned Memphians United (CMU), a non-profit organization designed to give average citizens an opportunity to impact issues that concern them. CMU's first major project was to educate the Memphis community around the issue of juvenile justice, specifically the “Jena Six”, and how it might be reformed to be fairer to children of color.
Bradshaw and her CMU co-founder organized a bus trip to Jena, Lousianna that included more than 300 people, including several law students from the University of Memphis who were paired with dozens of lawyers, and also dozens of city high school students. In March 2008, Concerned Memphians United partnered with two other local groups, New Path and Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, to run a community voting project to register voters and educate them about city charter amendments on the November 2008 ballot.
Her work throughout Memphis has not gone unnoticed. In early 2008, she was awarded the Ruby Wharton "Woman Of The Year" award for her work in early education.
Bradshaw was selected to participate in and is an alumna of three local leadership programs: Leadership Memphis, Leadership Academy, and Nexus.
Because of her leadership and can-do attitude, she has been selected to serve on numerous community boards including the Girl Scouts of the Mid-South, Tennessee Pre-K State Advisory Council, and Common Ground, a local racial reconciliation effort. She is the youngest member of the prestigious board of The National Civil Rights Museum. And in 2006, Bradshaw became the youngest gubernatorial appointee when Governor Phil Bredesen named her to the Tennessee Center for Diabetes Prevention and Health Improvement Board.
Of course, good teachers are avid learners, and Bradshaw is always on the lookout for best and innovative practices, particularly where children are involved. And when Bradshaw learned about "child impact statements" that local governments could use to ensure that every action they took was in the best interest of children, she knew that this was a tool from which her community could benefit.
In February 2008, Bradshaw convinced the Shelby County Commission to adopt a policy of using child impact statements. She crafted the language that the commission approved for use its child impact statements.
Bradshaw's passion isn't simply for the young, but for the great strides a society can make by investing in its youth, and reaping the rewards as those educated and prepared youth become the next generation of leaders and productive citizens.
She finds inspiration in the words of Mahatma Mohandas Gandhi: If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with children.