Black-led, statewide advocacy group also endorses five candidates in Tennessee General Assembly races to push back against ‘radical laws’
NASHVILLE—The Equity Alliance Fund, a statewide racial justice advocacy group focused on increasing the civic power of Black and minority voters in Tennessee, announced six endorsements for the 2020 election season:
Marquita Bradshaw, U.S. Senate
Glenn Scruggs, State Senate District 10
Brandon Thomas, State House District 49
Andrea Bond Johnson, State House District 82
Torrey Harris, State House District 90
Gabby Salinas, State House District 97
“These progressive leaders have a clear vision for a better future for Tennesseeans. Under their leadership, families, black, white and brown, will have a chance to earn a good living, send their kids to well-resourced schools and get access to quality healthcare that they need to get well and stay well,” said Charlane Oliver, co-founder and co-executive director. “These candidates are champions for Black and Brown lives and will stand up to greed-fueled special interests and defend us against radical laws that seek to control our communities, suppress our votes, and perpetuate decades of racial injustice.”
The state legislature has a longstanding and concerning history of passing laws that target African American communities after Black-led movements push for change, according to Oliver.
In 2016, the legislature prohibited local governments from removing war memorials after the majority-Black city of Memphis announced its plans to remove a statue of KKK grand wizard Nathan Bedford Forrest.
In 2019, the legislature created the most severe criminal and civil penalties in the nation for voter registration groups that turn in forms with applicant errors after the Tennessee Black Voter Project, led by The Equity Alliance Fund, coordinated the largest voter registration drive in state history and submitted over 91,000 forms.
In 2020, the legislature targeted Black Lives Matter protestors with a law that made it a felony for being on state grounds after 10 p.m. after dozens of people demonstrated day-and-night at the Capitol for two months.
The Equity Alliance Fund, the affiliate 501(c)4 advocacy organization of The Equity Alliance, encourages Black voters to support policies and candidates who will invest in overlooked and underserved communities of color.
Statewide non-profit offers framework for protecting working families, voters, minority small businesses and vulnerable populations
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Leaders with The Equity Alliance, a statewide non-profit focused on the civic and economic empowerment of the black community, offered Mayor John Cooper guidance on spending the $121 million of the city’s share of federal CARES Act funding for economic recovery.
In a memo delivered to a working group of community leaders Tuesday, The Equity Alliance Co-Executive Director Charlane Oliver outlined suggested spending to support economically vulnerable and at-risk members of the community. The recommendations included:
Increased funding for elections, including PPE for poll workers, bus fare for those without transportation, and more polling locations in minority neighborhoods;
Funding for Black-owned businesses, particularly owners with past criminal histories, whose Small Business Administration loans were denied;
Direct payments to struggling working families to recoup unexpected household expenses;
Rent and mortgage relief payments for terminated and furloughed workers;
Stipends for temporary healthcare plans and COVID-19 testing fees;
14-day quarantine housing and additional halfway houses for recently released prisoners due to Covid-19.
Oliver, a member of Cooper’s working group to address CARES Act spending, said black and immigrant residents, working people, and the economically disadvantaged have been among the hardest hit in Nashville during the economic downturn.
“To jumpstart our local economy, we believe in putting resources directly in people’s hands who have been most impacted. Mayor Cooper has an opportunity to right some past wrongs of previous Administrations by directing these funds to be spent to ensure that Black residents are neither disenfranchised from their civic right to vote nor left behind in the economic recovery. With Black Nashvillians making up 28% of the city’s population, we expect the CARES Act funds to be equitably and proportionately distributed to us,” Oliver said.
The Equity Alliance has been busy responding to economic inequities statewide in the aftermath of tornadoes that destroyed portions of both Nashville and Chattanooga. In addition to distributing more than $19,000 in cash assistance, the group has led efforts to educate homeowners in predominantly Black North Nashville with professional advice on the value of their damaged property. The organization also offered economic relief to black families in Chattanooga struggling to pay insurance premiums after the Easter Sunday tornado.
“The economic downturn brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated inequities in already distressed communities. This is a unique time in Nashville’s history, and it calls for bold leadership and unprecedented shifts in how we uplift historically black neighborhoods which were already struggling that will have the hardest time recovering from this pandemic,” said Tequila Johnson, co-executive director of The Equity Alliance.
The Equity Alliance’s recommendations to Mayor Cooper can be found here.
About The Equity Alliance: Founded in November 2016 by six black women, the mission of The Equity Alliance is to proactively advocate for African Americans and other communities of color to have a fair and just opportunity at realizing the American dream. We are a Nashville-based 501(c)3 nonpartisan non-profit organization that seeks to equip citizens with tools and strategies to engage in the civic process and empower them to take action on issues affecting their daily lives. Learn more at www.theequityalliance.org or follow us on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter.
Lawsuit seeks to ensure voters can vote safely by mail in the upcoming elections and ensure ballots count
For Immediate Release May 1, 2020
In the midst of a global pandemic, The Equity Alliance, in partnership with Campaign Legal Center (CLC) and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, filed a lawsuit today on behalf of two qualified voters and organizations whose many members are not eligible for vote by mail under current law, but wish to avoid exposing themselves or elderly family members to coronavirus.
Other plaintiffs include five organizations facing restrictions preventing them from carrying out necessary voter engagement activities for their members and the community in 2020. Under Tennessee law, the organizations can be punished for giving voters unsolicited requests for an absentee ballot with up to 11 months and 29 days in prison, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
Typically, Tennesseans have cast their ballots largely in person. Recently, the rapid shift towards voting by mail has revealed how unprepared Tennessee is to ensure all absentee ballots are counted in the upcoming elections. The state gives election officials discretion to reject absentee ballots when elections officials decide, in their judgment, that the voter’s signature on their ballot doesn’t match the voter’s signature on file with the voter registration. This “matching” process is unreliable and prone to mistakes, and because the state does not give voters any opportunity to fix apparent problems with their ballot, leads to disenfranchisement.
The following statement is from The Equity Alliance Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director Charlane Oliver on A. Phillip Randolph Institute v. Hargett. The Equity Alliance is an organizational plaintiff in the suit.
“Tennessee voters should not be forced to choose between their own personal safety and participating in our democratic process. Our state needs to adapt to the current environment brought on by the Covid-19 pandemic.
“Our organization wants to be able to proactively assist voters with voting by absentee ballot without the threat of criminal prosecution. We are in unprecedented circumstances that call for state officials to implement safer and secure approaches t ensure democracy is preserved in the Volunteer State.”
Statewide non-profit offers support to working-class families
For Immediate Release April 29, 2020
CHATTANOOGA, Tenn. – The Equity Alliance delivered financial support and supplies to four Chattanooga families in the East Brainerd area that lost their homes and belongings in the Easter Sunday tornado.
Residents of Middle and Southeast Tennessee have been hard hit by tornadoes and bad weather this spring. The Equity Alliance, a statewide non-profit, has marshaled efforts in Nashville and now Chattanooga to bring storm victims relief in predominantly black neighborhoods. Today’s recipient families in Chattanooga are currently displaced and living in hotels, rental properties, and a shelter.
The Equity Alliance leaders said natural disasters typically have a more devastating effect on the finances and quality of life of working-class families. These hardships are compounded by the financial downturn associated with the Covid-19 pandemic.
“This is a very difficult time for working-class families in Tennessee. Our communities have been destroyed by storms, and we live with the constant threat of sickness due to the pandemic. Those factors compounded by a historically bad economy means working people in Tennessee need help,” said Tequila Johnson, co-founder and co-executive director of The Equity Alliance.
Johnson added that in the aftermath of natural disasters, homeowners in economically disadvantaged areas are sometimes targeted by predatory real estate investors looking to buy damaged homes for well below market price. The Equity Alliance has built a network of property appraisers, mortgage bankers, real estate agents and other professionals to help homeowners make informed decisions.
“It is important that we level the playing field for every storm victim,” Johnson said. “Homeowners need to understand their options before making a decision to sell their property. We can connect Tennesseans in need with the right professionals so that they can make informed decisions.”
Our tornado relief efforts began with helping our North Nashville residents after the March 3rd tornado, but when a tornado ripped through Chattanooga over Easter weekend, we jumped into action to help out there as well. Our team was on the ground today distributing help to those that have been displaced, and checking in on the residents’ needs.
Our movement is bigger than Nashville, we are here to help communities of color all across Tennessee. If you or someone you know is needing assistance from the North Nashville tornado or the Chattanooga tornado, please have them fill out the Tornado Relief request form.
Watch the reaction of a Chattanooga families as we gifted them with $1,000 check and supplies to weather the COVID-19 crisis.
Coalition Gearing Up for Voting Rights Restoration Push in Tennessee
NASHVILLE — A diverse coalition that’s urging lawmakers to end voting discrimination against people with felony convictions will hear from a national voting rights advocate on the issue Nov. 22 at 5:30 p.m. at The Lab at 624-A Jefferson Street.
Desmond Meade — a formerly homeless returning citizen who overcame many obstacles to eventually become the President of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition (FRRC), Chair of Floridians for a Fair Democracy and a graduate of Florida International University College of Law — will share lessons from his successful advocacy in Florida. Meade led the charge to pass Amendment 4 in Florida last year, which laid the foundation to restore voting rights for 1.4 million Floridians.
The nonpartisan coalition meeting with Meade includes a wide variety of power players, such as The Equity Alliance, ACLU of Tennessee, and Americans for Prosperity. The coalition seeks to reform Tennessee’s laws to enhance successful reentry, reduce recidivism and increase public safety.
“There’s a lot of work being done to end voting discrimination against people with felony convictions who have served their time,” said Tequila Johnson, co-founder of The Equity Alliance. “We’re closer than ever before to restoring voting rights to men and women who’ve turned their lives around and been contributing members of their community.”
The Equity Alliance event, casually titled “Cocktails and Conversations,” will also feature a panel of advocates, legislators and activists. The panel will include State Rep. Harold Love, Jr.; Shanna Singh Hughey, executive director of Think Tennessee; Larry Turnley, formerly incarcerated person and violence interruptor with Gideon’s Army; and moderated by Charlane Oliver, co-founder and executive director of The Equity Alliance. The event will be hosted by Fox 17 journalist Harriet Wallace.
NASHVILLE — Tequila Johnson, co-founder of The Equity Alliance and director of the Tennessee Black Voter Project, has won the prestigious Roddenberry Fellowship, a 12-month program for American leaders who are working to promote a more tolerant and inclusive society.
The program comes with a $50,000 award for fellows to take an existing initiative to the next level or launch a new program.
Johnson said the funding will be used to amplify and expand The Equity Alliance’s Black Citizenship in Action Tennessee project. Black Citizenship in Action Tennessee will include local community outreach and mobilization opportunities along with civic and voter engagement trainings that build power in Black communities by deepening a shared understanding of people’s rights as citizens.
“Black people have a right to be in this country and a right to fair representation. Every attack on voting rights and blatant voter suppression limits our self determination and withholds power from underserved Black communities,” Johnson said. “These attacks undermine our very citizenship and it is a major problem that I am committed to solving.”
Johnson is one of 18 Roddenberry Fellows chosen for 2020 after a six-month review of applications, which numbered in the thousands. To qualify, fellows must be working on a project, organization or initiative with direct impact on immigrant & refugee rights, civil rights, LGBTQIA+ and women’s rights, or environmental protection.
In addition to funding, fellows receive one-on-one professional coaching and development opportunities; virtual collaboration sessions to provide ongoing advisement, support and connections; and access to network of peers and allies who share resources, expertise and support.
The Roddenberry Foundation funds initiatives that offer opportunities for original thinkers and innovators from all walks of life to pursue significant, lasting change. Named after Gene Roddenberry, creator of the Star Trek series, the foundation was founded in 2010 by Gene’s son Rod to build on his father’s legacy and philosophy of inclusion, diversity and respect for life to drive social change.
Nonprofit Co-Founder Charlane Oliver Assumes New, Full-Time Leadership Role
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (November 4, 2019) — On the heels of gaining national notoriety in 2019 for scoring a legal victory against the state’s voter registration criminalization law, The Equity Alliance today announced co-founder Charlane Oliver as the nonprofit’s founding executive director. The board of directors approved the move by unanimous vote.
Oliver previously served as the board chair for the past three years since its inception. Under her leadership, she has catapulted the organization into an award-winning, nationally-recognized, influential powerhouse.
In 2018, the organization led a statewide coalition that registered 91,000 black and brown Tennesseans to vote and increased black voter turnout by 413 percent for the November midterms. In 2019, the organization’s 501(c)4 — The Equity Alliance Fund — joined forces with two of the most powerful grassroots organizations in Nashville to form the Nashville Justice League and elect the most diverse Metro Council in the city’s history. Of their 15 endorsements, 13 Metro Council candidates won, including a board member from The Equity Alliance.
Oliver’s appointment comes as The Equity Alliance, a Nashville-based grassroots nonprofit focused on voting rights advocacy and increasing civic engagement in communities of color, prepares to celebrate its third anniversary and expand its statewide presence.
“I am extremely excited and humbled at the opportunity to pour my passion, time and talent into an organization that I helped build,” Oliver said. “The Equity Alliance has been able to leverage 100 percent volunteer capacity and strong community support to establish ourselves as a trusted and respected voice for the black community on voting rights issues and racial equity issues. Now it’s time to take our work to the next level, and I’m ready for the challenge.”
Oliver brings more than 14 years of award-winning experience in nonprofit management, civil service, communications, community relations, and movement building strategies. In her new role, she will lead the development and implementation of programming for civic education, community organizing, Census awareness, leadership development and issue advocacy.
Prior to becoming The Equity Alliance’s executive director, Oliver served in U.S. Congressman Jim Cooper’s Nashville office as a community liaison and communications strategist. She spearheaded Project Register, a nonpartisan voter registration initiative that engaged more than 215 Middle Tennessee companies to encourage online voter registration among their employees.
Oliver currently serves on board of directors for the Metro Nashville Emergency 911 Communications District Board, Purpose Preparatory Academy, and Prevent Child Abuse Tennessee.
A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Oliver graduated from Vanderbilt University with a B.S. in human and organizational development and holds a Master of Public Administration from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville. She has called Tennessee home for the past 18 years.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Equity Alliance today announced it is expanding its board of directors with the appointment of four new members. Joining The Equity Alliance board are:
André Anderson, Jr., personal chief of staff to Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III, of the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church;
Kelby House Garner, Ed.D., Executive Principal for Metro Nashville Public Schools Virtual School;
Shawn Joseph, Ed.D., former MNPS superintendent and associate professor of educational leadership and policy studies at Fordham University; and
Sylvia Rapoport, founding president of the Centennial Park Conservancy.
Charlane Oliver, co-founder of the Nashville-based nonprofit focused on voting rights advocacy and increasing civic engagement in communities of color, said these board additions mark an important moment for The Equity Alliance, which is approaching its third year of operation.
“These new members are exceptional leaders in Nashville who support the empowerment of black citizens and bring a special talent, dynamic energy and valuable perspective to our voter engagement work,” Oliver said. “As we enter a new season of growth and statewide expansion, The Equity Alliance is fortunate to have them on our team to develop robust programming for the 2020 Census and elections, strengthen our issue advocacy platform, and expand the electorate to be more inclusive for black and brown Tennesseans.”
About The Equity Alliance’s new board members:
Andre’ Anderson serves as personal chief of staff to Bishop Joseph W. Walker, III, at the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church, where he manages the day-to-day operations of the executive office of the 30,000-member congregation. In September 2019, he launched The Siraaj Agency, a boutique consulting firm specializing in event planning, public relations and consumer engagement. He has provided strategic services for clients and national influencers, including former presidents, cabinet secretaries, members of Congress, local and national elected officials, civil rights activists, faith-based and nonprofit leaders across the country.
Dr. Kelby House Garner, a native of Brownsville, Tenn. and resident of Nashville since 1998, is a true servant leader with a passion for serving the community. Dr. House Garner currently serves as the Executive Principal for Metro Nashville Public Schools Virtual School. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Tennessee State University and Trevecca Nazarene University. House Garner studied educational leadership, earning both an Educational Specialist and Doctor of Education degree. She is a member of Olive Branch Church and the Nashville Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Dr. Shawn Joseph currently serves as a visiting associate professor at Fordham University’s graduate school of education. His passion for equity and social justice has led him to serve in a number of positions in the world of education. He has been an English teacher, school administrator, central office administrator and superintendent in Maryland, Delaware and Tennessee. His work as the superintendent of Metro Nashville Public Schools resulted in schools that are more equitable and accelerated growth for all student groups in both reading and mathematics.
An award-winning educator, published author and researcher, Dr. Joseph’s focus centers on leading for equity, governance and the superintendency. He earned a doctoral degree in educational administration and policy studies from The George Washington University and a master’s degree from The Johns Hopkins University. His bachelor’s degree is from Lincoln University, Pennsylvania, America’s oldest Historically Black College.
Sylvia Rapoport, born and raised in Nashville, is the Founding President of Centennial Park Conservancy, where she has increased the organization’s operating budget more than ten-fold and was responsible for launching two of the Nashville community’s free programs for families: Musicians Corner and Kidsville at the Parthenon. Additionally, she led a $30 million capital campaign to revitalize Centennial Park. Rapoport also serves in Congressman Jim Cooper’s office as a Criminal Justice and Sentencing Reform Fellow. She has served in volunteer leadership roles for more than 20 organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, Boston Children’s Museum, Nashville Children’s Theatre, Jewish Foundation of Middle Tennessee and the National Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Foundation. She studied art and history at the University of London with graduate work at Brandeis University.
These four exceptional leaders will join the organization’s current board members, who include: Isaac Addae, Honorable Christiane Buggs, Tequila Johnson, Dustin Jones, Honorable Kyontzé Toombs, and Mariah Williams.
Happy Juneteenth! Today is our Independence Day! A day to celebrate and reflect.
The Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery in the United States on January 1, 1863, but it was not until June 19, 1865, two and a half years later, that word reached Galveston, Texas that slavery had been abolished.
While this country has come a long way since June 1865, the work to ensure that Black people can exercise our full rights as citizens to shape this democracy to its fullest potential still remains.
That’s why today we are proud to announce our partnership with 12 Black-led organizations across the country and our national partners, Black Progressive Action Coalition (BPAC) and BlackPAC, to launch Black Citizenship In Action.
Over the next two years in states across the country, from Michigan to California and from Louisiana to Ohio, local partners like The Equity Alliance will hold local events that deepen our community’s shared understanding of our past and present, our rights as citizens, sharpen our analysis of the political landscape in which we are operating, and collectively develop winning strategies to demand a country that values our lives and strives toward justice and equality.
Within 30 days and with minimal debate, the Tennessee General
Assembly today swiftly passed legislation to criminalize the voter
registration process, making our state the first in the nation to
assess civil and criminal penalties on individuals and organizations
who conduct voter registration drives.
On the heels of one of the state’s most successful voter registration
campaigns aimed at registering black and brown citizens, this law
is blatantly racist and mirrors the Jim Crow-era intimidation used to
stifle decades of progress our nation and our state has made to
ensure voting rights for people of color.
As a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization whose core mission strives
to make our democracy more inclusive, it is evident that our state
leaders want to further disenfranchise poor, black, and brown
This groundbreaking law puts handcuffs on our state’s ability to rise above our low voter participation rates, but we will find new, creative ways to continue registering voters.