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.
Monday, April 15 4:00 p.m. CT Tennessee State Capitol 600 Dr. MLK Jr. Blvd., Nashville, TN 37243
Please arrive at 3:45 pm CT. We will begin the rally shortly after. We will then walk to the House Chambers to let our state legislators know to oppose HB1079 before the floor vote at 5 p.m.
Tennessee Secretary of State Tre Hargett is proposing new restrictions and penalties for voter registration drives in Tennessee.
Secretary Hargett’s proposal would create restrictive regulations and the country’s most aggressive penalties* for voter registration drives that don’t precisely follow their new regulations — up to a $10,000 fine and a criminal misdemeanor.
Although we have numerous concerns about specific provisions of the bill, we believe that, if enacted, the overall effect of the bill will be to deter third-party individuals and groups from engaging in constitutionally protected activity of helping others vote. It is the combination of seemingly innocuous preregistration requirements such as preregistration, training, certifying that one will obey the law, providing tracking numbers for mailing of registration forms, ensuring that there are no “deficient” forms—in the context of potentially draconian criminal and civil penalties—that will have a chilling effect on voter registration drives. The bill’s text and application are overbroad, confusing, ambiguous, and worst of all needlessly intimidating. Even with Representative Rudd’s proposed amendment that exempts unpaid individuals and groups registering voters from the bill’s requirements, the bill threatens to punish community members, faith groups, and civic organizations that, in good faith, lawfully run drives that register eligible voters who otherwise would not have registered.
ACT NOW! On Monday, April 15th, the full House of Representatives will be voting on HB1079 (Rudd), which seeks to impose restrictive regulations on organizations and community volunteers doing voter registration drives. If passed, this would create the country’s most aggressive penalties for voter registration drives that don’t follow the new regulations – up to $10,000 fine and a criminal misdemeanor.
At a time when our state has one of the country’s lowest voter participation rates, Tennessee should be looking for ways to encourage voter engagement – not suppress it. Instead of fighting for reforms that actually increase voter participation, like same-day registration and automatic voter registration at the DMV, this bill would penalize voter registration drives.
Will you take 1 minute to send a message to the committee members and urge them to keep voter registration legal in TN by voting NO on SB0971(Jackson)/HB1079(Rudd)?
Here is The Equity Alliance toolkit. It has talking points, messaging, event info on the Tuesday press conference, a link to the call to action tool to email all elected officials on the state and local committee, sample phone scripts and phone numbers for all legislators!
NASHVILLE, TN – On Wednesday, February 13th, at 2:45 pm,
lawmakers, Matthew Charles, advocates and re-entry experts will gather at the
Tennessee State Capitol complex in Nashville to discuss new bills (SB 589 / HB 547) that will streamline the voting rights restoration
process to Tennesseans with felony convictions who have completed their
The roundtable will feature the bill sponsors, State Senator
Steven Dickerson and State Representative Michael Curcio, alongside Matthew
Charles, a formerly-incarcerated activist who was recently released under the
First Step Act, as well as prominent advocates and prisoner re-entry experts
from The Equity Alliance, the ACLU of Tennessee, and Project Return. Over the
course of the roundtable, participants will discuss the substance of the
legislation, its potential to limit bureaucratic interference in the rights
restoration process, and its impact on formerly incarcerated people living in
Currently, 320,000 Tennesseans with felony convictions, more
than 8 percent of the state’s total voting age population, are disenfranchised
by the onerous restoration process despite having already served their time and
successfully completed their parole and/or probation.
The roundtable will be moderated by Colin Weaver, Director of State Affairs for Secure Democracy. Roundtable participants include:
Tennessee State Senator Steve Dickerson
Tennessee State Representative Michael Curcio (opening remarks)
Matthew Charles, formerly-incarcerated activist released from prison under the First Step Act
Tori Venable, State Director at Americans for Prosperity Tennessee
Hedy Weinberg, Executive Director of ACLU of Tennessee
Tequila Johnson, Co-Founder and Vice President of The Equity Alliance (opening remarks)
Bettie Kirkland, Executive Director of Project Return
The roundtable will be open to the press and the public.
WHAT: Roundtable on Restoring Voting Rights to Tennesseans With Felony Convictions
Like many others in the Nashville community, we were disturbed and outraged at the video released by Nashville District Attorney Glenn Funk of the fatal officer-involved shooting of Daniel Hambrick. The killing of black men and women at the hands of police is a serious matter, as it conjures up a decades-long history of Jim Crow era state-sanctioned racial violence by police in predominantly black communities.
There have been two officer-involved shootings less than two years apart under Chief Steve Anderson’s leadership. Countless other incidents and formal complaints involving black Nashvillians have previously gone unresolved or ignored. The community continues to be distrustful of his leadership based on his refusal or willful neglect to correct and rectify past grievances by residents. In order for any healing and trust to be restored, or for any effective change in policy to occur within the Metro Nashville Police Department, Chief Anderson must not be at the helm. Therefore, we call for Chief Anderson to step down, and if this does not happen, we call on Mayor David Briley to immediately remove him from his position. We also demand that individuals from marginalized communities in Nashville have input in the selection of a new chief.
The Equity Alliance aims 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. We applaud Nashvillians who use tools readily available to them to be engaged in the civic process. This includes the right to petition, the right to peacefully assemble, meeting with their appointed and elected officials and voting, to name a few. When local government impedes on our ability to be engaged citizens, we find this deeply problematic.
In the year leading up to Daniel Hambrick’s death, community groups, constituents and grieving families repeatedly sought meetings with Chief Anderson, only to be turned away and blacklisted. When Gideon’s Army released the evidence-based “Driving While Black” report, it was met with criticism and called “morally disingenuous” by Chief Anderson. When initial efforts to create a community oversight board were launched, local government officials conspired to bring the New York-based Policing Project to Nashville to diminish these efforts. When the Community Oversight Now coalition delivered to Metropolitan Clerk Elizabeth Waites twice the number of petition signatures required to place a proposed charter amendment on the November 6th ballot, she refused to do her job — paid by taxpayers — to certify the petitions. This act of defiance was met with no reprimand or accountability.
These are not merely isolated incidents. But rather collective evidence of a local government that has gone rogue from the people it’s supposed to serve. This is wrong.
During Mayor David Briley’s press conference, he called for a comprehensive review of policing practices. While we appreciate his commitment to working with community leaders to bring police oversight – a stark contrast from the previous administration, we believe his proposal to bring the Policing Project to Nashville falls short. Not only does this undermine the credible work that has already been done by local black-led community organizations, but the optics of this decision sends a message that local black-led groups cannot be trusted with resources to solve our own community issues. Therefore, we stand in solidarity with Community Oversight Now to support a community oversight board in Nashville and urge Mayor Briley to do the same. The signatures of more than 8,200 residents should not be ignored. This is what the people want.
Our hearts and deepest condolences go out to the family and friends of Daniel Hambrick and hope that justice is served for them.