Pioneer Profile: 10 Questions for our EPic Alum Anjelica Hardin Hall

Anjelica Hardin Hall serves as Managing Director, Partnerships and Programs for the Tennessee Charter School Center. Read more about Anjelica and her work.

1 | Where did you grow up and what was it like?

I was born and raised in Memphis, TN. I am so proud of my city, and have chosen to work in Memphis to give back what it has given to me.

For the first 13 years of my life, it was just me, my mom, and my dog (who I consider a brother—yes, I’m one of THOSE people), and we were all very close. As a single mother, my mom encountered many people who told her I would be nothing more than a statistic. She never bought into the negativity, and moved to Memphis to provide me with opportunities she didn’t have access to growing up in a small town (Lewisburg, TN – population 11,371).

She is a 34-year educator, and worked two jobs in addition to teaching to pump resources into our home. My mom knew firsthand the importance of education, being the first person in our family who went to college, and worked hard to get me into a great public school and provide opportunities for me like Girl Scouts, ballet, and violin that fostered my curiosity for learning.

From birth to fifth grade, we lived in a duplex across from an apartment building, surrounded by neighbors that I considered family. Although none of us had much, we pooled all our resources together and supported one another.

When I got to middle school, I found my niche in student council. Being able to help others through servant leadership became my passion, and it was where I saw myself grow and develop in high school.

I had many people who believed in me, invested in me, and spent their time fostering my interests, who I am forever grateful for. I had a great childhood, and it’s important to me to create those opportunities and to build into other students like me.

2 | What do you like most about where you live now?

I currently live in Memphis, TN, a city that is both my heart and hometown. What I love about Memphis is that we are a city with such a rich history and culture, as well as some of the most cutting edge modern initiatives. Whether it’s Elvis and BBQ, Ida B. Wells and Martin Luther King, Jr., FedEx and AutoZone, St. Jude and B.B. King, Justin Timberlake or 3 6 Mafia, Memphis has pioneered throughout history.

What I am most excited about is the urgent focus on improving education for my city’s students. So many change agents are laser-focused on such a critical input, and I count myself as blessed and fortunate to be able to do this important work. We truly believe in collective impact and collaboration here, and everyone from government to business are working together to promote real change.

Whether it’s education, healthcare, justice reform, etc., everyone in Memphis is here to work hard and get it right, and that level of fortitude, determination, and hope is what I think is unique and amazing about my city, and is what I love about living here. I #Choose901! (This hashtag is a THING.

3 | What is your favorite school memory?

My favorite school memory is from eighth grade. I was in an honors Algebra I class, but I had struggled with math courses throughout school. I had a very negative experience early on with labeling; although I was an in an honors class, there was a smaller subset of students that had been tracked into CLUE, an advanced course for gifted students. I internalized not being included as meaning I was “less smart” than these kids, and began to shrink away giving my best academically.

My teacher for this course, Mrs. Mashburn, recognized quickly that I had given up and wasn’t applying myself. Instead of failing me, she required that I come after class, tutor with her one on one, and retake every quiz or exam until I got a perfect score.

Her truly seeing me, taking the time build my confidence, and believing in my ability to excel in the work, transformed me from a slacker student to scoring in the highest percentile of all Algebra I students for our state achievement test. (Big improvement, huh?) Mrs. Mashburn’s investment in me is one of the ideals I apply in my work each day—we must see the potential in ALL students, and advocate for opportunities for each student to find success in their own respective way.

4 | Which leader (alive or not, in any field) do you most admire?

Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, and Gina Torrez are my spirit animals.

5 | When was the first time you thought about working in education?

My first foray into education was working as a junior researcher for the Urban Child Institute. I worked on several projects, including breastfeeding advocacy and infant mortality, but the project I had a deepest connection to was kindergarten readiness.

Learning about the high correlation of poverty to educational attainment, educational attainment’s correlation to longitudinal outcomes, and the correlation of economics to a community’s development was shocking and debilitating to me. I was acutely aware of the problem we faced, and I could not ignore or turn a blind eye to something I had the ability to work to alleviate. It was that simple.

I knew I had found my calling, and because this is my true vocation, I have been fortunate to continue to be developed and connected to opportunities for me to have even greater impact as a representative for students in Memphis.

6 | What has been your most memorable moment working in education?

Watching my mentee achieve his dream—graduating from high school and attending Morehouse College. That is the reason why I do what I do.

Now I’m just stalking his college experience on Snapchat. :)

7 | What do you love about your job?

There are two major things I love about my job: first, I love working to create solutions for complex issues and secondly, I love getting to foster and develop talent that will transform education and create positive outcomes for students.

Our work is undoubtedly critical, and requires everyone and their unique perspectives and talents coming to the table with the same vision in mind. I enjoy convening those people, helping to align to a shared vision, and creating the plan for how we achieve a shared goal.

In that same vein, it takes skilled experts coming to the table at their full capacity to achieve that vision. No matter where you are, or what role you play in the education landscape, developed and trained talent will have the greatest impact on our students. I appreciate getting to plug our schools into these development resources through our partnership programs, and getting to develop my team through our internal professional development initiatives.

8 | If you had a magic wand, what’s one thing you would fix or change?

If I had a magic wand, I would dismantle each and every system of discrimination and oppression.

9 | What are you still learning to do?

I’m still learning how to best foster cultural competency in myself and others. As someone working in the city I was born and raised in, there are many unspoken, unwritten rules of engagement that are naturally embedded in both my perspective and working style that are key in soliciting feedback, working with others to create a shared vision, and working collaboratively towards collective impact.

When working with teachers, administrators, operators, and other practitioners from other locales, I find it important to make sure there is a foundational understanding of our culture, histories, struggles, and successes before approaching the work.

One of my biggest personal values is that my work should empower and give agency to communities, not disenfranchise them. Without building trust and understanding through fostering relationships, that is impossible.

In the same vein, when working in new places, I’ve found myself needing to take the same approach, ensuring that our work leverages the unique community assets, gives all stakeholders a voice and a seat at the table when making decisions, and fosters community-led sustainability for these efforts.

10 | What or who inspires you?

My family inspires me. When I became an adult, I took a special interest in learning and archiving as much as my family history as I could. My great grandfather, Marshall Hardin, was one generation removed from slavery, and worked as a sharecropper in rural Marshall County, TN. He was not afforded the opportunity to attend school, as schools for African Americans were few and far in between in the rural south, and even harder to access with limited income.

My grandfather was born on this farm in 1937, and later went on to work and retire in a HVAC factory, leaving school in third grade to provide for our large family in the segregated south. When my eldest cousin was 16, he told my grandfather he was going to drop out of school. My grandfather was furious, expounding on my cousin how hard he had worked to provide the opportunity for his kids—including our mothers—to receive an education and access opportunities he never had.

My grandfather was a principled man, and to further solidify his position, at 49, he went back to school and received his GED. A few years earlier, my mom had become the first person in our family to graduate from college.

I have both his GED and my mom’s bachelor’s degree, and they are a constant reminder of their struggle and sacrifice for me and others.

Every year of my life, I have watched my mom approach teaching with a joy, veracity, and discipline that is unprecedented. She serves as a role model not only to her students, but teachers, both new and old. She inspires me so much, and I strive to be like her—a life-long learner, a woman of value and integrity, and someone selfless and uplifting to other lives she interacts with.

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