“In a world where we are told to recycle, let us not forget the most precious thing on earth – the human life.”
The Tunette Powell Story
In 2011, when Tunette Powell’s father – a recovering drug addict – was at one of his lowest points, she asked him, “Why should anyone care about you?”
“We recycle paper, aluminum and old electronics, but why don’t we ever consider recycling the most precious thing on this earth – the human life,” he told her.
His response changed her life. It would be her father’s words that lead her to be named the nation’s top persuasive speaker in 2012 after winning Interstate Oratory, the nation’s oldest and most prestigious public-speaking contest. Using her father’s words, Powell spoke about our nation’s failed war on drugs and the criminalization of addiction. It was her father’s words that lead her to write and publish two books, The Other Woman and From Daddyless to Destiny: Finding Freedom in Your Story.
From a Pipeline to a Passport
In 2014, the successful author and speaker was shocked when her children – only 3 and 4 – were suspended from preschool on multiple occasions. That same year, the U.S. Department of Education, released data that illustrated the preschool suspension disparities between black students and white students. In addition to this data, Powell’s own fight with her children’s preschool mirrored her own childhood experience where she was excessively suspended. Powell, who had already served in leadership roles at youth-serving nonprofits, began working with schools and parents. Powell’s 2014 experience – captured in the Washington Post and on CNN, NPR’s This American Life, and MSNBC – was a wake up call for her to look more closely at education.
In Powell’s own words: For black students, our current education system is not a passport of possibilities, but a pipeline to prison.
From Shock to Action
Since 2014, Powell has worked with schools and school districts throughout the country – including the Los Angeles Unified School District, Dallas Independent School District and Omaha Public Schools. In addition to her work with schools and districts, Powell has assisted and advocated with parents and families of black students. In May 2015, Powell received an honorary degree from Primrose at La Vista in Nebraska for her leadership development training at the school. In 2016, Powell moved to Los Angeles to pursue a PhD in Urban Schooling. Powell’s work in education focuses on visible and often invisible relationship gaps at the state, district and school levels. In addition to this, she offers talks and professional development for educators, nonprofit professionals and youth. Her work focuses on equity in the classroom and in the workplace, building and strengthening relationships and the power of words.
Powell also volunteers as a nontraditional teacher and facilitator at alternative schools and serves on various nonprofit boards throughout the country. Most importantly, she is devoted to her family – her husband, Jason, and three sons, JJ, Joah and Jordan.
“This work is personal. I am raising three beautiful black boys. If I can create a better world for them, it will be one for others. For me, this work begins and ends with education.”