by Carjamin Scott on February, 1, 2019 at 9:23 a.m.
The Equity Alliance is arguably one of the most influential grassroots organizations in Nashville. It is a social justice advocacy group that works to engage communities of color about their voting power. I chatted with Charlane Oliver, founder and president of TEA, to learn more about why the organization was started.
I asked Charlane, “What motivated you to start The Equity Alliance?”
“So, it was a series of events and it was out of frustration. It started with Trayvon Martin’s murder. He was killed two days after my son was born. I started seeing things differently – the bias and the laws against black men – and how we are looked at as disposable.”
“Then George Zimmerman, his murderer, got off. Trayvon lost his life but George did not. I started to question the system. I knew I had to do something but I wasn’t exactly sure what I should do. I thought about becoming an attorney, or running for office to get involved and get things in check. Then, other things happened like the flint water crisis and I began to wonder – do we give a damn about black and brown people in this country?”
Charlane continued, “I worked in the 7th richest county in the nation, it’s very affluent, very privileged, and very white.” This was where Charlane learned how these communities influenced elections, how their wealth created power and a utopia for them, and how one of the richest counties in the nation became that way.
Charlane was frustrated with the disparity going on in our country and wanted to build some political power. “A face came across my screen of a young girl named Christian Buggs. She was running for the School Board.” Charlane had a mutual friend with Buggs. The mutual friend connected them, and Charlane offered to manage her political campaign for free.
This was the start of her political influence. As Public Relations manager, Charlane was able to help Buggs win the Metro Nashville School Board seat with hardly any money, less resources than their opponent, and no prior campaign management experience.
Charlane stated, “None of the old guards in Nashville were willing to give Buggs the keys to the city. She was going to have to earn this position and I had to help her.”
While campaigning for Buggs, Charlane met Tequila Johnson, who is now the Vice President of TEA. “We won that together but only two or three thousand people voted.” Charlane was encouraged by the win and learned that more needed to be done to get voters engaged.
The decrease of black voters in the 2016 election charged Charlane. According to a Pew Research Center Study (2017), the black voter turnout rate declined for the first time in 20 years in a presidential election, falling to 59.6% in 2016 after reaching a record-high 66.6% in 2012.
“I sent out a text to my partners and we met on November 18, 2016. Yes, I remember the exact date. Then, I pitched the idea.” Originally, she wanted to start a pac to get more people like Buggs on the ballot; but, as the group continued to meet, their aim changed.
Charlane and her partners hosted 24 events from November 2016 to February 2017. She recalled, “We hosted an event with Conscious Conversation and had a panel of politicians – Lee Harris, Memphis Mayoral Candidate, Attorney Raumesh Akbari, Senate District 29 – and others. The event was packed and all 150 seats were filled in the SEIU Labor Union that day.” Charlane stated enthusiastically. “I knew that we were on to something, our people were longing for events like this and we wanted to engage them year round.”
I interrupted and said, “Charlane, the Black Womens’ Empowerment Brunch was the definition of Black Girl Magic.” She laughed. “We got so much positive feedback from that event. One girl said that it felt like the Essence Festival was in Nashville.” Charlane continued. “We hosted that event because black women never get the credit they deserve. We wanted to provide a safe space for black women to be who they are and feel proud of it. We don’t get these opportunities enough.”
Charlane says there will be another Black Womens’ Empowerment Brunch next year. “That brunch exceeded our expectations, people are getting engaged with what we are working on. It is a new day.”
I asked Charlane, “What are your thoughts on the Tennessee midterm elections?”
“We have made some great gains, we have a lot of people participating now. In 2014, people sat on their hands and fell asleep at the wheel. This time more people went to the polls and participated.”
“From lil Pookie of the projects to Mrs. Catherine with the college degree. We have moved the needle further. We are engaging people who have been sitting on the sidelines for a long time, Now we are giving them tools, strategies, opportunities to plug in, and hope.”
At the end of our conversation, I thanked Charlane for her time and service to our community.
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Carjamin Scott can be reached at email@example.com and you can follow her on twitter @scottcarjie.