In the confusing swirl of mis-information going forth from dozens of talking heads around the forthcoming transit tax referendum, it can be a challenge to find solid ground. Since I am one of the heads you see on the news, in the papers, and in person, I feel it important to take a moment out from the dizzying dance of debate to give you some background on my community experience, for, as most of us learned in high school English, when any facts are being referenced, one must always consider the source of the information.
Here are some thing for you to consider about this particular talking head.
I was raised in a working class family in South Nashville, and attended public schools. I was granted admission into the Tennessee State University, where a spirit of activism was birthed in me. I would go on to a career as a student government leader, where I was elected President of the Student Government Association, tasked with representing over 7,500 students.
As a 22-year old student leader, I couldn’t be content with just holding a title, so I engineered a campus takeover that has been well documented as a massive movement for much-needed change. The result: Over $120 Million dollars in improvements to the campus over the next several years.
Graduating Cum Laude, I immediately went into business for myself, with our community in mind. I launched The Third Eye Newspaper, which operated for 11 years and took a mighty stand on the city and nation’s toughest issues throughout the 1990’s, including pushing the Meharry-General Hospital merger and exposing the systemic discrimination in the early TennCare system against African-American health management companies.
As my career in media grew (I simultaneously began a career as a radio talk show host on then WVOL/92Q), I also expanded upon my Communications and Theatre degree by turning to building another institution for public benefit: a non-profit, professional theatre company that would become nationally known as the Amun Ra Theatre. Not only did we give opportunities to over 100 actors and technicians denied them by mainstream companies, we converted an abandoned building into the first Black-owned theatre facility in Nashville in over 100 years. For 9 years, we ran a popular performing arts program for young people that deterred them from youth violence by teaching them how to act out on stage instead of on the streets.
When we needed scholarship funds for the kids who could not afford to pay, I pitched a tent on the roof of that theatre on Clifton Avenue, lived there for over a week, and raised over $30,000 dollars so that they could have a shot at life. They all received just that: 100 percent of our kids finished high school and entered college.
My spiritual calling led me to found another institution, The Infinity Fellowship Interfaith Gathering, which is now just over three years old. I am currently its Chief Spiritual Officer (in the Bible Belt, I’m called a “Pastor,” although the job is much more). Infinity’s core mission is doing good for the greater community across religious lines. Two years ago, I led a charge to build a village of Micro-Homes for the homeless residents of the makeshift Tent City the city bulldozed after recovering from the 2010 flood.
It took 45 days of sleeping away from my family in a 60-Square foot home, but we raised over $60,000 dollars from people all over the world to build the initial village. I gave my word that we would act immediately and build six homes within 30 days of funding the project. Dwayne A. Jones, the construction visionary, came to Nashville from Memphis with a crew in tow.
We completed and installed 6 fully functional homes just 10 days later.
We donated the homes to a local church that allows the homeless to camp inside their Sanctuary gates, at no charge, with no strings attached. The project gained international attention. You can’t create any more “Affordable” housing than 100% free to those most in need.
Seeing a need for a safe place for youth and community in a current environment of violence and polarization, Infinity next launched a quest for a home base called The Infinity Center. A third crowd funding initiative that began over two years ago brought in over $150,000 in support for innovative, inclusive, and interfaith initiatives to be launched in the 37207 area code, where such activities are sorely needed. In just a year, we purchased a 4,300 square foot building on 5 acres, and renovations are currently underway for a summer opening.
It is at times hard for me to talk about myself publicly, because none of the successful movements and institutions I have built over the course of the years have, ultimately, been about me, although I have led them. It is, however, important for me to pause to discuss them so that—in the midst of this confusing discussion of the upcoming Transit Tax Referendum—you may “consider the source,” when you hear my (hopefully) familiar voice standing in staunch opposition of it.
Consider the common themes that emerge from the many institutional movements for change I have outlined above. They share in common:
1. Public Benefit. The needs of the many must always supersede the needs of the few.
2. Fiscal Conservatism. All of the initiatives I have discussed operated on-budget, and without one single government grant or one dime of government money. Minimum investment; Maximum benefit.
3. Vision. I’ve learned, through demonstration, the power of the Five P’s: Proper Planning Prevents Poor Performance. When you are creating successful initiatives, you have to start with the end in mind.
4. Underpromise and overdeliver. It is better to create a realistic goal that is achievable than it is to create massive concepts with no tangible deliverables.
When I personally state that the proposed transit tax is too high a price to pay for something that does not alleviate congestion; when I point out that over 70% of the $9 billion dollar cost of this “transit plan” goes to outdated light rail that primarily serves the downtown corridor while the rest of our neighborhoods gets the bus and the bill; when I say that we deserve better and ask questions that those who are promoting this plan cannot answer, I am speaking from the viewpoint of a person who has spent his entire life getting things done in an efficient, conservative, and impactful way.
When I say that this plan is not good for Nashville taxpayers, and for our communities and neighborhoods, I’m not just saying so because somebody put me up on a stage with some talking points in my hands. I actually pen the talking points, and they are written in the ink of a lifetime of proven results in building institutions and initiatives that are effective and efficient.
This transit plan is bad policy, we need a better one, and the only way to do this is to vote against the current one en masse, starting with early voting. Take my word for it—or better yet, take my experiences—and the next time someone writes a column, stands in front of you, visits your home, or hems you up at a special event to support it, simply remember what your high school English teacher taught you to do:
Consider the source of the information, and govern yourself accordingly.