CharterFolk X Vol 21 – Roblin Webb, Forging the Crossroads Where Charter Schools and Civil Rights Come Together

Good morning, CharterFolk.

Today it is our pleasure to recognize Roblin Webb, Founder and CEO of Freedom Preparatory Academy in Memphis, Tennessee as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.

Like many of our most compelling leaders in Charterland, Roblin came to our movement via an early interest in law. That led her to recognize even more deeply how much the push for civil rights in our country is related to the urgent need to improve educational opportunity for those who have been deprived it in the past. Soon she became a Fellow through Building Excellent Schools and was out recruiting students and families to enroll in her new school, Freedom Preparatory Academy.

As it turned out, she was going up against some of the most restrictive recruiting limitations in the country as well as some of the most empowered and entrenched special interests in the state. Charter school opponents had been able to cap the number of charter schools to a level stifling nearly all growth. Not only did Roblin succeed in opening her school, within two years she hosted the Tennessee governor when he signed a bill eliminating the cap on charter schools in Tennessee.

A dozen years since opening, Freedom Prep has grown from a school serving 100 6th graders to a PreK-12 organization serving over 2000 students, with 100% of graduates earning admission to four-year colleges and universities.

Freedom Prep’s success and expansion reveals a truth about our movement, which is that the path to more freedom is through the accumulation of power. It has instilled in Roblin a deep commitment to supporting the advocacy efforts of the broader charter school movement. In recent years, she has served as the Chair of the Board for the Tennessee Charter School Center.

But none of this progress has obscured for Roblin how much further we have to go in order to secure true educational equity for students who have been historically underserved. If you can spare 90 seconds, I encourage you to hear Roblin give her assessment of what Dr. King would think of the urgent need to make more progress than we have in the last 50 years.

It is an urgency that was only redoubled last year as the racial inequities within our country were made only more plain. It led Roblin to pen one of the most compelling statements we have seen about the urgent need to make faster progress on matters of racial justice.

In crafting her piece, Roblin drew together the needs of the moment, the experience of Freedom Prep, and the observations of Nelson Mandela, which all point to the recognition that the achievement of more freedom requires the securing of more power.

One of the most fundamental expressions of power in public education is who has the authority to operate schools. Knowing this, Roblin has taken on a new initiative – the Freedom Institute, supporting leaders of color seeking to open schools in the communities they know best.

What was the first Freedom Institute charter school to be approved?

Life3 Academy in Montgomery Alabama, which will be led by Executive Director Kia Debnam and Board Chair Norma Chism.

The school, Alabama’s second charter school, will be located …

… on the Saint Jude Church campus, a hallowed location where Martin Luther King and his fellow marchers spent the night during their historic march from Selma to Montgomery in March of 1965.

It is one of those special places where the path of the charter school movement and the Civil Rights Trail …

… literally come together.

As noble as the intentions are of the many people who work in our nation’s charter schools, the intersection between the charter school movement and our country’s long quest for civil rights is not one that just happens.

It has to be made to happen.

Roblin Webb is one of our special leaders able to ensure that charter schools and the principles that Dr. King strove for come together at a crossroads broad enough to change the destiny of our entire movement.

It’s just one more reason we could not be more honored than to recognize Roblin Webb as CharterFolk Extraordinaire.