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United Way opens conversation about education inequities in Knox County

The leaders on the panel agree that invoking change starts with a conversation.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — The United Way of Greater Knoxville put a spotlight on race and education in Knox County on Tuesday. The virtual discussion brought up inequities in the school system.

In a virtual meeting room, a panel full of educators and leaders of color broke down the "uncomfortable but necessary" talk of race and education.

It was the third event in the United Way's Uncomfortable but Necessary Series, focusing on race and different topics.

"I think equity is a conversation that needs to be advanced in Knoxville," said Desiree Jones, Vine Middle School principal.

Jones added she knows inequities are apparent when she looks in her classrooms full of kids, 99 percent of whom are living in poverty. The school receives federal funding to help fill in the gaps, but it's still not enough.

"I'm not asking for more money from my school," Jones clarified. "I am asking for equity for my kids, for all of Knox County Schools' kids."

As Knox County school board member Evetty Satterfield suggests, making change happen has to stem from outside support. It shouldn't just rest on the shoulders of those in power.

"I need Knoxville community to do their part to get rid of the nice racism and really acknowledge that it is a place that is not welcoming, not inviting for young Black professionals, and create those spaces as well," Satterfield explained.

A new education equity alliance launched across Tennessee on Monday. Its goal is to "be an advocate for students of color, English learners, immigrants, undocumented youth, rural residents and those who are economically disadvantaged or have disabilities."

RELATED: Knoxville City Council seeking members for African American Equity Restoration Task Force

"I'm tired of lip service, I want to see something actually done," Nathan Langlois, the principal at Austin East High School, urged. 

Funding, whether Knox County should apply charter schools and sending a call to action to the community were all topics the United Way helped spotlight on Tuesday.

"We don't want to turn a blind eye to the issues in our community, so if we can address them and learn about them, and then solve them, then, you know, that would be great," said Anna Moseley, branding and messaging coordinator for the United Way of Greater Knoxville.

The leaders on the panel agree that invoking change starts with a conversation.

The "Uncomfortable but Necessary" events are free, and more are planned for the near future. You can follow UWGK on Facebook and Twitter for updates and details of how to sign up.

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