I was having oatmeal and eggs in the Homewood Suites lobby when Liz and her husband came over to introduce themselves. They’re from Moran, Texas and were staying in the same hotel.
We talked a little about the campaign, about Texas, about how nice everyone is in Nashville. We took a picture and I asked Liz what she did in Moran.
“I’m a school teacher,” she said.
“What do you teach?
“I’m the Special Education department. And the Art department. I also teach 4th grade writing and 6th grade social studies.”
“Really? All of that??”
“And I’m the school bus driver too.”
I often talk about how amazing educators are – what they are able to do for their students despite the challenges of low pay, high pressure standardized tests, and very often carrying a load of student loan debt on their backs. But Liz takes the cake. She has 22 special education students (out of a total student population of 112) and is teaching (and driving) kids from 3 different communities who go to school in Moran.
I told her about our plan to ensure that the federal government pays it’s full share of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) funding – so that she has the resources to give her students the best possible education; about wiping clean student loan debt for educators through a real-time 100% public service debt forgiveness program; and how what she’s doing in Moran is inspiring to me and how I’m going to make sure that we do everything to support her and have her back.
Made my day to meet her.
The entire trip to Nashville was positive.
We got in yesterday and drove over to Marathon Music Works, a concert hall that’s housed in an old brick warehouse that used to be an automobile factory (Marathon Motor Works). Elizabeth Cook, Raelyn Nelson and Grayson Foster all played for a big, energetic crowd.
I spoke for a bit, about the challenges as I see them and the way I think we can meet them. Talked about what this country is doing to children at the border and the way that advocates and everyday Americans are standing up against it. An example of how people are coming together to ultimately force this country to do the right thing. And that applies to any challenge we face – healthcare, economic justice, mass incarceration or climate change. Stand up and be counted.
We took pictures afterwards and talked with the people who’d come out. Energizing, encouraging, and a lot of fun. Even met some folks from El Paso who happened to be in town.
Afterwards had dinner with 3 friends from high school who I hadn’t seen in 29 years. 29 years? That sounds a lot longer than it feels. But it was good to be with them and felt as though, in the most important ways, we hadn’t skipped a beat.
After meeting Liz this morning, we drove out to the Second Harvest food bank. I met the amazing team there, got a tour of the facility from the new CEO Nancy Keil. We learned how the community has come together through donations of money, time and food to provide millions of meals to people throughout middle Tennessee. Proud of the the work they’re doing. Deeply troubled that we live in a country that requires this level of charitable support for people to feed themselves. A living wage, guaranteed healthcare, affordable housing, all could go a long way to ensure that people are able to make ends meet. Grateful that Nancy and her team are there for those who otherwise would go hungry.
From there we went to an immigration roundtable with TIRRC (Tennessee Immigrant & Refugee Rights Coalition) at The Horn coffeeshop, owned by a refugee from Somalia. We learned about the impact of the Muslim ban from a young man whose family risked their lives to help Americans in Iraq only to be stopped from legally entering the U.S. when they needed our help. Listened to Dreamers and asylum seekers. And heard a heartbreaking story from employees at a meat processing plant in Morristown, who despite having lived in the U.S. for decades and despite working some of the toughest jobs in Tennessee, were subject to a military-style raid on their workplace, detention and trauma for them and their families. We talked about how we can change our immigration laws and practices, we talked about how immigrants make us safer, more successful and stronger as a country – we just need laws and a President to reflect that.
Stephen had picked up lunch while we were at The Horn and we drove over to Bicentennial Park and ate it on a park bench and just enjoyed being outside for a little bit.
We then drove over to meet with the Equity Alliance, community leaders who are focused on ensuring full economic, democratic, educational and criminal justice equity. Met a man who served time in prison and now works as a violence interrupter, stopping the cycle of violence in schools. We talked about building on his work, making sure more kids have more options, investing in camps, after school activities, paid community service opportunities. We also discussed access to capital, funding for minority-majority schools, student loan debt, gun violence – a chance for me to answer questions but also to hear ideas and learn about where members of the Alliance are producing success in the community.
We ended the day at a small fundraiser hosted by a supporter in Nashville. Had a chance to meet some of the people who’d come out to join the campaign and to see my former colleague Jim Cooper who was kind enough to stop by and say hello.
And then it was off to the airport and aboard a Southwest flight to Chicago where I’m writing this. Next to a very nice couple from Illinois who were just visiting their son in Florida. Excited to see Amy and the kids late tonight and then spend a couple of days with them.