We had the good fortune of connecting with Kesha Muhammad-Garrett and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Kesha, where are your from? We’d love to hear about how your background has played a role in who you are today?
I am originally from Atlanta, Georgia…yes, I am actually a “Grady Baby!” I began my scholarly journey as an Atlanta Public school student, then as a student at the Mohammed Schools of Atlanta and finally as a student in the DeKalb County School District. I later continued my post high school education as a student at the Albany State University (my HBCU) where I received a Bachelors and Masters degree in Early Childhood Education. Up until that point, I had primarily been surrounded by people who looked like me and had similar experiences as me. For most of my career as an educator, I even taught and served as a leader in schools where the students and I had similar backgrounds. I was raised in the Atlanta and Decatur areas where I was raised by my mom and both sides of family until my mom married when I was around 8 years of age. (I attribute this union to who I am today!) I was raised around a close knit family and a close knit Islamic community, which allowed me to develop a strong faith, a commitment to service, a love for community and a strong work ethic.
My mom was just 19 when she gave birth to me, but she had extremely high expectations for who I would become and always supported me and created a space for learning. While she wasn’t college educated, she was my first teacher and the first teacher to all of the children she provided childcare to in our home. My father was the only person working in the home. I NEVER saw his faith waiver during times of adversity.
When I began teaching in 1998 I chose environments where I was most familiar and where felt the students needed me most. What I realized quickly is that while most of the students I was serving were African American and many came from single family homes with similar economic backgrounds, our lives were very different – particularly because many of my students did not have supportive and structured home environments.
It wasn’t until I attended the University of West Georgia and then Lincoln Memorial University where I received a certificate in Educational Leadership and a Specialist degree in Curriculum and Instruction, that I had ever been immersed into a diverse environment. I had aways done very well in school, but I honestly was a little intimidated at first…not sure why because my family had never instilled feelings of inferiority in me.
As I advanced in my career and chose to work in different environments to diversify my experiences, I realized there are so many differences among communities, but there are so many similarities! I realized that my skills and my passion for helping children existed across all communities because I truly believe that all children deserve the best of all adults! I also realize that there are gaps that exist between communities and schools, so I have rooted my work in making sure that we close some of those existing gaps.
What should our readers know about your business?
I am the Founder and CEO of UpLift Them, LLC, an educational consulting and book publishing company where the mission is to bridge gaps that exists between schools and communities. In addition to owning my own business, I have been a public school educator for the past 24 years. The events of the pandemic highlighted many of those gaps that we work to close. Among many other things, we quickly learned that parents did not know how to help their children and schools had not been effectively communicating with their communities – and in some instances were out of touch with some of the communities they served. Let me start with the easiest question first! Was it easy…ABSOLUTELY NOT!! It has, however, been rewarding! Nothing about this process has been easy. My faith was definitely tested, but I saw a need! After years of allowing fear to get in the way, I started my business in January…just two months before the pandemic shutdown. Like so many others, I had to use the buzzword of the pandemic and “pivot,” I listened to the complaints and struggles of parents and educators via social media. Because schools and community-based organizations were closing their doors, I began offering virtual assistance to parents, educators and communities trying to navigate their new normal. I offered sessions for parents on how to communicate with teachers. I also offered practical and less stressful solutions to parents and teachers as they tried to help their scholars at home. Additionally, I attended one-on-one parent conferences alongside
The focus of my consulting work is overall school improvement. What sets me apart from some others is that I provide personalized school improvement support to (in) both underperforming AND high achieving environments. I believe all schools should be in a state of turnaround if we are striving to meet the needs of all scholars. For our high performing schools it shouldn’t be enough that students are achieving, we want to make sure that they are continuously in a state of growth. For our underperforming schools, we look at current practices to determine what things (that are within our control) need adjusting. I challenge everyone to identify our practices and individual biases that might be preventing students from maximizing their potential.
Another thing that sets us apart is our commitment to community service. Despite being a new business in search of clients during a pandemic, we offered incentives for elementary aged students in the form of prizes for our writing contests. Also, for the second year in a row, we are offering a scholarship to a deserving college junior or senior attending an HBCU and majoring in anything that falls under the School of Business. Students may apply here: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1FIjIPHKQRvbWu-6ChqhUeqRBIDeCXNM8Y295EvmV09Q/edit?usp=sharing (Feel free to share.)
Believe it or not, until recently there were more animals as characters in the books that children were reading in schools. I have written 6 children’s books that feature children of color and their experiences. Because of my 4th grade teacher, writing has always been a passion of mine. The pandemic allowed me the down time needed for it to also become a career. I have had an opportunity to connect to my love of teaching as I have read to students all over the country virtually. I was also a part of the virtual MLK Inauguration activities in 2021. Beyond exciting!
There were many challenges along the way. The first thing I had to do was get comfortable with potential failures in areas…knowing that a failure doesn’t happen without an attempt. Second, I had to really study those things that I was unfamiliar with. I also had to reach out to people in my network who were already doing what I was aspiring to do. Finally, I had to repeatedly read my mission to make sure that the work I was engaging in aligned. I am where I am today because of my faith, because I have a strong support system, because I have taken full advantage of all of my experiences and previous roles, because I have established myself as a trustworthy individual, because I get results and because I have a genuine commitment to serve others and empower all educational stakeholders. I want the world to know that we aim to make a positive difference in the lives of everyone we come in contact with. It is our goal to leave people better and more knowledgeable about how to navigate their individual educational experiences than they could before engaging with us.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
What’s funny is that I am a native of Atlanta, but I am often a homebody when in the city!! I would definitely take them to Effect Fitness for a high intensity workout and to The Steel Mill for a great strength training workout. Additionally, if the weather was great, I would take them for a hike up stone mountain! Yes, I like to work out, but it’s mostly because I really like to eat! For dessert, I would take them to Brown Sugar Bakery and Joey D’s for an amazing slice of cheesecake. Music makes me happy, so I would see who was in concert at The Fox or Statefarm Arena. If they were here during Spring or Summer, we would definitely have to check out a concert at Wolf Creek Amphitheatre. Hopefully, my friend has not developed a seafood allergy by the time she arrives because we would definitely have to get oysters at C &S Seafood and Oyster Bar. YUMMY!! For some daytime or sunset patio dining, we could go to Grindhouse Burger or Cinco Mexican Cantina. There is a nice spot with great music and yummy food in Conyers called The Reserve. We could put on our dancing shoes until bedtime. I usually have an in-home massage by my personal massage therapist, but we could head to Treat Your Feet for a great foot massage! We would definitely do a little shopping at some boutiques and in the Perimeter Mall area where we could also grab a bite to eat afterwards. Of course we could also visit the National Center for Civil and Human Rights museum. Most of my friends are Christian, but I am a Muslim. For a different experience, I would take them to The Atlanta Masjid of Al-Islam for our Friday prayer service. Maybe I am not as much of a homebody as I thought!
The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My parents and grandparents definitely deserve recognition for my success! My mother (the best to ever do it) was a stay-at-home mom of 3 daughters. She provided in-home childcare for many families. As an adult, I know that she really made most things happen for us. She provided a safe space for us all with high expectations for learning. My cousin still talks about how I would always want to play school and prepare homework for the children. (LOL) My father, an avid reader who worked outside of the home, remains to be one of the smartest and best people I have ever known. My grandmothers were two of the strongest people I have ever known. They appeared to withstand any challenge that came their way. Also, as an author/educator my fourth grade teacher, Ms. Sandra El-Amin has been very influential. She was very consistent in that she had very high expectations for all students.
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