An Interview with Mendell Grinter

Mendell Grinter Interview

Mendell Grinter, founder of Campaign for School Equity, prides himself on his dedication to community and deep roots in achieving school equity for students of color. His involvement with non-profit advocacy group, Black Alliance for Educational Options as State Director in Tennessee and Kentucky, paired with his tenure at Students First New York as Deputy Chief of Staff, solidified his passion and unwavering commitment to children’s education.

As an experienced advocate, Mendell’s leadership guides his work as the Executive Director for Campaign for School Equity in their fight to ensure access to quality schools. In addition to his career in education advocacy, Mendell previously served as a Field Organizer in Washington State on the Obama for America campaign in 2012. Most recently, Mendell was announced Runner-up in the Forbes Under 30 Change the World Non-profit competition.

In this interview, Mendell shares his advocacy to help children of color achieve equal treatment at school, to advocate for education policy changes and to educate parents about school options, and many more. He also shares how he would balance his life as an entrepreneur and what was the toughest decision he’s ever made while starting his non-profit.

His advice for entrepreneurs starting a business in Tennessee:

It starts with a plan. If you have something you really want to do, put it to paper and get the ball rolling. It doesn’t take long to charter a business in Tennessee, so as soon as you’re ready, get out there.

What motivated you to start Campaign for School Equity? How did the idea come about?

As a first generation college student, I know what it’s like to get to college and realize you’re unprepared. I founded Campaign for School Equity because I wanted to decrease the possibility that students who are like me would have the same feeling. I recognize that many schools lack adequate resources and leadership to fully prepare students to excel post-high school graduation.

As such, equity in education is desperately needed to put underprivileged students on an equal playing field with their more affluent peers. Within CSE, we help parents navigate the education landscape so that they can make informed decisions about their child’s education and school options, and we advocate for education policy changes that will position more students to succeed in college, career, and life in general.

The Oct. 25 Forbes Quote of the Day by myself was “If you believe in yourself first, you’re unstoppable.” – I truly believe in this motto and live by it daily. It is with this belief that I was able to overcome the obstacles I confronted in college and persevere. As Founder of CSE, I want students to believe that they too can accomplish anything they set their minds to.

Most businesses evolve over time. Is there a way that you slowly evolved the mission of Campaign for School Equity to serve the students/parents/communities better?

My team and I previously worked with a national organization that shared a similar mission. As that organization announced plans for winding down its operations, I really had to think about what it meant for our work in Tennessee, and in Memphis specifically.

I thought about how our communities typically react when national organizations come in, and I wanted our organizations focus to be local with programs geared toward engaging local residents in the movement. Thus, our organization name and mission articulates what we do, and who we do it for.

Our mission is to ensure that all children, especially those of color, and families in Tennessee have access to high-quality education choices by uniting communities of clergy, parents and students to raise their voices to create effective change. We have much work ahead of us to fulfill our mission and at this time, I don’t anticipate it changing. Although, we may consider evolving the mission slightly if we determine it is still in the best interests of the students, families, and communities that we serve.

What are your visions for CSE? Where do you see it in the next 5 years?

Good question. In the next 5 years I hope to see CSE expanding its work to include a focus on two additional cities in Tennessee, and potentially another state. Providing more communities with the tools they need to successfully advocate for their children and use their voices for positive change is our long-term goal.

What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? Is there something you are most proud of?

I enjoy the ability to translate my passion for education and supporting students into my career life’s work. I think so many people are going to jobs every day in a field they don’t truly love, and I feel good knowing that this is something I was meant to do.

My daily ‘work’ has a direct impact on students and families and it’s immensely fulfilling. I’m proud of efforts that my entire team puts forth each day to help more students succeed academically.

When you started Campaign for School Equity, how did you plan everything out? Any resources you used to write a solid business plan?

I started doing research on similar non-profit organizations, looking specifically at other strategic plans to get a sense for organizational structures, and processes for growth. Once complete, I worked with a local branding and communications firm to create our brand identity, and set out to raise funds.

What’s the toughest decision you’ve ever made when starting a business? How did it make you better at the end of the day?

The toughest decision I ever had to make was the decision to start my own non-profit. There are so many factors and thoughts that come to mind when considering implementing a new idea and creating a new organization. However, once you make the decision and commit to seeing it through, the journey becomes easier to navigate.

What does your day-in, day-out look like? Is there any specific habit that has helped you become a better person?

While each day is a little different. Most days, I’ve set specific time to review and respond to emails. This frees up most of the day to attend meetings, and work on plans for the organization. The best advice I could give here is knowing yourself and how you work.

How do you balance life and work to remain connected and available for your loved ones? Any advice?

Everything starts and ends with great time management. For entrepreneurs, the work never really stops, so we have to be intentional about putting work down and enjoying life. I’m still working on getting good with this and finding balance, but I try to be mindful of the importance of leaving space in my calendar specifically for connecting with friends and family.

What advice would you give to our readers who want to start a business in Tennessee today? Where should they start?

It starts with a plan. If you have something you really want to do, put it to paper and get the ball rolling. It doesn’t take long to charter a business in Tennessee, so as soon as you’re ready, get out there.