This IS Who He Is

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee has never been a fan of or advocate for Tennessee’s public school teachers. Now, he confirms that in a revealing moment reported on by NewsChannel5’s Phil Williams.

In it, a key education advisor to Lee disparages teachers repeatedly while Lee sits in silence and nods in agreement.

Responses to Lee’s public confirmation of his disregard for teachers were swift, including this from his home county of Williamson:

The Democratic Party in Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s home county is calling on the governor to repudiate remarks made by a top education advisor. The Williamson County Democratic Party is also noting its stance in support of teachers in Williamson County and across Tennessee.

In an emailed statement, the group notes that it “stands in solidarity with public school teachers across Tennessee, especially those in Williamson County. Yesterday, Governor Bill Lee, a graduate of Franklin High School in Williamson County, nodded his head in agreement while an advisor of his was openly mocking public school teachers at an event for charter school teachers.”

Jenn Foley, chair of the Williamson County Democrats, said:

“We will not stay silent when our public school teachers have had two of the hardest years in recent history during the Covid pandemic. They have risked their lives to teach our children, and we must boldly stand up and support them now and every day. I have three kids in our wonderful public schools, and I know firsthand how hard they work for our families. We cannot allow our leadership to decimate our public schools.”

Courtenay Rogers, vice chair of the party and candidate for Williamson County Commission said:

“Families move to Williamson County because of the great quality of life and the excellent public education we provide our children. Our schools are one of the main reasons businesses choose to relocate to our community as well, and we need to be focused on increasing funding and improving teacher salaries and benefits, not calling our teachers dumb.”

JC Bowman, head of Professional Educators of Tennessee (PET) said in a tweet:

Newly elected Tennessee Education Association President Tanya Coats said:

“Tennessee educators worked tirelessly through the past three school years to keep their students engaged, safe and healthy during a global pandemic. Many did so at the expense of their own health and wellbeing. To now witness their governor stand silently alongside out-of-state privatizers as they are cruelly and unfairly attacked feels like a punch to the gut. There is no excuse.

Our public school educators and teacher prep programs are the foundation of our state’s great public schools. Our governor would do well to remember that the continued success of our state is intrinsically tied to the success of our system of strong public schools, not charter schools.”


Lee’s silence and complicity in the denigration of teachers should come as no surprise. He’s repeatedly demonstrated his priority is on privatizing public schools. He’s also consistently shown his lack of respect for and appreciation of teachers.

Bill Lee ran a campaign predicated on the idea that our public schools were failing and the solution was/is charters and vouchers. He’s made good on that commitment as Governor. At this point, no one should be surprised that Bill Lee is nodding along as Tennessee’s public school educators are under attack.

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Bike Campaign Calls Out Deceptive Campaign Tactics

Knox County School Board candidate Kat Bike issued a statement today calling out a deceptive campaign tactic known as “push polling” which she suggests is spreading misleading information about her to voters.

Here’s the campaign’s statement:

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TEA Elects New Leadership

The Tennessee Education Association (TEA) announced the election of new leadership this week. Here’s more from a press release:

Hundreds of educators attending the 89th Tennessee Education Association Representative Assembly elected new association leaders. Veteran Knox County educator Tanya T. Coats was elected TEA President. Johnson City middle school teacher Joe W. Crabtree was elected TEA Vice President.

“The strength of TEA is rooted in our member-leaders who use their passion for education to further the association’s work to ensure every student receives a high-quality public education and every educator has the support and resources needed to do their jobs effectively,” said TEA Executive Director Terrance Gibson. “I am confident President Coats will carry on the great work of the association on behalf of TEA’s tens of thousands of members and all Tennessee students.”

Coats takes office July 1, after serving as TEA Vice President and President of the Knox County Education Association. She brings decades of experience as a public school educator and long-time association member. Coats will be on-leave from her position as New Teacher Liaison with Knox County Schools during her tenure as president.

“It is an honor and a privilege to step into this role representing thousands of educators across the state,” said Tanya Coats. “I am committed to being a vocal, tireless advocate for educators, students and public education. I look forward to partnering with other public education advocates in advancing the great work of our public schools and the Tennessee Education Association.”

Crabtree is a proven leader as a local association president and TEA board member. His experience in the classroom and within the association makes him a solid partner for Coats. During his tenure as TEA Vice President, Crabtree will continue in his position teaching social studies at Liberty Bell Middle School in Johnson City.

Tanya Coats, TEA President
Joe Crabtree, TEA Vice President

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That’s a Lot

Tennessee continues to experience record revenue surpluses while also continuing a trend of badly underfunding public schools. Based on projections, it seems the state invested around one fourth of this year’s surplus toward public education as part of the TISA school funding overhaul.

That’s nice, sure. But TISA is deeply flawed AND the state is underfunding schools by around $2 billion a year. Gov. Lee’s plan barely makes up half of that shortfall.

The Sycamore Institute has an update today on the current state of Tennessee’s revenue picture. In an email, they note:

With two months left to count, Tennessee collected about $3.7 billion (28%) more tax revenue than lawmakers initially budgeted for this point in the fiscal year.

That’s remarkable. Perhaps even more remarkable is the lack of commitment to use these funds to dramatically improve school funding in a state that ranks among the lowest in the nation in school funding. In fact, even after TISA, projections suggest Tennessee will still be in the bottom 10 nationally when it comes to K-12 school funding.

Of course, this lack of commitment to school funding is nothing new:

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NPEF Adds Board Members

The Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) announced the addition of three new board members today. Here’s more from the press release:

The Nashville Public Education Foundation (NPEF) has appointed three new members to its Board of Directors, including Michelle Gaskin Brown, manager at Amazon; Kate Chinn, former vice president at AllianceBernstein; and Dr. L. Gregory Jones, president of Belmont University. Additionally, Meg Harris, the current board vice-chair and vice president of people at Ancestry, will take over as the foundation’s board chair on July 1, 2022. Harris succeeds Tony Heard, a partner at InfoWorks.

Readers may recall that NPEF first warned about the dangers of Bill Lee’s new school funding formula (TISA) and then ended up backing the plan that, by their own admission, would mean less funding for Nashville’s schools.

Above is the announcement of support for TISA from NPEF. Below are the warnings the very same group issued:

It’s interesting that NPEF noted that the BEP created an “unattainable burden” for districts like Nashville and then supported a funding scheme that actually leaves Nashville worse off than before the BEP.

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Kat Bike for Knox County School Board

Betty Bean in Knox TN Today reports on the campaign of Kat Bike for Knox County School Board:

District 4 school board candidate Katherine “Kat” Bike has maybe one-tenth the campaign kitty that her opponent has amassed, but she’s banking on fighting the money gap with what appears to be a bottomless reservoir of energy.

Bike is the parent of two Knox County Schools students.

Read more about Bike and her campaign.

black and white hardtail bike on brown road between trees
Photo by Philipp M on Pexels.com

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An Assault on Public Schools

The Network for Public Education – a nationwide coalition of groups fighting to defend public schools – issued a statement today in light of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling allowing public funds to be used for private, religious schools.

Here is that statement in full:

The ruling of the U.S. Supreme Court in Carson v. Makin forces taxpayers to fund religious education in states with school choice programs, a radical departure from American values and traditions. With this decision, the Court eradicated the separation between church and state when it comes to public funding for education, opening the door to future decisions that would further mandate the public funding of religious education. Prior to the ruling, states could fund religious education but were not obliged to do so. As Justice Breyer noted in his dissent, “What happens once “may” becomes “must”? Does that transformation mean that a school district that pays for public schools must pay equivalent funds to parents who wish to send their children to religious schools?”

The implications of the Court’s wrong-headed decision are enormous and will certainly be seized upon by radical school privatization advocates. Privatizers have focused on capturing state legislatures and securing judicial appointments to ensure their small minority can bend public policy against high-quality and popular public schools, and today’s ruling further undermines the ability of Americans to protect public education funding.

Students, families, and taxpayers have regularly been saved from problematic, unaccountable, and fraudulent voucher programs through lawsuits citing state constitutional provisions that prohibit direct government aid to educational institutions affiliated with religious organizations. The U.S. Supreme Court has demolished those protections and this will lead to additional voucher programs that will siphon taxpayer dollars from public schools.

Although this case focused on a voucher program, the ruling also opens the door to allow religious institutions to overtly run charter schools, which also have their own long history of fraud, low-quality staff, poor academic performance, and general mismanagement. Given that charters are run by private boards, similar to the boards that run private schools, this precedent paves the way for later decisions for religious charters.

Perhaps most disturbing, some religious schools have a long history of engaging in reprehensible discrimination in both admissions and hiring and in many cases failing to provide adequate and science-based academic instruction. This decision will embolden the creation of more schools, that receive taxpayer funding, to engage in discriminatory practices in the name of religion.

Commenting on the decision, NPE President, Diane Ravitch, stated, “Maine and Vermont should only include the option of public schools in their town tuitioning programs, thus limiting public funding to public schools. Other states that subsidize any private schools should stop doing so. The path on which SCOTUS has embarked will end in publicly funded schools for every religion, of which there are scores. It threatens the principle of the common school, supported by the public and open to all children.”

Carson v. Makin highlights the depth of the current assault on our public schools by a highly motivated and organized radical minority. Even with today’s devastating ruling, their assault will continue to push for even more until all public schools are closed, and every student is left behind.

We will continue our advocacy efforts on behalf of democratically governed public schools opened to all. Public funds are for public schools.


This case has clear implications for Tennessee and Gov. Bill Lee’s plans to privatize public schools:

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Sumner’s Phillips Announces Retirement

Sumner County Director of Schools Del Phillips announced this week his plans to retire at the end of the upcoming school year.

From the district’s announcement:

Dr. Del R. Phillips, III announced his intention to retire as Sumner County’s Director of Schools, effective June 30, 2023. Sumner County is the 8th largest school system in Tennessee, and Dr. Phillips’ 12-year tenure makes him one of the longest serving directors in district history. Under Dr. Phillips’ leadership, Sumner County emerged as a leader in academic achievement, financial management, school safety, student well-being, as well as strategic planning to meet the current and future growth of Sumner County. Dr. Phillips led Sumner County Schools to expand opportunities for student learning as the district ranks #1 in Tennessee for the number of STEM schools and career and technical education pathways.

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Welch Campaign Announces Endorsements in Williamson County School Board Race

This story about the Williamson County School Board race first appeared on NewsBreak:

Eric Welch today announced a slew of endorsements in his campaign for re-election to the District 10 School Board seat in Williamson County.

Welch is the incumbent representative for the 10th District seat on the Williamson County Schools Board of Education. He was first elected in 2010 and has served three previous terms on the school board, including an appointment by the County Commission in 2017 followed by another successful general election campaign in 2018. Eric’s children attended FSSD and graduated from WCS high schools, where he was active in the PTOs and Booster clubs including multiple leadership roles in these parent organizations.

In announcing the endorsements, Welch noted his appreciation for the support of individuals from across the educational spectrum in Williamson County.

“I’m extremely proud and humbled to have the support of so many individuals that have been a part of making Williamson County synonymous with the best schools in Tennessee, and among the very best nationally,” said Welch. “I look forward to continuing to represent and advocate for our kids and families for another term on the Board of Education as the 10th District WCS School Board Representative,” said Welch.

A group of 13 former Williamson County School Board members said in a statement they believe Welch is the right choice to continue serving District 10 on the Board of Education.

“We believe in the high value of great public schools.  As members of the Williamson County School Board, we had the distinct honor and privilege to serve our great community with Eric Welch during our individual tenures.  Eric is an effective communicator, a careful listener, and an informed, thoughtful decision-makers who interacts with others with the greatest care, respect, and professionalism.  He models the highest standards of personal integrity and performance, always.  Eric’s previous School Board experience, outstanding character, and tireless commitment to Williamson County Schools and the community at large make him the best choice to continue the tradition of excellence for Williamson County Schools.  We are proud to support Eric for the District 10 Williamson County School Board seat.”

Former Board members backing Welch include:

Pat Anderson, District 8 & WCS BOE Chairwoman (2002-14)

D’Wayne Greer, District 1 (2004-12)

Ken Peterson, District 1 (2012-15)

Janice Mills, District 2 (2002-14)

Janine Moore, District 3 (2007-2012)

Anne McGraw, District 4 (2015-18)

Brad Fiscus, District 4 (2018-21)

Terry Leve, J.D., District 6 (2006-12)

Cherie Hammond, District 6 (2012-14)

Dr. Bobby Hullett, District 7 (2012-2018)

Susan Graham, District 7 (2008-12)

Barry Watkins, District 9 (2005-2011)

Vicki Vogt, District 12 (2010-14)

Welch also announced the backing of a number of former PTO leaders, including:

Pat Anderson, PTO President Franklin High School

Michelle Behan, WCS PTO Leadership Council & PTO President Chapmans’ Retreat Elementary, Allendale Elementary, Summit High School


Susan Graham, PTO President Scales Elementary, Brentwood Middle, Brentwood High School


Cherie Hammond, WCS PTO Leadership Council & PTO President Ravenwood High School

Sabrina Kronk, PTO President Franklin High School

Janine Moore, PTO Trinity Elementary, Page Middle, Page High School

Stacy Parish, WCS PTO Leadership Council & PTO President Allendale Elementary & Bethesda Middle

Ken Peterson, PTO President Westwood Elementary School

Debbie Roth, WCS PTO Leadership Council & PTO President Woodland Middle & Ravenwood High School


Shelly Sassen, PTO President Centennial High School

These leaders issued a statement saying:

“We enthusiastically endorse Eric Welch for Re-Election to the Williamson County Schools Board of Education.  Eric has a servant’s heart and has been a faithful volunteer in the WCS and Franklin Special School District for nearly two decades.  We have witnessed his dedication to and advocacy for Williamson County Schools and all its stakeholders: students, staff, and supporters.  He leads by example and that leadership is needed back on our Board of Education.”

Finally, the campaign announced the support of former school system leaders and education organization leaders including:

Dr. Michael Looney, Past WCS Superintendent of Schools and 2016 Tennessee Superintendent of the Year


Dr. Donna Wright, Past WCS Assistant Superintendent for Middle & High School Education and 2020 Tennessee Superintendent of the Year

Denise Goodwin, Past WCS Assistant Superintendent for Elementary Education

Tim Gaddis, Past Assistant Superintendent for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment

Leslie Holman Judd, Past Assistant Superintendent of Finance/CFO

Kevin Fortney, Past Director of Facilities and Construction

Dr. Alicia Spencer Barker

Robin Newman

Tim Stillings

Kevin Townsel, J.D

Matt Magallanes

Dr. Richard Ianelli

Eric Welch

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An Interview with Jill Speering

Jill Speering is a retired educator and former Nashville School Board member. Her book, Rubies in the Rubble, tells the story of her life – from a challenging childhood to a career in the classroom to her time on the school board.

Below is an interview with Speering about her book and her education career.

1) Let’s start with the basics – writing a book is a significant undertaking – what inspired you to start this project and what helped you push through to completion?


In February 2020,  I flew to New Zealand–the birthplace of Reading Recovery®– to visit a country with a literacy rate of 99%. In New Zealand, I visited 19 schools to closely observe their teaching and learning. I wanted to continue using my position on the board as a platform to improve literacy instruction in Nashville; however, because of COVID-19, I couldn’t share my New Zealand experiences from the board floor. This provided the impetus for me to keep writing.


During my 35-year teaching career, I taught children to read through the reciprocal process of writing, so I used the same methods in the writing of my own book.  One of those techniques is to share drafts with peers for feedback.  During one early draft, I shared my manuscript with Dr. Tammy Lipsey who told me that she wanted to hear more about my father.  This surprised me because my dad had been a topic I didn’t discuss with anyone except my family. I had five notebooks filled with letters Dad had written to my mother when he was overseas before, during, and after WWII.  Although I had previously perused the letters, I now delved into them much more deeply.

The more I wrote, the more I realized my father’s impact on me–especially on my teaching career. I believe that I would not have developed a passion for working with low-performing, high-need students if not for the influence of my dad. I didn’t want any child to feel the way I felt growing up. The book flowed out of me–I had to write it.  It completely overtook my life.  I sat at the computer daily for endless hours—writing, thinking, researching, revising, and editing.  

2) You write openly about a harrowing childhood – can you talk more about what skills you called upon to survive in that difficult environment? What did you learn/takeaway from those formative experiences?

I loved my mother.  Even at the tender age of four, I became fearless when I saw my father abuse her. I didn’t think about the consequences; I just jumped in to help her. Mother believed in me. She was my salvation, my rock, my support.  She was the most important person in the world to me.  At a very early age, I made it my responsibility to protect my mother. That responsibility followed me through my teaching career and service on the school board.  I took responsibility for every child’s success and failure in my classroom knowing it was up to me to find the right way to teach each student. When a child was falling behind in my classroom, I felt it was my failure as an educator to adequately teach him and to genuinely demonstrate my belief in the student’s ability to succeed. The blame did not rest on the student but on me. This deep-seated philosophy is rooted in my own failure in elementary school. It wasn’t that I was stupid, as my father had proclaimed, but I had not experienced an environment where I was invited to grow without fear of failure or ridicule. When given opportunities to learn with loving, caring, patient (like my mother), and supportive teachers who knew how to build on my strengths, I flourished.  
While serving on the school board, friends asked me where I had learned to stand up so firmly for my convictions even when I was aware of the possible repercussions.  As I wrote Rubies in the Rubble, I began to make connections between the way I stood up to my father, my passion for teaching and advocating for children who had endured similar home environments, and for educators whose voices were omitted from decision-making processes. 


I think it’s imperative that educators follow their students’ interests and allow their curiosity to help lead instruction. When I was in third grade, I took piano lessons.  After several months, I heard a cousin play a particular waltz.  I loved the piece and asked my piano teachers to help me learn to play it.  She told me that it was too difficult for me.  She dismissed my ambition and was not willing to teach me how to play the song. As a result, I quit piano lessons. My mother bought the piece of music for me, and I learned to play it all by myself.  I still play that same waltz 50 years later when I sit down at the piano and it still brings me joy. I believe when students are motivated to learn, we must support them in those efforts. The human spirit can overcome what may appear to be impossible obstacles. My mother and several great teachers were the impetus for me to believe in myself and find the motivation to learn. 

3) You had quite a journey to become an educator – what force or forces propelled you forward as you persistently pursued teaching?

When I first applied for a teaching position in Metro Schools in 1974, the field was saturated with educators pursuing a teaching position.  The vigilance/passion I had developed from attempting to care for my mom during childhood did not serve me well when I attempted to join the ranks of Metro teachers.  Dr. Wittington, Director of Elementary Personnel, saw my persistent calling as pestering rather than the passion of a young teacher. I eventually gave up on Metro Schools and taught for six years in Sumner County where I achieved Career Ladder III status as a Master Teacher before accepting a position with Metro School six years later while Dr. Whittington was on vacation. 


Continuously seeking to improve my teaching led me on a path to receiving a Master’s Degree in reading.  Yet, I still needed to know more in order to effectively teach my most at-risk students.  Although I was awarded Career Ladder III status in 1985, I still needed additional, high-quality professional development. With the extra money provided from summer work with the Career Ladder program, I funded a three-week seminar at the University of New Hampshire to study the writing process with experts in the field.  Still, I needed more!  In 1995, MNPS invited me to attend the Reading Recovery Teacher Leader year-long professional development training at The Ohio State University.  Finally, I was able to successfully teach all children to read, and I became a trainer to support educators become effective literacy leaders for emergent readers and writers. 

4) What do you think your early experiences brought to your students when you were teaching? 

My fifth-grade teacher in Sumner County schools did not like me.  She made her disdain for me clear to the entire class.  Each morning as I was dropped off in front of Guild Elementary, I lost my breakfast as I exited the car.  It didn’t matter if I threw up right there in front of the car line, I was still expected to go through those doors and spend another day with a teacher who thought as highly of me as my own father. 


From that atrocious year, I learned that what a teacher thinks of her students is communicated in word, deed, and action. I never wanted a child to feel that I didn’t like them or have 100% faith and belief in their abilities. I had experienced the dichotomy of failure at the hands of a wounded father and inpatient teachers, but also the uplifting exposure of success from a loving mother and patient, caring teachers.  As an educator, I learned from both extremes. Because I had experienced failure in the fifth grade, I wanted to save children from the pain and embarrassment of defeat. Rather than telling kindergarten and first-grade students what they were doing wrong, I showed them what they were doing right.  Accepting students’ near attempts at literacy approximations provided the impetus for them to continue their efforts, and I witnessed the students’ motivation increase.

5) What would you say to the young teacher facing today’s challenging school climate?


Be careful about following a curriculum verbatim.  If the curriculum is boring to you, it’s boring to your students. Interweave the prescribed curriculum into the lives of your students.  Build your instruction on students’ interests, prior knowledge, and previous experiences.  Make learning fun. Create a community of learners where everyone works together. Community is established when students have a voice and an opportunity to write and share their feedback with you about their own learning processes. Build your instruction on what students already know. This simple procedure makes learning new information easier and more expedient.  


Have faith in your students’ abilities even before they have demonstrated those skills. Take one step at a time–one teaching point at a time–always given after you’ve shared what your students have done well. Enjoy your teaching and your students will love school. 

6) You served on the School Board during a tumultuous political time in Nashville – what were your biggest challenges and what do you see as the Board’s greatest accomplishments?

I was so proud of the board’s unanimous decision to hire Dr. Shawn Joseph who brought the Arbinger principles to Metro Schools.  Arbinger is a behavioral approach for the improvement of organizations by helping individuals think about others-–rather than just themselves. The Arbinger principles helped to bring the board together in a new way; however, the board and NewsChannel 5 soon discovered that Dr. Joseph’s message to us was often different from his message to teachers and principals. Although I spoke with Dr. Joseph privately about this discrepancy, little changed.  Retaliation appeared to be his modus operandi as he was involved in several retaliation lawsuits by district employees.  Eventually, I found myself at the whim of his frustration when the day before the board presented the MNPS budget to the mayor, Dr. Joseph recommended that 85 Reading Recovery teaching positions be terminated even after he touted that Reading Recovery was one of the best reading interventions in the country. Although I had previously seen him as a leader who was passionate about low-performing, at-risk minority students, his behavior cemented my belief that he was not who he had presented himself to be. Problems continued to mount, and eventually, five members of the board agreed that his tenure needed to end. Continuing his retaliation efforts, Dr. Joseph appeared to push the narrative that I was a racist, but my long-standing commitment to successfully teaching inner-city students in poverty stood the test of time. I was well-known in the district.  People who knew me were aware that Dr. Joseph’s attempts to discredit me were a stretch and a way to circumvent the negative press surrounding him.


Hiring Dr. Adrienne Battle is the board’s greatest accomplishment. Her calm presence and genuine caring for students and educators have been widely applauded. Dr. Battle’s experience in elementary, middle, and high school is foundational to making the best decisions for all students.

7) How has the school board changed since you’ve left?  What do you see as the biggest challenge in education policy today?

With Dr. Battle at the helm, the board is working together better than I remember in recent history.  She has led MNPS through the last few years of a pandemic as she has successfully kept students and educators safe while continuing to provide the best choices for learning opportunities.


The biggest challenge in education today is the assault on our democracy by demonizing educators and public schools through the use of high-stakes testing, the proliferation of charter schools, and now vouchers. Safety is a primary concern for students and educators. Although our state constitution protects students’ rights to public education, the state commissioner of education and the state board have made the teaching profession so inhospitable and underpaid that the pipeline for new teachers has virtually dried up. 

8) If you had to distill “Rubies in the Rubble” down to two or three key lessons, what would they be?

–Everyone has suffered some type of trauma in their life. Over time, we can give a different meaning to our adverse life experiences to help others avoid the pitfalls we endured. 

–Looking back over our lives, we can discover that there is a divine presence that is guiding us along the many paths life has to offer.  As we listen to and follow that inner guidance, we find that all of life is a miracle. 
–Knowing our truth and having the courage to speak that truth–no matter the consequences–is one of life’s greatest accomplishments of self-actualization.

Rubies in the Rubble was published in October, 2021.

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Photo by Emily on Pexels.com

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