Dr. Shawn Joseph is the President of education and equity consulting firm Joseph and Associates. He has also spearheaded Nashville Unchained, which is dedicated to supporting marginalized communities by supporting non-profits who are making a difference in the community.

Dr. Joseph’s contributions to the education sector have earned him multiple distinctions and honors, including: the Met-Life Middle School Principal of the Year for the State of Maryland, the American Educational Research Association’s Outstanding Dissertation Award in the area of Educational Leadership, the Ambassador Andrew Young Leadership Award, “Person of the Year” by Nashville’s Tribune newspaper, and the Greater Nashville Association of Black School Educator’s Trailblazer Award.

In addition, Dr. Joseph served on the Board of Learning Forward, which is an international organization focused on ensuring equity and excellence in teaching and learning through building the capacity of leaders to establish and sustain highly effective professional learning. His other board of trustee appointments include The Equity Alliance in Nashville, TN.

What inspired you to launch Nashville Unchained?

When I lived in Nashville, I saw the inequity that existed in communities.  There were organizations working to improve outcomes for marginalized communities, but everyone was working in isolation.  The goal was to strengthen communication between key community organizations.

What leaders, current or from the past inspire you?

I appreciate the powerful voice of James Baldwin. I recently had the privilege of speaking about one of his  seminal books, Nobody Knows My Name, at the New York School Public Relations Association Speaker Series. I strongly urge everyone to read, and re-read, Baldwin’s book. It is eye opening and life changing, and although it was written 50 years ago, the message is as vibrant and vital today as it ever was — perhaps in some respects even more, because many people believe that we have somehow eliminated racism and inequity from our schools, our business, and our politics. Recent events, however, have vividly demonstrated quite the opposite. Yes, we have made some progress on the road to true equity, but we are a far, far distance from the finish line.

How does Nashville Unchained raise funds?

We have an online store that sells Nashville Unchained, Faith Unchained, and Unchained-branded merchandise, such as hoodies, t-shirts, and long-sleeve shirts. My goal is to make annual donations to organizations who are making a difference in Black and Brown communities.

I joined the board of the Equity Alliance because they are a grass-roots non-profit that is working hard to improve outcomes for Black and Brown communities.  The Equity Alliance proactively advocates for African Americans and other communities of color, so they can engage in the civic process, take empowered action on issues that impact their lives, and ultimately have a just and fair opportunity to achieve their full potential and realize the American dream. Gideon’s Army is another renowned Nashville-based non-profit organization that is dedicated to ensuring that communities are fully and correctly represented in elections. Their work is extremely important, as the U.S. Census Bureau has revealed that African Americans, Latin Americans, single women, and young citizens are disproportionately not registered to vote.

Why do you think it is important to contribute to Blackcommunity-based nonprofit organizations?

One of the biggest problems within the Black community is that there are few leadership organizations that were created by Black people that can truly focus on a “Black” agenda.  I really think it is important for those of us with influence and means to give more of our time and resources to support mission-driven Black organizations and allow them to stay true to their mission.  Many national organizations that focus on supporting Black communities are not supported and funded by Black people.  It is important for Black people to support Black organizations so there is a level of authenticity and control of the agenda.  It is important to build a multicultural coalition of support, but it must start with Black people playing a huge part in creating self-sustaining organizations that can support improving their social and economic outcomes.

Can you talk a little about your book, Finding the Joseph Within: Lessons Learned through a Life of Struggle?

Essentially, it is a story about faith and perseverance. I have experienced many difficult challenges in my life, and when things seemed darkest and most daunting, I have found solace and strength in surrendering myself to God’s will. In the book, I use the Biblical story of Joseph and his brothers to illuminate the truth that God has a plan for each of us.  Our struggles allow us to grow and prepare us for greater leadership opportunities in the future.

What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?

We don’t engage in classic marketing strategy, because we aren’t selling a product — we are advocating for a greater cause, and striving to achieve equality and social justice in our schools, our workplaces, our communities, our politics, and our society. Many people learn about our online store from various groups in the community, or they discover it by visiting the Joseph and Associates website at https://josephandassociatesllc.com, which is the education and equity consulting firm that I founded.  I’ve gotten lots of word of mouth referrals from clients in industry and school systems.

What is the best decision you’ve made in the last several months?

I would say that it was deciding to accept the appointment of Co-Director of the Urban Superintendent Academy at Howard University and serving as an Assistant Professor in the Educational Leadership, Administration, and Policy Studies Department. I had many offers to apply for superintendent positions across the country, but the opportunity to support a new generation of leaders was too compelling to pass up. Together with our outstanding and supportive colleagues, I have the platform and profile to work with school districts across the U.S. and internationally to focus on lasting, sustainable and high-impact educational improvement.

What do you think it is that makes you successful?

 I work hard to help other people, and I am not afraid of speaking truth to power. Those of us with the opportunity and capacity to speak out against inequity and social injustice cannot sit on the sidelines. If we do not stand up for what is right, and advocate for those who are marginalized, then who will? Also, it is really important for me to support aspiring leaders of color and women break the corporate glass ceiling that still exists in industry and executive leadership in school districts. There are lots of highly-qualified people of color and women who just need mentorship and an opportunity to lead, and I hope I can continue to serve as an advisor to help others be in position to have a greater impact.  

What business books have inspired you?

The Bible. And before someone quickly responds with `The Bible is not a business book’ let me quickly say that many of the most intractable and complex problems that businesses and organizations face can be grasped and solved by studying The Bible, and reflecting on its abundance of wisdom and direction. I refer to some of these illuminating insights in my book Finding the Joseph Within: Lessons Learned through a Life of Struggle.

If someone wanted a more traditional answer, Leadership on the Line by Ron Heiftz is one of my favorite business books. He gives leaders advice on how to navigate leading through tumultuous times.  Leadership is not for the faint of heart, and in the process of trying to do good, leaders can expect to experience challenges.  Heiftz gives leaders a great framework to think deeply about how to manage change as they lead with courage and passion.

What advice would you give to your younger self?

I would say never hesitate to speak your truth. There will always be those who will oppose you — not because what you say is wrong, but because they are afraid that the implications and consequences of your message will undermine their privilege, power and control over others. I would also tell my younger self to stay true to your values and stand for something.  Focus on making a difference and you will have no wants in life.

Are you willing to be a mentor? If so, how should someone contact you?

I am happy to mentor individuals who are serious about making a difference.  I can be contacted through my website at https://josephandassociatesllc.com. The only thing I would add is that my schedule is extremely busy, and once the pandemic turns the corner — which will hopefully happen sooner rather than later — I will be spending a great deal of time traveling, speaking, researching, and writing. I’ll need to limit the amount of mentoring that I can do, but I am always happy to respond to an email or take a quick call.


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