Story by Sheena Steward / Photos by Mika Matin
Part of the Nashville’s Not Just Country Series
I recently sat down and had an amazing conversation with The Equity Alliance President, Charlane Oliver. Have you ever talked to someone that possessed so much passion that their energy was infectious? Yeah, that’s how it was speaking with Charlane. Someone determined to be in the forefront of change in the Nashville community. A woman with a quiet yet confident spirit that calls for respect. See, representation matters is not just a fad hashtag with Charlane but a commitment she is taking on with grace.
The past year of politics has been a storyline straight out of a tv series. We’ve had a ton of scandals, fake news, intrigue and plenty of other jaw dropping moments. We’re constantly bombarded with information from a lot of different sources. This begs the question…who is really looking out for our community? Who is going to provide us with accurate unbiased information and give us the tools to make a real difference at the polls? Well, Charlane had those same questions which for her were heightened after the past presidential election. So, the Equity Alliance was born, her flame for social justice was ignited and shaking things up in Nashville was only the next logical steps.
First, let me tell you a little about Charlane. She’s a native of Little Rock AR but has been in Nashville for 12 years (with a little stint in Knoxville). Charlane and her husband will be celebrating their 10-year wedding anniversary in August, and they have two children (daughter 7 son 6). Although Nashville is growing, their family still loves to do family friendly activities and do not really get caught up in the hustle and bustle of the city. They spend a lot of their time going to Centennial Park, movies and walking downtown enjoying the city and quality family time. For grown folks time, Charlane likes to go to The Wknd to unwind and visit Slim and Husky’s for the pizza and 90s vibe. Her and her husband love a good date night at City Winery because they offer a variety of events as well as shows that travel to Nashville like their revisit experience seeing the Alvin Ailey dance company.
We talked about the growth that’s occurred in Nashville and what she loves most is through the city’s growth it still maintains its southern charm while offering big city amenities. On the other hand, what she likes least about the growth is how it’s destroying certain neighborhoods. Charlane maintains the growth isn’t equitable growth, and that’s a huge problem for our community.
Before the days of Equity Alliance, Charlane was on the path to becoming a trail blazing civil servant. She’s a spiritual person and truly believes her journey was orchestrated by God. “It’s no coincidence that my faith journey has aligned with my career journey”. Her journey started when she was obtaining her undergraduate degree in Sport Management at Vanderbilt University. She was doing an internship with the Nashville Predators, but it was during the NHL’s lockout season. Due to Charlane’s ambition, she went to her advisor and asked if she could get a new assignment because of the lack of learning. She was assigned as a PR/Marketing intern for the Bethlehem Center and her thirst for civic service began. Over the next few years Charlane worked for organizations such as the Tennessee Department of Human Services, Cover Kids, Amachi, The Williamson County Chamber of Commerce and Meharry Medical College. During that time, she was also able to obtain a Masters of Public Administration from the University of Knoxville, but her time at Meharry was where she felt she truly honed her skills.
Look At God
After two years at The Chamber of Commerce she received an email out of the blue regarding a promising venture into politics. She trusted God and his process, and it landed her a position on the team of U.S. Representative Jim Cooper. In her current position Charlane is responsible for three major components including Project Register, PR/Marketing and Community Liaison. Project Register is a bi-partisan initiative designed to partner with local employers to champion voter registration to their employees. She collaborates on messaging and social media press serving on Marketing Team. As a Community Liaison, Charlane is responsible for attending community events and serving as the bridge between the community and Jim Cooper. Talk about living life on purpose.
During her time at the Chamber, The Equity Alliance was being birthed. It formed in 2017 to serve as advocates for the African American community as well as other communities of color to ensure fair opportunities to achieve the American Dream. As a non-profit advocacy group, they are seeking to equip citizens with tools and strategies to engage in civic process and empower them to take action on issues affecting their daily lives. Basically, they are need all of us to be civically woke and engaged in Nashville. Period.
Let me hit you with some of the stats Charlane talked about during our conversation. Tennessee ranks 50th in the country for voter turnout (you know there are only 50 states, right). We’re also 40th for voter registration while African-Americans in Tennessee rank 43rd for voter turnout. *In my Lauryn Hill voice* How we gon’ win when we ain’t right within???
Leading The Charge
Those stats are also what lead Charlane and her team to create the Nashville Voter Guide. A local’s guide aka serious breakdown on the candidates running for office in the city. No more saying, “I didn’t know” because now they are giving it to you live and in color. It is really a fresh, intentional way to approach politics and civic duty from a millennial perspective. It was also great to see true collaboration at work with the team behind the scenes to create this one of a kind voter guide. The team is made up of all African American professionals, creatives, leaders and communicators, including a past Urbaanite story feature – Isaac Addae. As Charlane shares “The Equity Alliance is self-funded along with small donations”. With this said, having people that believe in your mission and can work alongside you is key.
Charlane and The Equity Alliance are also partnering with churches across the city to help in their efforts to get people registered to vote and share the voter guide. She kicked-off the initiative addressing her own church family at Mt. Zion a few weeks ago. The Souls to the Polls initiative is setting a precedent for how our community connects on a political and civic level. Historically, within the black church it was very taboo to talk politics or anything deemed not “religious”. But As Charlene shared during her photo shoot for this series, “I just want people to get it”.
Well, from last year giving “real talk” with their op-ed in the Tennessean on the Charlottsville incident, hosting 24 community events in 2017 alone to now tackling transit and the mid-term elections, I think people are getting it. It’s also evident that Charlane is not planning to slow down anytime soon. And we are here for it.
I’ll leave you with these words President Charlane Oliver shared, “If our voice doesn’t matter, then why do the people in power try so hard to suppress our vote?”
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