Diversity panel speaks to Livingston Academy students

Those who spoke at the diversity panel at Livingston Academy, from left, are panelists Brian Paddock, Andrew Smith, Thomas Savage, U.S. history teacher Nate Kennard and director of graduate programs for Tech’s College of Education Ashley Akenson.

LIVINGSTON – Students in Nate Kennard’s U.S. history classes at Livingston Academy recently heard about various Civil Rights Movement experiences from a diverse panel of participants in early March.

The event, led by Ashley Akenson, director of graduate programs for Tech’s College of Education, featured Tech English instructor Andrew Smith, attorney Brian Paddock and Cookeville branch NAACP President Thomas Savage.

“It’s important that students know the history of the Civil Rights Movement in their own communities,” said Lisa Zagumny, dean of the College of Education who helped organize the panel. “It helps them to develop a greater appreciation for all community members.”

Paddock shared his experiences as a law student in Virginia and Mississippi as part of Freedom Summer in 1964. He spoke of the significance of being able to eat at a lunch counter with his black supervisor, though at the time there was only one safe place to share a meal together.

Smith spoke of his father’s experience in Selma to march as part of Turn Around Tuesday, the second of three marches. He also spoke of his experiences as a white student in a predominately black elementary school in Ohio.

Savage discussed growing up in Overton County post-Jim Crow but still in the midst of segregation. He shared the experience of being in a segregated elementary school, a small one-room school that housed students from first to eighth grades. He also spoke about his experiences as a Livingston Academy student and football player, noting that his teammates and coaches “had his back” at an away game where his presence on the team caused the fans in the stands to rush the field.

The panel was created after Mark Winningham, director of Overton County Schools, reached out to IMPACT Cookeville with the idea to supplement diversity-related curriculum in the high school. 

IMPACT began as an African-American men’s social initiative in 2009. It grew into a civic-minded service organization designed to positively impact those that are socially marginalized through inclusion and community building community. IMPACT’s vision is to develop, attract and retain a more diverse talent pool through education, economic empowerment and equity initiatives.

Zagumny, who serves as the vice chair of education for IMPACT, organized the event with help from Robert Owens, assistant vice president of multicultural affairs at Tech and vice chair of equity for IMPACT.

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