November 2019 Newsletter


As a result of President Trump’s Executive Order on September 26, 2019, giving states and cities the option to refuse refugees, Governor Lee has until Christmas to provide written consent to allow refugee resettlement to continue in the state of Tennessee. It is up to us to ensure that he makes the right decision to keep Tennessee a welcoming state. If Governor Lee doesn’t affirmatively consent, refugee families in Tennessee will remain separated and others will not be afforded the opportunity to live in our state. In conjunction with the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition, the Roundtable Steering Committee encourages you to take a minute to call Gov. Lee and urge him to keep Tennessee as a welcoming state. Please call Gov. Lee at 615-741-2001 using a message such as “I’m a Tennessee resident, and I urge you to keep Tennessee a welcoming state. I stand with our refugee community and support policies that support refugee resettlement in Tennessee.”


TANF is a federally funded grant program that allows states to create and administer their own assistance programs designed to help families in need ultimately achieve self-sufficiency. Surprising to many of us, the Beacon Center of Tennessee, a conservative think tank, released a report showing that Tennessee has the largest reserve of TANF funds in the entire nation (unspent TANF funds are allowed to accumulate in state coffers). It is clear that while each state is charged with spending TANF funds (our annual allotment is approximately $190 million per year), and can do so in a variety of ways, Tennessee has scaled back the use of these funds to help families. For many years Tennessee spent most of the grant funds, but beginning in 2013 spending plummeted and we are now sitting on a huge reserve of $732 million … monies other states have used to combat the opioid crisis, subsidize child care for working families, workforce development, transportation assistance, and other supportive services. Under pressure from advocates, Congressmen Cohen and Cooper, and citizens like us … Tennessee now says it will work on a broader strategy to spend some of this money. We can do a lot better. The Tennessee Justice Center is the leading voice standing up for needed corrective action. We encourage Roundtable members to sign up for TJC news and action alerts.

COMMENT: The discovery of this unprecedented reserve of unused TANF money is deeply disturbing, especially in light of Gov. Lee wanting Tennessee to be the first state in the country to receive a similar block of money for Medicaid. Gov. Lee wants to use a Medicaid block grant to overhaul how TennCare (the state’s Medicaid Program) is funded … something President Trump is encouraging him to do. However, given what many of us consider mismanagement of TANF funds, there is well-founded fear that a Medicaid block grant would be similarly mishandled. It continues to be a shame that our state has simply not accepted Medicaid Expansion that would have provided increased numbers with the immediate medical assistance they need. This is the reason thousands sent comments to Gov. Lee that he is on a regressive healthcare trajectory.


In the United States, nearly 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men will survive some type of sexual assault or violence in their lifetime. Nearly every minute 20 people are physically abused by an intimate partner. This amounts to a staggering 10 million individuals each year. Tennessee ranks 5th in the nation for the rate at which men kill women.

The Religious Action Center (RAC) of the Reform Movement is urging progressive Jews to urge Congress to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). Enacted to address the scourge of gender-based violence, VAWA is the United States’ most comprehensive resource for survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault and stalking. We are joining with RAC in to encourage Roundtable members to urge our senators to support the introduction and passage of a bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act that strengthens our country’s commitment to protecting survivors of gender-based violence. Urge Senators Alexander and Blackburn to support the introduction and passage of a bipartisan reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act. It just takes a minute or two to send letters to our Senators here.


The Roundtable applauds the recent announcement by Sheriff Daron Hall to end Davidson County’s rent-a-bed agreement through which federal immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials have used our local jail as a short-term immigration detention facility. “Sheriff Hall’s announcement moves our city closer to that goal,” said Bob Mendes, Metro Councilmember At-Large. “While this is only a first step, today, we can celebrate our city’s commitment to focus first and foremost on the work of local government and making Nashville a safer place for all our neighbors.” Sheriff Hall’s decision, which follows a summer filled with high-profile examples of ICE’s extreme and cruel deportation tactics, comes just as Nashville Metro Councilmembers were set to unveil an ordinance to achieve the same policy goal. The measure, sponsored by Mendes, had 15 co-sponsors: Councilmembers Emily Benedict, Russ Bradford, Sharon Hurt, Antoinette Lee, Freddie O’Connell, Sean Parker, Delishia Porterfield, John Rutherford, Sandra Sepulveda, Colby Sledge, Joy Styles, Zulfat Suara, Nancy VanReece, Ginny Welsh and Brett Withers. TIRRC Policy Director Lisa Sherman-Nikolaus said, “While ending this agreement will not completely prevent the jail from holding people for ICE, it is one step towards drawing a brighter line between federal immigration and local law enforcement.”

INFORMATION NOTE: In Nashville, foreign-born residents now account for nearly 13 percent of the population and more than a third of students in Metro Nashville Public Schools come from a household that speaks a language other than English. Of Nashville’s undocumented residents, an estimated 75 percent have lived in America for more than five years; a quarter of undocumented immigrants own a home; and at least 8,000 have at least one child who is a U.S. citizen.


Complexities of the Immigration System – November 14, 2019 at 6:30 p.m. For those interested in better understanding the complexities of the current immigration system, and what we can and should advocate for, we encourage you to attend a program that is being held at the Belle Meade United Methodist Church (121 Davidson Road, Nashville) on November 14, 2019 at 6:30pm. This program, Stronger than Hate, will be presented by TIRRC (the Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition) and is free.

The Constitution Uncorked/Annual ACLU Dinner – November 14, 2019, 6:00 p.m. At this year’s Constitution Uncorked celebration, the ACLU will honor and applaud civil rights heroes – new and seasoned – from across Tennessee while celebrating the ACLU of Tennessee’s accomplishments. The night will feature music, poetry, the popular silent auction of autographed books, and a spread of heavy hors d’oeuvres and delicious drinks. It will take place at the Noah Liff Opera Centre, 3622 Redmon Street, Nashville. Tickets can be purchased here.

Caravan of Worship – November 17, 2019, Noon – 6 p.m.
The Fifth Annual Caravan Tour of Places of Worship, an intimate view of Nashville’s diverse community of religions, will take place on Sunday, November 17, from Noon – 6:00 p.m. It is open to all Nashvillians. Clergy and members from many faith traditions will share the basic tenets of their beliefs. This year’s theme is Beyond Tolerance: Peace, Love and Justice.  Two buses, arranged by the Metro Human Relations Commission and University School, will leave at noon from the Islamic Center of Nashville and return at approximately 6:00 … taking participants to each place of worship. The goal of this event is to create and celebrate multicultural awareness of the diverse Nashville community. For details about the schedule and to register click here.

Human Relations Awards – Cultural Connections – November 20, 5:30 p.m. The Metro Human Relations Commission is proud to join Community Nashville and Celebrate Nashville in bringing back the Human Relations Awards. On Nov. 20 at Mercy Lounge, Avi Poster (who is also co-chair of our Roundtable) and the Oasis Center will be the inaugural recipients of the updated concept. All ticket proceeds will go to supporting the Celebrate Nashville Cultural Festival. Tickets are just $20 and can be purchased here.


Members of our Roundtable Steering Committee are reading Shadow Network recently released by Anne Nelson that helps to explain how, for the past 40-years, the conservative Council for National Policy has raised and had adopted issues and platforms based on conservative morals and ideology. Not for the lighthearted, consider this book should you be looking for additional holiday reading to learn more about current social justice issues. And here are a few other recommendations from the Religions Action Center of the Reform Movement.

Walking with the Wind: A Memoir of the Movement by John Lewis
Congressman John Lewis, who has represented Georgia’s 5th District since 1987, is arguably one of the most unsung heroes of the Civil Rights Movement. Among many other commitments, Congressman Lewis planned and participated in sit-ins across the South, was a Freedom Rider, chaired the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), walked with Dr. King across the Edmund Pettis Bridge in Selma, AL, and is a recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His autobiography is a compelling, vivid remembrance of the people who led the Civil Rights Movement and a tribute to the necessity of the work that remains to be done today.

Bad Feminist by Roxane Gay
Roxane Gay is a laugh-out-loud-on-the-subway kind of author, but she also tackles serious and pervasive societal issues from the perspective of individual storytelling. Her ode to Channing Tatum and Magic Mike will make you cry with laughter, but several other essays in this book will have you crying because you’re so deeply saddened. Gay makes an ardent case for feminism of all stripes, and her writing especially underscores the necessity of an intersectional approach.

We Crossed a Bridge and it Trembled: Voices from Syria by Wendy Pearlman
Wendy Pearlman is an associate professor of political science at Northwestern University (Go ’Cats!) with a focus on comparative politics and conflict studies in the Middle East. Her latest book begins with a compact but incredibly rich recent history of the social and political backdrop in Syria that led to the current conflict. The remainder of the book comprises translated first-person narratives, unaccompanied by commentary, that move the reader chronologically through the conflict. Heart-wrenching but hopeful, this is a great read for anyone looking to learn (and feel) alongside our Syrian brothers and sisters.

Shrill: Notes from a Loud Woman by Lindy West
Lindy West, a well-known comedian and culture observer, is a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and her writing has appeared in dozens of other publications. She’s also widely known for her online activism, including co-founding the Shout Your Abortion campaign. Shrill is an excellent companion piece to Bad Feminist, exploring themes of body positivity, online activism, and working with artists – all from the perspective of a gifted female comic and commentator.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
Author Anita Diamant is known for her nonfiction lifecycle events books and has written several fiction titles with social justice themes; this bestselling novel is perhaps her best-known title. It can be difficult to make biblical events feel real and relevant, but The Red Tent absolutely delivers, telling the little-known story of Dinah, the daughter of Rachel and Jacob. This book draws in readers from the first page; the complex relationships between family members, promises made and promises broken, and the sacred bond between women are deeply explored. You’ll feel like you’re truly living within the story every time you open the book.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Michelle Alexander, considered one of most important modern voices on racial justice and criminal justice reform, is a civil rights advocate, writer, and visiting professor at Union Theological Seminary. In The New Jim Crow, Alexander powerfully explains how the United States has perpetuated systems of slavery and segregation through a new form: the mass incarceration of Black men. This strategy has led to the United States having the largest prison population in the world and has continued the oppression of people of color throughout the country. This book is necessary reading for anyone seeking strategies for reforming the criminal justice system and working toward racial justice.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
Whereas The New Jim Crow focuses almost exclusively on policy analysis, Bryan Stevenson’s Just Mercy is a powerful combination of policy and personal narrative about the tragic impact of the injustices in the criminal justice system. Reflecting upon his experiences as a civil rights lawyer, Stevenson shares the pain and suffering of innocent people in prison, men waiting on death row, and children sentenced to prison for the rest of their lives. While this book demonstrates Stevenson’s incredible passion and success in fighting for justice, it also reveals there is much more work to do to end mass incarceration. Check out the “RAC Reads” guide for this book, particularly for those who want to use reading guides as part of a communal read.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
Often credited as being this generation’s James Baldwin, Ta-Nehisi Coates is a prolific writer whose honesty about being Black in the United States has opened countless eyes to the modern-day plagues of racism and oppression. Written as a long letter to his teenage son, Between the World and Me is an incredibly personal account of the many ways systemic and personal racism continues to prevent people of color from surviving and thriving in the United States. (Also worth a read: Coates’s newly released book, We Were Eight Years in Power, compiles eight of his most significant works during the term of President Barack Obama.) Check out the “RAC Reads” guide for this book, particularly for those who want to use reading guides as part of a communal read.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy
It’s never too early to introduce children to social justice concepts and this picture book about the Notorious RBG is a terrific place to start. Geared for 4- to 8-year-olds, the biography tells the story of Ginsburg’s life, focusing specifically on protests, disagreements, and dissents from the time she was a young girl through to her work as a Supreme Court justice.