Together, We Are Enough

A Tennessee principal shares tips for overcoming tragedy affecting school communities in the latest Middle-Level Leadership Matters article.

 Halfpoint -

By Darwin L. Mason Jr.


Tragedy has become commonplace in our world these days. I know my school, John Early Museum Magnet Middle School in Nashville, has received more than its fair share.

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, our school was greatly impacted by a tornado that destroyed parts of our city. Many of our families and teachers were without their basic survival needs. Some families had no electricity in their homes; some had no homes. We—the faculty and staff—instinctively knew that as a school community, we had to respond to the needs of those we are fortunate enough to teach and their loved ones. We worked diligently to provide food, clothing, other vital resources, including housing, so that our families could survive. I am proud of our continuous efforts. But what I am most proud of is the compassion and sensitivity that motivated our efforts.

Focus on Community

Often, words frequent our daily vernacular, but we never take time to operationalize them. We take little time to embrace them, even though we spout them regularly. One word that came to life during our difficult season was “community.” Yes, community!

Let’s take a minute to dissect this word, and you will see why I am proud our efforts embodied it. Within the word “community” are two words: commune, a group of people living together and sharing position, and unity, being joined as a whole. You see where I’m going, don’t you?

We are overcoming the tragedies that are before us because we are unified in sharing all we have with those who are in need. Community is the spirit associated with being and working together. It is not limited to or confined by structure. This is the spirit that permeates our work as educators. I contend that people rise from the dust like a phoenix because they have indeed embraced the concept of “community” and not just in word.

Take Action

Overcoming tragedy is not just about identifying resources or connecting with stakeholders. It is about the heart of compassion and empathy one brings to what one does. Furthermore, embracing community means an opportunity to embrace joy and thankfulness. Our community was thankful to still be a community, and we are thankful to be able to help our community.

When we were faced with tragedy, here’s how our community worked together to help our own.

  • We abandoned judgment. We quickly learned that when you embrace the community concept you must abandon judgment. You must be willing to inhale the broken and serve to meet their needs. Abandoning judgment gives rise to transparency and authenticity. One can only be a community when all are open to share and serve.

  • We embraced and enlisted the community. Again, this isn’t just a buzzword; it’s a place where people come together to support those in need. We collected enough donations from teachers and community partners to help the families that needed it the most.

  • We identified—and worked to meet—the most pressing needs. At the top of the list for our school community were closing, food, and shelter. We made certain that our students had sufficient clothing and food thanks to community donations. And we were able to place families who lost everything in hotels for multiple weeks until they found permanent residence.

We are honored to have served in this capacity but more than that we are honored to be in a community that cares. With that being said, I think it is important to thank our community of teachers, parents, religious leaders, neighboring school leaders, and community leaders. You are the people who bring joy to our beleaguered community. Our story is the story of every person who embodies “community.”

Keep the Conversation Going

Have additional ideas or insight on middle-level matters? Please join in the conversation on social media and tag Armstrong (@DrKDArmstrong) or Cabeen (@JessicaCabeen) with #naespMLL to share resources and keep the conversation going.

Darwin L. Mason Jr. is principal of John Early Museum Magnet Middle School in Nashville. Follow him on Twitter at @DarwinMasonJr1.