Community rallies around Memphis school board member after she suffers stroke

Woman poses for a photo, crossing her arms in a school hallway
Memphis-Shelby County school board member Stephanie Love, who has been heralded as an ardent, tireless advocate for parents and children in North Memphis and across the city, remains hospitalized after suffering a stroke on Saturday. (Courtesy of Memphis-Shelby County Schools)

News that Stephanie Love suffered a stroke has been followed by an outpouring of support for the veteran school board member.

Love, who has been heralded as an ardent, tireless advocate for parents and children in North Memphis and across the city since joining the school board in 2014, suffered the stroke on Saturday, before the rest of the school board gathered for a retreat at the University of Memphis to discuss the upcoming budget. She remains in the hospital, where she’s undergoing tests and treatments.

In a Monday interview, Tania Combs-Starks, Love’s cousin who spoke for the family, called on the community to keep Love and her family uplifted in prayer. Combs-Starks also asked for privacy as Love recovers, noting that Love is anxious to get back to work and represent the students, parents, and schools in North Memphis as soon as possible.

“You can ask anybody from any part of the city of Memphis and they will tell you — you don’t even have to be in her district — and they’ll say, ‘Ms. Love helped me with this,’ and, ‘She helped me with that.’ She loves her community, and she’ll do whatever it takes for them,” Combs-Starks said.

“Now, we just want the community… to  give her that same love back,” she added.

Love’s indefinite absence temporarily leaves Tennessee’s largest school district without two school board representatives. Shante Avant, who had represented the South Memphis, Riverside, Westwood, and Whitehaven neighborhoods since 2014, announced her resignation from the school board just over two weeks ago. Avant has since launched a bid for a Cordova county commission seat. The deadline to apply to Shelby County to temporarily fill Avant’s seat on the board is 4 p.m. Wednesday, and candidates will be interviewed March 9 at the county commission’s general government committee meeting.

Since joining the Memphis-Shelby County school board in 2014, Stephanie Love has been heralded as an ardent, tireless advocate for parents and children in North Memphis and beyond. (Courtesy of Memphis-Shelby County Schools)

Current and former district administrators, teachers union leaders, fellow school board members, and community activists took to social media on Monday to rally around Love.

“Her voice will be missed during her recovery,” said Sybille Noble, a retired lawyer for the district. “She is not only an advocate for students, but for parents, as well.” 

In Facebook posts, school board Chair Michelle McKissack and member Kevin Woods called on the community to pray for Love’s full and fast recovery, and urged them to consider donating to Love and her family through the SchoolSeed Foundation.

Superintendent Joris Ray, too, voiced his support for Love on Twitter, saying her “FIERCE advocacy for EDUCATION is undeniable.”

L.J. Abraham, a community activist who grew up next door to Love, said in a Facebook post that Love “needs all the love, light, and healing you can conjure.”

Charlie Caswell, a pastor and community leader in Frayser, shared a memory of the school board’s move in February 2019 to make all Memphis-Shelby County Schools better equipped to help children experiencing trauma, and lauded Love’s part in it. 

“We thank God for you and all the work you do for our children, families, teachers, and community,” he wrote. “Keep fighting the good fight Queen. We love you!”

Samantha West is a reporter for Chalkbeat Tennessee, where she covers K-12 education in Memphis. Connect with Samantha at swest@chalkbeat.org.

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