In My Own Words
My name is Tamra Cole. I’m a multifaceted woman and servant of the most high. My parents are Penelope Joy Franklin (Eric Franklin) and James Biggs, Sr., and I’m the eldest of three (James, Jr. “JB”, Leah, and Kiah). I was born in Jamaica Queens, New York, but I’ve lived in Charleston “Tha Chuck” the majority of my life. My parents were teenagers when I was born, and my mother was sent to New York to give birth to me. After my birth, we came back to Charleston. My early years were spent on the east side of Downtown with my younger brother and paternal grandmother- Hattie Biggs. We lived on Elizabeth Street in the Ansonborough neighborhood. It was a very nice area where Black homeownership was the norm. It is tremendously different now. There was a recent article in the Post and Courier about the last Black property owners to leave this area; gentrification has greatly changed the face of this area and many others.
After my grandmother’s demise, my parents moved to North Charleston, and my formative years were spent in the Liberty Hill neighborhood. Soon after the move, my parents divorced, my mother became a single parent, and I learned responsibility and independence. I also learned the importance of community; my neighbors were my family, and the village truly looked out for one another. I remember walking to Felix Pinckney Community Center to eat free lunch, do arts and crafts, and swim in the pool. All of the kids were cousins (unless you liked one another), and the adults would tell your parents, or someone in your family, if you stepped out of line. I didn’t realize the importance of this then, but I definitely miss it.
My advocacy began as a child in the home of my maternal great-grandparents—Joseph “Jack” Joy, Sr., (factory worker) and Helen Whipper Joy (English teacher, 41 years). I witnessed the kindness that they extended to family, friends, and their community, and I greatly admired them. It was a common occurrence for my great-grandmother to bring students home who were in need of love. She and my grandfather gave their money and time to anyone in need and taught me that if you see a need, you have an obligation to do whatever you can to fill it. My great-parents were my inspiration, but my great-grandmother's love of education is the reason I became a teacher.
For 16 ½ years, I worked as an English teacher in a few of Charleston County’s Title I Schools (Brentwood Middle, Charleston Progressive Middle, Garrett Academy of Technology High, Simmons-Pinckney Middle, and North Charleston High). English is my passion; I have loved the written and spoken word for as long as I could remember. I wanted to share that with children who looked like me and lived in underserved communities. English was considered a critical need subject, and I knew that I could do more than teach young people; I wanted to reach them.
At times, it was disheartening to see that so many of our middle and high school children read on a second or third grade level. How did they get here? It didn’t make sense. Reading and writing are fundamental skills, and someone failed them. Almost everything we do requires us to know how to read and write with proficiency. Those who lacked these skills experienced low self esteem and powerlessness. I know the value of reading and writing and gave my all to ensure the success of my students. I empowered them as stakeholders in their educational journeys.
During my time in the classroom, I used unconventional techniques to reach my students and made sure that we had fun while they learned. Music by (Lauren Hill, Slick Rick, Tupac, and Notorious B.I.G), literary works by (Maya Angelou, Nikki Giovanni, Paul Laurence Dunbar, and Langston Hughes), and speeches by Dr. King and Nelson Mandela were brought into my classroom to uplift, encourage, and inspire them. I know that representation matters, and our children need to see positive images of themselves. My classroom was a space where creativity thrived, so projects that highlighted their strengths were an integral part of assessments. I'm creative, so it just made sense. I love spoken word (poetry), to draw, paint, create artistic pieces, and write. This love led me to author two books: Yea, Thou I Walk and Through the Valley of the Shadow of Death. I tapped into what many of my students liked, my love of the written word, and my Charleston roots. I had to be an example of what I expected of them. It was important for my students to recognize the value of their talents. I wanted them to know that Charles Dickens wrote classics but so did Charles Chesnutt, and he did so with us in mind. I created lessons that addressed all learning styles, introduced stories about our experiences and did this while using the state standards. As a teacher, I received numerous awards, recognitions, and the affectionate title “Momma Cole”.
In 2018, with the support of my husband of almost 32 years, Leondas, and four amazing children Destini (Gerald), Leondas, III (Ja’lessa), Vincent and Adonis (Dominique), I stepped out on faith and left the classroom. It was really difficult because the classroom was a big part of my life, but in my latter years, I felt frustrated and overwhelmed. The educational system was devolving, and I felt as if I was drowning. I knew that I wanted to continue my educational and community advocacy, so in 2019, I became the executive director of my 501c3 nonprofit—GiFT&ED (Get it Fixed together and End Deficits, pronounced gifted). I’m currently working on a website, but there is a Facebook page under the organization’s full name.
GiFT&ED’s 2021 Holiday Giveaway
GiFT&ED’s mission is to address the issues and concerns of young people in education and the community as a whole. Family, friends, volunteers, and sponsors have made it possible for GiFT&ED to spearhead and participate in student/parent advocacy, and drives/giveaways of food, clothes and toys. As a newly established nonprofit, I’ve faced many challenges. I really didn’t know where to start. Promotion of events and financial support were just a few things that were challenging. It was hard to get support for various projects. Gatekeepers made it difficult to gain knowledge and support. Most of my support came from my cousin, Cynthia Adams who lives in Atlanta, Georgia. She helped me to establish my nonprofit and secure a contract to work at the Mercedes Benz Stadium. This made it possible for me to raise funds for GiFT&ED and allowed me the beautiful opportunity to help people who needed it most.
This year GiFT&ED and Friends will host a mobile toys, hats, gloves, and blankets community giveaway for Christmas. The goal is to collect 1,000+ toys and items to give to those in need. We’re looking for sponsors to donate and volunteers to support our efforts.
I desire to leave an indelible mark of healing and love in my community and the world. I’m a grandmother of two beautiful souls who remind me that this can happen with one act of kindness at a time. GiFT&ED is a gift that allows me the space to be the change that I want to see.
Tamra Cole styling by www.pchiofficial.com www.innergtoinnerg.com www.cuffsandcutsco.com and kutiebylexx