Longtime Soulsville Charter School government and economics teacher Austin Crowder was among a select group of leaders in their fields invited to give a TEDx Talk at the Crosstown Concourse Theater on February 22, 2020. In the spirit of ideas worth spreading, TEDx is a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience with video and live speakers combined to spark deep discussion and connection.

Throughout eight years as an educator, Mr. Crowder has developed a Know Your Rights Unit for implementation in civics classes throughout the city and country. Hoping to expand his efficacy in addressing challenges faced by students in Memphis and throughout the country, he completed the Teaching Policy Fellowship through Teach Plus, the Tennessee Educator Fellowship through the State Collaborative on Reforming Education, and presently is a Religious Literacy and Education Fellow at Harvard University.


Mr. Crowder started the Know Your Rights Unit at The Soulsville Charter School in 2014 in the wake of highly publicized police killings throughout the country, which had heightened a sense of trepidation about law enforcement among his students. Through lesson plans, role-playing, analyzing videos and podcasts, seminars, and guests including police officers, civil rights lawyers, sheriffs, and various peace-related organizations, the Unit teaches students how to “know their rights” when interacting with law enforcement and how to de-escalate situations and acknowledge the responsibility of police for professionalism.

Austin Crowder teaching his Know Your Rights class.

As one student early on in the Know Your Rights Unit commented after a local sheriff shared her perspective on police encounters, “It changed my perspective of what police officers go through every day, that they get scared, and have emotions like we do. I now see my rights as a tool to protect myself, knowing that if you are respectful and calm the police are less likely to think you’re trying to pull something.”

According to Crowder, “We dig into the specifics of the rights of civilians and of police during encounters on foot, car, and home. We breakdown nuances around probable cause, filming the police, and discuss best practices for staying as safe as possible while utilizing one’s rights. I have had law professors from Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law and practicing Civil Rights lawyers participate in this initial process, detailing any local caveats and offering their contact information should students have further questions.”

More about Mr. Crowder

Austin Crowder, who has also incorporated history lessons about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. through the year in this classes, is twice a finalist in the National Civil Rights Museum’s Drop the Mic Poetry Slam competition, an original cast member of “Union: the Musical” about the Sanitation Strike of 1968, and has contributed numerous viewpoint op-eds and other articles to publications such as The Commercial Appeal, Huffington Post, I Love Memphis Blog, and SBNation to get the word out about the great things going on in Memphis education and otherwise. Mr. Crowder was named in the top 20<30 in Memphis by The Memphis Flyer in 2019 and ran for Memphis City Council that same year for reasons of his own but also as a lesson for his students in what can be achieved.

For more information about the February 22, 2020 TEDx Talk at Crosstown Concourse Theater and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.tedx-memphis.com/