Ellen Gilbert Cultivates Diversity and Love in Nashville

Ellen Gilbert, 65, is the founder of Global Education Center in West Nashville.

She grew up in Ohio and after high school started college at Kent State before transferring to Peabody College in Nashville. Midwestern born and raised, she had never been to the south before moving in December of 1970.


“When I was at Kent State my freshman year my roommates were African American. When I transferred to Peabody, the black girls were in the basement in a separate room, and there was no interracial mixing. They had separate rooms for dances and everything,” she said.

Ellen had never been in that type of environment before. In Ohio, the schools were integrated in the 1950s, but when she arrived in the 1970s, she said Nashville was still fighting desegregation on buses and schools.

“Where I grew up people were divided by what their dad did, not what color they were,” she said. “If your dad was in the auto industry, then you lived in one neighborhood, and if your dad was a professor, doctor, or lawyer, then you lived in another neighborhood. Our neighbors were mixed, and it was more based on family economics.

Ellen finished Peabody College in 1973 with an undergraduate degree in early childhood education. Part Native American and coming from a diverse background yourself, she always put a multicultural spin on everything she taught.

“Because the schools weren’t that diverse and children had to learn about other cultures, I started doing workshops with teachers on how to make their classrooms welcoming places for all of their kids and families,” she said. “The program was called Anti-bias Education back then. ”

When her first son was three, she started another program called Passport to Understanding. For the next fifteen years, Ellen coordinated and curated hands-on cultural museum presentations for children.

“We would set up in whatever space they’d give us with instruments, masks, artifacts, toys, games, clothing from different cultures, one at a time,” she said. “Children ask such deep questions. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gone home and changed the way I did something because a seven-year-old said something to me or a nine-year-old asks a question.”


Ellen began doing some traveling and sharing her program with others around the country.

“During that time some teachers wanted me to move up to New York because they felt that their schools were segregated,” she said. “I didn’t want to move to New York, so, the teachers asked me to open a place in Nashville where they could come in the summer.”

Ellen immediately thought it was a great idea and so in 1996 she began writing up 501c(3) paperwork to receive a nonprofit organization status.

“I put together a board from all the international parents who are artists that I had met from working in the schools and voilà,” she said.

Ellen found and purchased a building in West Nashville that had been empty for a few years. After months of renovations, the Global Education Center opened in August of 1997.

Almost 20 years later, Global Education Center now has about 110 artists from 40 countries and cultures on their roster.

Classes and programs at the center range from swing dancing, Capoeira, Hip Hop, African percussion, English country dancing, and much more.

“Our whole mission is based on a Lakota phrase which translates to we are all related to one another as humans but also to everything else living in the universe,” she said. “I feel like as human beings we’re all more alike than we are different.”

Ellen said people should understand that everyone has the same roots if traced back far enough and that when God created people, he created perfect children and spiritual people.

As a teenager, she was the victim of a violent crime.

“My family’s reaction was, that I had to love that person because that is God’s perfect child, and what he did materially was evil, but he was not evil,” she said.

“Every day is a clean slate. It doesn’t matter what happened yesterday. You have to love people.”

Ellen’s grandmother was adopted as an indentured servant at nine years old. She said looking back she’s been one of the people who has impacted her life the most.

“She couldn’t read very well, but I thought she was the smartest person in the world,” she said. “Out of all of us, I was the only one that sat and listened to her stories. I don’t know if they were true or not but they shaped my way of looking at the world.”


A Nashvillian for the last 47 years, Ellen said she loves the city and feels safe in it. But she said she is saddened by the significant changes it has seen over the last few years.

“The people that we serve and the people that I hang with that are artists, musicians, and teachers are getting priced out of this city,” she said.

Ellen said developers try to buy her building every day, but she’s fighting and not planning on selling.

“We want our clientele to feel comfortable here, which is hard when everything is getting expensive,” she said. “The price of housing is ridiculous, and someone needs to be steward over the people.”

Ellen feels the most saddened by what has happened to the African American neighborhoods in Nashville.

“African Americans owned their homes, had great pride, and had a great sense of community in those neighborhoods,” she said. “Why can’t these young people who are moving into the city move into these multiethnic neighborhoods and embrace what’s there instead of trying to change it so that they feel comfortable?”

In the immediate future, Ellen believes more and more people will be displaced. She also said neighborhoods and communities will become homogenous if people don’t do anything about it.

“This city has to do something, and it has to value people over prosperity and being labeled the ‘it’ city. And we can do it, but everybody has to work at it including the school systems, the social systems, and the religious systems.”

Ellen asked how can anyone be a person if they’re always surrounded by people that look, talk, and worship like themselves?

“That’s why the country is so divided right now. People only look at the news they agree with, and I’m guilty of it too,” she said. “I feel like you’re doing a disservice to your children if you don’t expose them, and not in a patronizing way but in a way where everyone is valued and looked at as equal.”

At Global Education Center, Ellen said they use the arts to address things like racism and xenophobia but said it’s also a great vehicle for expression and keeping the community vibrant.

Ellen said the work she’s done over the last 21 years is her heart. She said the community at Global Education Center is certainly diverse. She sees people as family.

“A community is any group of people that feels comfortable together, and respects each other and works together.”

“I feel like everything I grew up thinking has come to fruition here and this is my family, and I love people here,” she said.

Ellen is a self-proclaimed workaholic.

“The best thing is that it doesn’t at all feel like work,” she said. “Sometimes it is frustrating when there’s so much going on at once, but I would do it all over again.”

Ellen said she does wonder what will happen if funding from the NEA is cut because they are small and rely on government grants rather than wealthy donors.

This year, Global Education Center went from a staff of two to seven because of more funding for federal grants.

Thanks for reading Nashville!

Musician, Producer, and Actor Jon Lucas Saw a Dream from Young

Jon Lucas, 30, was born in Florida where most of his family still resides. After his mother had been discharged from the Navy and while he was still very young, she decided to move to Nashville.

“My mom got a job here and raised me in Nashville,” he said. “It’s always been home for me.”

Growing up, Jon was interested in many things like sports, computer engineering, and music but it would be the latter that changed his life and gave it purpose. 

into a WORLD of MUSIC

Initially, Jon said his first big interest was in sports. 

“I excelled in them, and I was a decent athlete,” he said. “I was the most talented in baseball but I spent the most time playing basketball, and I liked football, so I played that too.”

He said he wasn’t ever good enough in sports to get him to the pros, so he decided to develop his interest in music.

“My mom introduced me to everything, really,” he said. “She used to sing a community choir that one of her close friends had started. He was a mentor of mine, and he had a group that my mom and aunt sang in. They used to travel all around the city and even regionally to do concerts.” 

Jon was about eight years old at the time, and it was his first taste of being a musician.

“It was magical. When you’re a kid, and you see people doing what you’re interested in doing and at a level that provides money and some recognition for the personal work, it’s incredible,” he said. “They’re not just clocking in and doing someone’s heavy lifting for a dollar. They’re doing something they believe in.”

For Jon, those times pushed him to want to explore on his own and develop his own understanding of life and music, particularly the drums. 

After high school and while he was taking college courses for computer engineering, Jon had an opportunity to travel to Europe to play music with singer/songwriter Ty Lawton.

Just having turned 21 at the time, Jon traveled to places like Copenhagen, Denmark, and others to play funk and soul music.

“It was great. It was diving into the water,” he said. “I started working with people I had only heard about. For a long time, I was always the youngest guy working.”

Jon is now a full-time drummer. Not only does he play in gigs around town, but he also teaches drum lessons at Creative Soul Music Academy and has a part in CMT’s show Nashville, which he plays the drummer in the fictional band, The Ex’s.

Jon has been teaching for the last three years in Berry Hill and has been involved with the Nashville show for the last three seasons.

“It’s something I’ve always wanted to do, and now I’m doing it. It’s kind of surreal to look up and understand that,” he said. 

Additionally, he’s also producing music and making records. He’s working on some new projects with a friend and Dreamville Records producer, Ron Gilmore.

“I’ve got some writing, some production, and some musicianship showcased on his new album coming this year,” he said.

Jon said being a full-time drummer in Nashville is a lot of conscience movements.

“You have to calculate your moves. The beautiful thing about the drums is taking multiple fragments and pieces and parts and combining them to make one beautiful thing,” he said. “I apply that same thought to every aspect of life – like how I live, how I get dressed in the morning, how I talk to people, and everything else.”

Jon said the most difficult thing is doing what he already knows he was supposed to do. He explained himself by saying, “It’s easy to do what the crowd is doing and what seems popular. For lack of courage and other reasons, people persuade you to do the lesser and stay mediocre. A lot of times we have better ideas than the people around us, but we talk ourselves out of sticking with it.”

He said he sees a lot of musicians decline their gift and potential because of the opinions of others. To overcome those issues and difficulties, Jon said it’s best to spend time and learn from people with strong values and to keep those who are transparent and honest close.


Growing up in Nashville was good to Jon as he called it “the most balanced territory.” 

“You can create a lot here. If you’re not necessarily a city person, you can find some areas here that are your speed. If you want to move fast, you can hop into some parts with that speed. Nashville isn’t consumed with so much of one lifestyle that you can’t do anything else.”

 Jon is a little consumed with country music right now but said that’s not a bad thing because every genre needs their representation. In other places around the country, he said certain styles are more popular than others.

Lately, he also loves listening to eclectic-soul/Pop music blend he’s been hearing a lot of. Some of his influences are Hiatus Kaiyote, Little Dragon, The Gorillas, and Grizzly Bear.

“If we don’t see something we want, we just have to create more of it, and I’m glad there’s an opportunity to do that in Nashville,” he said. “I never thought there would be a time when you could see this much opportunity here. It wasn’t like this when I was growing up.” 

Jon said the economic boom in Nashville makes the city more attractive for opportunities.

“But I do think there should be more purpose in some of the destruction that I see. I see more purposeless destruction because people are just splurging now and they’re erasing the culture, which is not cool to me,” he said. “A brand new building with no stores isn’t cool. You should have kept that old business there and invested into it.”

 Jon said he worries that people like the artists, the teachers and the regular businessmen and women who made the city what it is are being pushed out because they can’t afford it anymore. He said he’s concerned that the people moving into the area don’t know or appreciate the history here.

However ultimately, he thinks Nashville will continue to grow and prosper because of the culture and of the people.

“I do wish that the developers would take a closer look at the communities to see what they’re actually changing and how they’re affecting people on a local level.”

 For Jon, a community is like a village.

“It’s a network of individuals who occupy the same principles of living.”

 He said to be a part of the Nashville community means you have a voice.

 “It’s not easy to have a voice because I know with my ideas personally if it were easy I’d be at the finish line already.”

He said one reason it’s difficult to have a voice is that sometimes some people don’t like to work together.

 “I understand how big ideas happen. It takes a lot of people who focus on the same result to work on that goal. If that happened in Nashville and people got behind big ideas, then we would be able to achieve so much.”

In the future, Jon wants to continue drumming and acting. He also wants to open a commercial studio in Nashville and get back to Europe to play more music.

To keep up with Jon Lucas Music, follow him on Instagram and Facebook

Thanks for reading Nashville!

Zac Radford Plays with Heart and Passion

Zac Radford, 30, was born in St. Louis and grew up in Texas in between San Antonio and Austin. In 2003, his family moved to Brentwood, just south of Nashville.

After the move, he went on to finish high school and attend the University of Tennessee in Knoxville where he graduated in 2009. Over the last several years, Zac has been traveling off and on pursuing a PGA Tour. Having lived briefly in San Antonio and Orlando, he said he would always call Nashville home.

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Nicole Brandt Brings People Together Through Poverty and the Arts

Nicole Brandt, 24, grew up in a small Southern Baptist town called Lawrenceburg, Kentucky.

Growing up the narratives about homelessness were always the same – that individuals were lazy, drug addicts, and didn’t deserve money from the government.

“At the time I didn’t know any homeless people other than serving at soup kitchens through my church,” she said. “In my senior year in high school, I was connected with a guy who would go to homeless camps and tents in Louisville. He would sometimes bring coffee, socks or food but ultimately went just to spend time with people.”

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Brandon Alexander Hopes to Chase His Dream in a Familiar City

Brandon Alexander, 24, calls Nashville his second home.

“I do a lot of traveling between here and Huntsville, and I want to move up to Nashville for culinary school.”

Born and raised in Pulaski, Brandon still lives in the little town just over an hour’s drive south of Nashville. He graduated from Sparkman High School in Alabama, then went to Calhoun Community College for a little bit before deciding to join the workforce.

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Tattoo Artist James Barrow Does it All For His Family and His Community

James Barrow moved to Nashville from Florida in 1997.

As a tattoo artist, he has floated back and forth through different parts of the country but has been based in Nashville since then.

James just recently became a part of the team at Avenging Art Tattoos on Nolensville Road in Southeast Nashville.

“The shop has got a great reputation,” he said. “The location has been a tattoo shop for years and years. Now, we’re working on some issues like cleaning the shop up and changing the face on it a little bit.”

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