How to Make a Long-term Investment in Equity for Nashville

How to Make a Long-term Investment in Equity for Nashville

By Bobby Edwards, office leader at Pinnacle Financial Partners and board member at Junior Achievement of Middle Tennessee

May 16, 2024

When we talk about education equity, what comes to mind? Certainly, every child should have equal access to the essentials of reading, writing, math, science, and history. Will that give them everything they need for success in life?

There’s a vital piece of the education puzzle missing, and for far too many children in Nashville, it’s been absent for a long time: Financial education.

Junior Achievement is widely recognized as the top financial education program in the nation for young people. Their curricula are specifically designed for developing minds to learn the basics of money management and personal finance, both of which are key to leveling the playing field of life.

But just as important for the long term – and maybe more so – is JA’s focus on possibilities. When a child takes part in the JA BizTown program, they learn how our economies work, the role of business in our society, and how all the elements function together like clockwork. They’re exposed to the wide spectrum of opportunities available to them as adults, from private business to public service, academia, media, and more.

Junior Achievement is a long-term investment in economic equity for an entire community because it helps children see themselves in almost any role available to them, opening pathways for their future they may not have otherwise seen. JA’s programs (JA BizTown, JA Finance Park, and In-Classroom) give kids the tools to make these futures a reality, tying together financial literacy, work and career readiness, and entrepreneurship.

This is why it was so unsettling for us when we saw how few of Nashville’s public school students were taking part in JA BizTown & JA Finance Park.

JA of Middle Tennessee is incredibly popular with local teachers and school leaders. Participation from the cities and counties surrounding Nashville was strong and getting stronger. However, Metro Nashville Public Schools had been absent from JA’s Capstone programs for many years. Changes in leadership, competing priorities and, as always, funding had been barriers to giving Nashville kids the same opportunities as their suburban counterparts.

Several of us helping lead JA decided to change that. JA President Trent Klingensmith brought together a team from Pinnacle Financial Partners along with fellow board member Corey Hammonds of Citizens Bank to build a coalition of business and civic leaders who could deepen the relationship between JA and MNPS and help support their partnership for the long term.

We quickly formed the StartUp Youth Economic Empowerment Alliance, funded through a $25,000 gift from Pinnacle to help fund programming and transportation for MNPS students to take part in JA capstone programs. We organized volunteers to work with kids as they engage in their simulations at JA. We worked our connections to help broker a stronger relationship between leadership at JA and MNPS and organized thought leadership on the importance of financial and economic education. And we started working our rolodexes to bring more of Nashville’s influential business leaders on board.

The results are startling.


  • 988 per year on average from 4-8 schools in JA Capstone Programs

2022-23 School Year

  • 4,295 students from 30 schools in JA Capstone Programs
  • New recruitment focus included historically underserved North Nashville communities.

2023-24 School Year

  • 5,593 students from 39 schools in JA Capstone Programs
  • Expanding reach to underserved communities in North and Southeast Nashville.

It has been very meaningful for me as a board member at JA to see the company that I work for step up to the plate, not just with dollars, but with leadership in a true sense. I have had the opportunity to volunteer side by side with Terry Turner, our CEO, and see him personally invest in the lives of young people. That is what true leadership looks like, not just giving at a distance, but giving fully of yourself to improve the lives of others. This experience is something those kids will remember for their lives.

Helping all our young people have every opportunity for success will ultimately make us a stronger community in Nashville and beyond. We’re incredibly proud of the team at JA and what StartUp has already accomplished, but we know this isn’t the end.

For StartUp to work, we must keep up this commitment year after year. We call on business and civic leaders across Nashville to join us in giving their time, talent, and treasure to continue this investment in Nashville’s future.

Through Junior Achievement, we can prepare the Nashville leaders of tomorrow for any path they choose to take.