photographs by Jane Schneider
When Reginald Porter Jr. says he’s on the Shelby County Board of Education to speak for the children, take him at his word. Porter has made it his business to visit many of the schools, 80-plus thus far, that fall within his District 6. Porter’s represented southeast Shelby County since first being appointed to the unified school board in 2011. When he visits, he talks to everyone, from school administrators and teachers to parents and kids, “Because at the end of the day, whatever happens at the board affects the children,” says Porter.
It’s been a busy year for the 40-year-old Porter, a Whitehaven resident and Project/Process Advisor at FedEx. Not only has he provided leadership to the board as they’ve worked to unify the Memphis and Shelby County school systems, but he became a new father to twin girls.
It was colleagues from his Leadership Academy class who suggested Porter run; it fit his background in higher education (he worked as a college administrator at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center and Arkansas State University), and his desire to serve the community. But before jumping in, Porter ran the idea past their families, both peopled with educators, and his wife, Sonya, vice principal at Riverwood Elementary School in Cordova. “I always knew Reggie would be involved with the community, I just didn’t realize it would be this way!” she says.
While the couple has only been married three years, they learned a lot about each other during their courtship, as cancer claimed the life of Sonia’s mother, and a stroke incapacitated Reggie’s father. But through the caregiving of their parents, the two saw traits they knew would benefit a marriage: strength, compassion, patience, love.
Now the proud parents of 4-month-old twins girls, Sophie and Rowan, Sonya’s pregnancy came as a huge surprise. In fact, it was a discovery they made on the eve of Porter’s election on August 1st, 2012. “I have a plan for everything,” says Sonya, “and the plan was to be pregnant in December and have a baby in the summer!” So much for planning.
Once pregnant, the next surprise surfaced at Sonya’s eight-week ultrasound, “I looked at Reggie’s face and could tell something was wrong. Then I knew there were two,” she says, noting that twins run in the family.
To celebrate, Reggie teasingly suggested having an all-male baby shower, and Acting Superintendent Dorsey Hopson obliged, bringing 40 men together to share their journeys as fathers. There were many stories from the trenches. In fact, one dad talked about the helplessness he felt during his baby’s bout with colic, and as he broke down and cried, several other men joined him, understanding the frustration that comes when fixing something that’s impossible.
Sonya’s pregnancy went perfectly and at 39 weeks, she delivered the twins via C-section. Reggie cleared his calendar, taking off three weeks so they could both adjust to life with newborns. By that time, the board was strong and “they pushed around things on the agenda until I returned,” says Reggie.
Between parenthood, careers, and the school board, Reggie and Sonya have their hands full. At the moment, Sonya is a stay-at-home mom. But she’ll return to school in July. So how does this couple make it work? One of their golden rules is not to talk shop at home. “We don’t want it to burden us as a couple,” says Sonya. “Reggie will ask a question about how policy might effect parents, but it’s just an occasional thing, to get my input.” With more than 15 years in the system, it is input he values.
Becoming a father has given Porter new insights, “I can now empathize more with parents, and it adds to the motivation I already had. Some committee members didn’t think I could be on the committee without kids, but I’m an advocate for all.”
Nursery decorating ideas: Pinterest
Disposables or cloth: Cloth diaper inserts by gDiaper
Favorite nursery item: Shadow boxes Sonya made featuring the girls’ nursery caps, bracelets, and gowns
How they told their parents: The couple bought two pairs of baby shoes but only gave one initially. “When we gave them the second, my mom flipped out,” says Sonya. “She cried all night.”
Favorite family outing: Walking their “first baby” Zoe, a Pomeranian, with the girls at Shelby Farms