Lessons from Lucy Laney: Meet Ms. Payne

At Lucy Laney Elementary in North Minneapolis, one teacher has made a very deliberate choice to bring her skills to this school.

This is an installment of "Lessons from Lucy Laney," KARE 11's year-long journey along with the students and staff members of Lucy Laney Elementary School in North Minneapolis.

MINNEAPOLIS - Tiffany Payne always knew her calling was to be an educator.

But what she never predicted was that at Lucy Laney Elementary, her students who become her teachers.

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"I just love this body of students and this demographic specifically," she says. "They come in really nonjudgmental, they come in just ready to learn and ready to receive the love that you have to give to them."

North Minneapolis is worlds away from her own childhood in mostly white, middle-class Lakeville.

That's where she thought she would return, until through immeasurable grief, her path changed.

"It was like divine intervention, truly," she said. "My older brother had a huge heart for the inner city and he was volunteering in inner-city schools and he asked me, 'Would you ever consider teaching in Minneapolis?' And I was like, 'Yeah right, when I get my degree I'm heading right back to Lakeville."

Then Payne's brother passed away suddenly in a car accident.

"And it was just so impressed on my heart, Minneapolis, Minneapolis," she said. "If it weren't for his passing I wouldn't be here, you know, I call it beauty from ashes."

She said she used to scoff at the idea of "white privilege." Confronting bias has been perhaps her greatest lesson.

"Some of the experiences have been a little harder than others and I've kind of caught myself in really ignorant moments, but you need that as an opportunity to grow."

And as Payne works to create happiness for her students, she's also found her own.

"The impact that these kids have had on me and the way that they have been able to shape, you know, my view of the world and my view of the north side and of this community, it's just been amazing," she said. "So I'm super grateful."