The 40 Leadership Memphis change makers were introduced to the gala luncheon crowd in groups by television news anchors and co-emcees Mearl Purvis and Joe Birch. (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)

By Dena S. Owens, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

On Tuesday, approximately 700 “movers and shakers” across Memphis gathered to celebrate 40 years of Leadership Memphis, a nonprofit empowering a diverse base of civic, political and business leaders to tackle a variety of community concerns through education, networking and servant-leader training. The event coincided with Memphis 200th birthday as a chartered city.

To mark the anniversary, LM honored 40 top leaders that crossed race, age and business strengths during a two-hour luncheon at the Hilton Memphis Hotel. Each honoree, including 10 young professionals, was bestowed a unique, wooden statue created by artist Ben Butler.

“Lead by example,” said Richard Smith, president and CEO of FedEx Logistics and board chairman for the Greater Memphis Chamber. Smith, who delivered the keynote, accepted the honor for his father, Fred Smith, FedEx founder, chairman and CEO, and member of the LM Founding Board.

Smith acknowledged a decade of Memphis business stagnation after International Paper moved its headquarters to the city in 2005, but credited NBA Grizzlies players Zach Randolph, Mike Conley, Tony Allen and Mark Gasol for defining the term “Grit and Grind” and sparking a new moniker for winning in both basketball and business.

The moniker and “Believe Memphis” theme reminded locals of the city’s strong history and passion for basketball, as well as its pool of talent, which inspired new business development and economic goals for all sections of the city.

“You never know where leadership is coming from,” added Smith during his address. As the moniker took hold, “leaders wanted to win, wanted to believe and began to have more swagger – good times are coming.”

Within the last year, Memphis has secured several new corporate headquarters, including ServiceMaster, FedEx Logistics, Indigo Agriculture, JNJ Express and others, all which will create thousands of jobs as they embrace the city’s talent and amenities.

In addition, Memphis just announced having the No. 2 pick in the 2019 NBA Draft and the No. 1 recruiting class in the nation as Penny Hardaway marks his first year as coach of the University of Memphis Tigers. Both successes have the potential to influence the Memphis economy.

The Rev. Keith Norman, pastor of First Baptist Church-Broad and vice president of Government Relations for Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation, was one of the 40 honorees. Dr. Norman is passionate about the economic plight of residents in the Binghampton community where his church resides.

“Binghampton is a diverse community and we’re working to bring equal opportunities to its people, regardless of race, creed, or ethnicity,” said Norman.

“We offer after-school programs and other services, but also want to ensure that new developments coming in the community consider price points for all people as we fight gentrification,  Norman added. “Binghampton is a community for young, old, rich and poor.”

David Williams, in his 16th year as LM executive director, noted the reason for the founding of Leadership Memphis – to serve as a catalyst for healing after the assignation of Dr. Martin Luther King in Memphis.

The founding board of 16 members included four African Americans – Willie Herenton, Sonia Walker, the late D’Army Bailey and the late Fred C. Lofton.

Williams also pointed to focus areas for the next 40 years of the center – leadership training, volunteerism and networking for impact. Volunteer Memphis, a partner to Leadership Memphis, is led by Andrea Hill, who responded to TSD’s questions about why citizens should consider volunteerism.

“It’s about a family having a home, or a community having a clean neighborhood when no one else is there to clean it up,” said Hill. “We connect nonprofits that need help to volunteers who want to help.”

A list of LM’s 16 founding members and this year’s 40 honorees or “Change Makers” is provided above. Each is a member of “the best class ever” whenever asked, a solid tradition of all graduates of LM programs.

Leadership Memphis is seeking participants for the year-long 2020 Executive Program Class starting in August and the next Fast Track program – a nine-week accelerated course – set for September. For more information about Leadership Memphis or to apply for its programs, visit

Leadership Memphis Founding Board

  • Clarence Day
  • D’Army Bailey
  • Lewis Donelson
  • Myra Dreifus
  • Jack Belz
  • Lucius Burch
  • Edgar Bailey
  • Fred Lofton
  • Fred Smith
  • Pitt Hyde
  • Willie Herenton
  • Gwen Awsumb
  • Jane Jones
  • C.R. Mason
  • Sonia Walker
  • Kate Gooch

Leadership Memphis Change Makers

  • Calvin Anderson
  • Ekundayo Bandele
  • Ron Belz
  • Kathy Buckman Gibson
  • Trey Carter
  • Staley Cates
  • Darrell Cobbins
  • Adam Cruthirds
  • Fred Davis
  • Meka Egwuekwe
  • Marlon Foster
  • Art Gilliam
  • Rabbi Micah Greenstein
  • Carolyn Chism Hardy
  • Whitney Hardy
  • Michael Hooks Jr
  • Pitt Hyde III
  • Dr. Stan Hyland
  • Victoria Jones
  • Fred Jones Jr
  • Mary H. McDaniel
  • Charles McVean
  • Dr. Scott Morris
  • Rev. Dr. Keith Norman
  • Deanie Parker
  • David Porter
  • Stephen Reynolds
  • Beverly Robertson
  • Rev. Dr. Kenneth S. Robinson
  • Gayle S. Rose
  • Gary Shorb
  • Fred Smith
  • Susan Stephenson
  • Henry Turley
  • Anita Vaughn
  • Jose Velázquez
  • Yancy Villa-Calvo
  • Rev. Sonia Walker
  • Spence L. Wilson
  • Lauren Wilson Young