Raised by a single mother, who got pregnant with him at 16 and dropped out of school at 17, attorney Ricky E. Wilkins shared these reflections in an interview with The New Tri-State Defender following an earlier congressional campaign: “…many see the successful attorney not knowing the road that I traveled to get there. That’s why I was telling people on the campaign trail, ‘I’m somebody who literally understands the pain and problems of our community.’” (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

Attorney Ricky E. Wilkins envisioned economic justice and political empowerment for African Americans. He even doubled down on that goal after being diagnosed with the rare form of brain cancer that took his life last week (Oct. 19).

A visitation service for Wilkins, 58, is set for Friday (Oct. 27) from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. at First Baptist Church-Broad, which is located at 2835 Broad Ave. The funeral is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. on Saturday at the church.

A first-generation college student, Wilkins earned his bachelor’s degree from Howard University and a law degree from Vanderbilt University after coming up through Riverview Elementary and Carver High School.

At the 2017 Annual Pinky Promise Program and Ball, attorney Ricky E. Wilkins (shown here at his law office), Ricky Wilkins had delivered a passion-laced keynote address accented with his own journey up from South Memphis poverty. Said Wilkins, “Learn the rules, follow the rules, play by the rules and play to win…. All day everyday, no days off.” (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender)

A longtime chairman of the Memphis Housing Authority, Wilkins, a proud member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., began his law career at Burch, Porter and Johnson, where he became a partner in 1977. In 2003, he opened the law offices of Ricky E. Wilkins. What began as a solo practice in the corner of an executive office center evolved into a law firm housed in a 3,000 square-foot downtown law firm inside of a 1923 building, which he owned, on the National Register of Historic Places.

In 2014, Wilkins made an unsuccessful and mostly self-financed bid for the ninth congressional district seat, polling 32.5 percent of the vote. He emerged committed to taking advantage of lessons learned, including community needs, which he dedicated himself to help address.

Vowing not to seek public office again, Wilkins said, “I’ve got to be in a position to be able to speak the truth to the people. … People are afraid of the truth. They’d rather live a lie than confront the consequences of the truth being exposed….

“I just want this community once and for all to get serious about being fair to all of its people, with African Americans being at the top of the list because we have been the ones most maligned, most discriminated against, most oppressed, most depressed, and most compressed in this community and it’s time for real change.”

Detailing why he was promoting the creation of a Black political action committee, attorney Ricky E. Wilkins said, “I don’t care who you are. I don’t care what part of town you live in. I don’t care how big a person you think you are. Your life in Memphis, Tennessee is fundamentally underneath where (it ought to be) because in Memphis, Tennessee, my hometown, certain people have a grip on us like you won’t imagine.” (Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku/The New Tri-State Defender Archives)

In the midst of his battle with Glioblastoma, Wilkins launched MEMPOWER, a campaign and organizing effort designed to achieve both economic justice and political empowerment for African Americans. Later, and with the same self-evident passion, he opened the door to discussion of a Black political action committee to harness the political power of the African-American community and free candidates from what he called the grip of white-owned businesses.

The father of two daughters, Reghan Wilkins, a human resource recruiter with a Fortune 500 Company, and Rylee Wilkins, a senior majoring in entrepreneurship at the University of Tampa, Wilkins was a member of Next Level Cathedral of Praise Ministry, 1581 Ball Rd., which is pastored by his uncle, the Rev. Dr. Lee Wilkins Jr.

“When he received the devastating diagnosis of brain cancer, his faith was put to the ultimate test,” said Pastor Wilkins, who added that Wilkins “drew strength from like believers of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

“He shared his journey openly with others in the community and throughout the city becoming a beacon of hope and encouragement for those facing similar battles. Medically it was stated to my wife (Dr. Lisa Carter Wilkins) and I that Ricky would probably live about three years, but God said, ‘I’ll double that’ and he lived 6 1/2 years. To God we give the glory.”

Attorney Ricky E. Wilkins’ daughters, Reghan Wilkins and Rylee Wilkins. (Courtesy photo)

Lillian Hammond met Wilkins in the late 1990’s and they later become close friends.

“He often referred to me as his big sister,” said Hammond. “He helped me through a very difficult time in my life. … I would suggest that his life should be remembered by such terms as courageous, compassionate, conscientious, ambitious, adventurous, loyal, determined, spiritual and definitely lovingly to his daughters and other family members.”

Attorney Ricky E. Wilkins (bottom row, fourth from the right) was a member of the Tri-State Defender’s second Men of Excellence class.

Memphis City Council Chairman Martavius Jones first encountered Wilkins at Howard, where he was a freshman and Wilkins was a campus leader then in his senior year. He was attending Howard’s homecoming when he learned of Wilkins’ death.

“This homecoming for me is bittersweet,” said Jones from DC. “This is where Ricky and I met and then to find out that he passed (while I’m here) at the place where we met is just devastating.”