Tina L. Birchett

Women of Achievement
1999

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Tina L. Birchett

With an entrepreneurial spirit and a commitment to promote diversity in marketing, Tina Birchett launched her own consulting firm in 1994. Now president of Birchett & Associates, Tina has more than 14 years of experience in advertising, marketing, research and promotions.

Tina, a native of Memphis, earned a bachelor’s degree in marketing from Memphis State University in 1982. She worked in marketing and advertising for WLMT, WDIA, WHRK and Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts.

Since 1994, she has overcome many obstacles and has set the pace for empowering women in Memphis. As a result of her desire to uplift, enlighten and inform women of color, she produces the Annual Sisterhood Outreach Summit and Showcase, which attracts more than 25,000 women across the Mid-South. This yearly event, which hosts internationally known speakers, promotes unity among women, replenishes their spirituality, and enhances leadership and career development and much more.

As an extension of her commitment to empower women, she is also the founder and publisher of a quarterly magazine, Grace. This magazine’s mission is to be a positive voice for Memphis women of color and to build empowerment through knowledge.

She has been honored among Prominent Black Women by Epsilon Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Outstanding Community Service by Beta Epsilon Omega Chapter of AKA and Life Changing Award from Grace Missionary Baptist Church. She is also a 1999 class member of Leadership Memphis.

Tina Birchett is a tireless advocate of women entrepreneurs.

Tonga Nguyen

Women of Achievement
1998

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Tonga Nguyen

Tonga Nguyen knows what it’s like to start your life over – and over again. She has found success after coming to a new country, learning a new language, experiencing a new culture, buying a new business and then yet another new business. And all before she was 26 years old.

Tonga, her parents and two brothers came to Memphis in 1990 as South Vietnamese refugees fleeing the brutal North Vietnamese Communist government. Unlike immigrants, refugees are designated by the United States government as having documented political or religious persecution that could cost them their lives in their native land. The family arrived in their new homeland with only $50, minimal possessions, and hopes for safety and freedom. They were placed in an apartment on Court Street in Midtown Memphis and received additional help from the agency that resettled them, Refugee Services of Associated Catholic Charities.

Tonga spoke little English when she arrived in the United States. Determined to receive an education, she entered the 10th grade at Central High School when she was 18 years old. She tenaciously pursued her studies and spent many hours away from school in the library. Tonga graduated from high school in 1994 at the age of 22. She became a U.S. citizen in 1995.

While still a student, Tonga worked after school in the office of the apartment building where the family lived. Eventually she was promoted to manager. After graduating, it was clear that Tonga was a natural entrepreneur. She convinced her brother to help her purchase a grocery store in North Memphis. It proved to be a dangerous business. The family sold the store in 1995 after numerous robberies, which resulted in an employee being killed and her father being critically wounded.

Tonga was unwilling to give in and pursued another business endeavor. She used the proceeds of the sale of the grocery store, her family’s savings and other financing to purchase two apartment buildings with 80 units on Court Street. In 1996, just six years after arriving in Memphis with nothing, Tonga and her family purchased the building where they first lived. Her position evolved from tenant to manager to landlord. Today, in addition to her duties as a landlord, she manages more than 400 apartments in other buildings in the neighborhood for Roberts Properties.

She said in a recent newspaper interview, “When I came (to America), I expected freedom. And I believed that if you worked hard, you could make it.”

Karen Shea

Women of Achievement
1997

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Karen Shea

It was in 1976 when Karen Shea first tested her own strength. After a divorce left her in need of a way to support her two young children, Karen set her sights on becoming an institutional securities broker. Little did she expect the reaction she got. Women, she was told, are not cut out for such a high-powered job, and they simply do not have what it takes to succeed in the financial arena.

After she got over her shock, Karen took the initiative to prove them wrong. She sold her house in Memphis, packed her bags and headed to Houston. There she got the training and support she needed and built such a strong reputation that those in Memphis who had once overlooked her skills started calling her for advice.

While in Houston, Karen became disillusioned by the corruption in local politics. In 1981, she saw a bright new face on the political horizon and began volunteering in Kathy Whitmire’s first mayoral campaign, helping her win a landslide victory. The following year Karen went on the campaign trail again, this time with Ann Richards who became the first woman elected to a statewide office in Texas in 50 years.

Karen’s most recent – and perhaps most passionate – initiative is her fight against violence among and by young people.

It was three years ago that Karen’s son was shot while trying to help a woman who was being mugged. Karen today still tears up when she talks about the incident. “Every time a child is hurt, it feels like it’s my child. They are all our children and what happens to them affects all our lives.”

After her son’s recovery, Karen served as board chair for the Gandhi Institute for the Study of Nonviolence. She also assisted with the implementation of conflict-resolution programs in the city schools, and even took a job as a schoolteacher as a way to teach young people that violence doesn’t solve problems.

Karen has now returned to the financial services industry. Women of Achievement was designed to honor ordinary women doing extraordinary things. She is just such a woman.

Karen is a financial planner with Fish & Associates.

Evelyn Thorpe-Hibbler

Women of Achievement
1996

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Evelyn Thorpe-Hibbler

After a decade of teaching in the Memphis City School system, Evelyn Thorpe-Hibbler moved to Seattle, Washington, where she enrolled her young children in a Montessori school.

Inspired by the school’s effectiveness and philosophy, she decided to become a Montessori teacher and start her own school.

Upon returning to Memphis, certified by the American Montessori Society, she interned at Lamplighter School and taught at another Montessori school. Then in 1991, with her brother, Houston attorney Richard M. Cole III, as a business partner, Evelyn founded First Class Montessori, the first African-American-owned Montessori school in Tennessee.

Unaware of the rules regarding land use in the area, they bought a cozy house on the corner of Cleveland and Peabody, capturing the concerned attention of residents in two historic neighborhoods, Annesdale Park and Central Gardens. Evelyn says, “The neighborhood people did not want a school here. We had to hire an attorney and pursue it in spite of petitions against us and go before Land Use (Control Board) and the City Council.”

First Class Montessori is a day-care center and preschool for children ages 3-6. The Montessori philosophy, developed in 1907 by Italian physician Maria Montessori, is based on the idea of the child as an individual with spiritual worth and dignity and that the most important years for learning are from birth to age 6.

First Class Montessori is limited to 36 children due to limited parking. Six teachers, on site at various times of the day, teach Swahili, Spanish, Japanese, mathematics, geography, phonetics and reading.

In August 1993, Evelyn received an Ordinary People Award consisting of a proclamation by Rep. Harold Ford, a certificate of merit from the state of Tennessee, certificate of recognition from the city of Memphis and certificate of appreciation from the Shelby County government.

Evelyn, who attended high school in Memphis, earned her master’s degree in music education at the University of Memphis in 1985 and later obtained her administration/supervision endorsement. She earned her American Montessori Society certificate at Seattle University and speaks regularly at local schools.

Evelyn says, “Children should learn independence because it helps build positive self-esteem and responsibility. I feel that children should learn respect for self that would eventually evolve into respect for others.”

“The most exciting thing for me,” Evelyn adds, “is to see children who come filled with timidness and who leave with self-assertiveness.”

Edith Kelly-Green

Women of Achievement
1993

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Edith Kelly-Green

Edith Kelly grew from her grandmother’s house in Oxford, Mississippi to a position in senior management at Federal Express. Along the way, she is paving the road into corporate America for future generations of women.

Born into a poor family, Edith was raised by her grandmother, who worked as a maid at then all-white Ole Miss. She attended segregated high school until her senior year when the school system was integrated. Always an outstanding student, her interest in math led her into an accounting degree at the University of Mississippi.

With no professional role models in her family, she struggled to adjust in her first job in an accounting firm where she was the first black person and one of only three females on a professional staff of 60. She was once asked by a senior partner not to return to an audit because one of the firm’s clients did not want a black person working in his office.

In 1974 Edith sat for her CPA and became the youngest black person — and one of the first black women — to pass the exam in Tennessee. She became a leader in accountants’ professional organizations where she encouraged women to enter accounting and informed the public and the profession about the skills and achievements of women in accounting.

She joined Federal Express in 1977 as a senior accountant in the general accounting area, and moved to manager and then director. When she made a lateral move to manage Publishing Services, employees took bets that she wouldn’t last six months. She stayed 14 months, developing operational experience, and was promoted to vice president of internal audit and quality assurance.

Edith has been recognized by Dollars and Sense and Ebony magazines as an up-and-coming woman in corporate America. She remains the first and only black vice president at Federal Express. She speaks frequently to groups of working women and students to tell her story of success and to urge them on.

“I started from scratch, and many of them are,” she says. “At any point, on any day, or sometimes within any minute, discouragement can be such that it’s easier to give up … but the real importance of this to me will be an easier road for my children and other children to walk in Corporate America.”

Peri Motamedi

Women of Achievement
1992

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Peri Motamedi

Parvenah “Peri” Motamedi was born in Tehran, Iran, in 1944 during the reign of the Shah. After graduation from high school she worked for the Shah, collecting and illustrating press clippings. But her picture of a woman’s future was very different from what Iran’s Muslim society dictated, and that is where her long struggle started.

After being humiliated by some family members and friends because of her ideas about life and the arts, she left her home country to come to the United States to build her dream. She could speak no English.

In 1965, she began three years of study at Monticello Junior College in Illinois, followed by a year at Washington University in St. Louis. After a marriage, a brief return to Iran and the birth of a daughter, she came to Memphis. In 1975, at age 31, she entered the Memphis College of Art, earning a B.F.A. in panting in 1977. She has not slowed down since.

Rather than be a “starving artist” and waiting for a gallery-goer to buy her work, Peri purposely identified a marketable craft that people would buy, freeing her to pursue her real love — fine art. Her commercial stained glass firm, Motamedi’s GlasArt, is now 15 years old and employs four other women. Her stained and leaded glass designs are found in homes, businesses and churches. But, she says, “I never tried to get big in business. My heart and effort was in fine art and teaching.” Her love for sculpture sends her out in her pickup truck to rescue junkyard metals for skillful transformation under her welding torch.

Yet Peri gives much more than her art to our community. She has taught art to children at the Jewish Community Center and YWCA, to adult mentally ill in a rehab program at Lowenstein House, to Girl Scout leaders, and students at Shelby State Community College and Memphis State University. Peri regularly contributes art for causes, such as WKNO, Playhouse On The Square, and the Orpheum. She also volunteers time with 12- and 13-year-old students at Rozelle Elementary School to encourage them to draw or paint their feelings to music.

In 1990 she conceived and funded a very special art project. The Memphis Arts Council administers the $3,000 Visualization of Music commission, which selects an artist or artists to create work based on a piece of music selected by the Memphis Symphony conductor. The art then is unveiled at a symphony art-and-music performance featuring the selected music.

Peri Motamedi travelled thousands of miles and across cultures to build her dream of a free life and artistic expression. The success of that dream is a tribute to her initiative and talent.

Franketta Guinn

Women of Achievement
1991

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Franketta Guinn

In January 1984, at age 37, Franketta Guinn left her secure job with Shelby County Health Care Center to start Metro Home Health Care. Originally employing three people, the business now employs 58 and has in the past year doubled both patient visits and revenue.

One of nine children, Franketta has always “leaned toward non-traditional fields.” In the ‘60s she was active in the local civil rights movement. She graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit, with a Bachelor’s degree in health, recreation and physical education. She coached high school basketball, taught elementary physical education, and was a swimming instructor.

In the late ‘70s, Franketta returned to school to become certified to teach health and discovered the growing need for health care administrators. She entered a Master’s program in that field and in 1977 joined the Shelby County Health Care Center. There Franketta met many older people and their families. She saw that when the elderly are taken from their homes they can become confused and that hospital environments are less conducive to healing than are familiar surroundings. She realized that staying in the home surrounded by family and friends could greatly improve the quality of life for a growing population of aging Americans.

Since Franketta always wanted to own her own business and continue her work with geriatrics, she put these ideas together and came up with Metro Home Health Care. After involved licensing procedures, the company was set up and Franketta obtained her first patient — her father. That first year, Metro Home Health Care made 1,200 visits. This past year, that number had grown to 15,000.

Franketta Guinn defines success as “being all you can be at any one point in life — every time there is an opportunity to do better, you should.” Her initiative to redirect her talents has meant more peace and freedom for hundreds of senior Memphians.

Franketta later was named the Small Business Person of the Year for Tennessee and the Southeast region by the Small Business Administration. She won the Black Business of the Year award from the Black Business Association in 1991 and Supplier of the Year Award from the Mid-South Minority Purchasing Council in 1992. In 1993 she was appointed to the board of MLGW, the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce, and the Beale Street Advisory Board.

Elaine Lee Turner and Joan Lee Nelson

Joan Lee-Nelson
Elaine Lee-Turner
Women of Achievement
1990

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Elaine Lee Turner and Joan Lee Nelson

Late one night in 1983, Elaine Lee Turner and Joan Lee-Nelson sat up discussing the fact that African-American children in Memphis did not know their own history. For these two women, who were intensely aware of their own family’s trail five generations from the slave ship, that problem demanded a solution. They decided they could show children their roots. Within a matter of months, Heritage Tours was a reality.

First they took their idea to various local funding sources, all of which turned them down. Not to be defeated, the women invested their own savings. Joan resigned her position as a job counselor with the City of Memphis; Elaine, a former teacher, reentered the professional world. With a little money and a lot of energy, the two women started the first African-American-owned tour company in the state. Their mission: to discover, chronicle and share the past of the Mid-South’s African-American community.

The sisters grew up in North Memphis hearing their mother, the family historian, tell of her father who was a boy when the slaves were freed. In 1965, Jet magazine named the 14-member Lee clan “the most arrested civil rights family in America.” “We participated because our heritage had been instilled in us,” Elaine said. Said Joan, “We are letting young people know what had to be done to get them where they are now.”

Taking the initiative is not new to these sisters. Elaine and Joan took the lead in organizing the Ida B. Wells Society and helped rally national recognition of Wells’ struggle for racial justice. Their work has won them awards, including the Shelby County Historical Commission’s Robert R. Church Award in 1989 for outstanding contribution in researching and presenting black historical heritage to national and international travelers. Indeed, much of their work involves collecting information through original research that otherwise would have been lost. Their interviews have turned up so much information that they plan a book.

“You have nothing to hold onto without your history,” said Joan, explaining the initiative they took. “You don’t know who you are. You don’t know where you are. You can’t envision the future … We see children’s eyes light up, knowing, ‘I’ve got a future.’”

Carol Coletta

Women of Achievement
1989

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Carol Coletta

From writing assistant in the Sports Information Office at Memphis State University to president of Coletta Brewer & Company, Inc., Carol Coletta has successfully made a journey through the business world that many envy. Along the way, she used her contacts and position to benefit the community — especially downtown redevelopment, tourism, and the arts.

After experience in entry-level corporate and government positions, Carol went to work in 1975 as marketing director for the Mid-America Mall project. She conceived and produced public events to bring people back downtown, including Octoberfest, the Memphis Heritage Festival and celebrations in Tom Lee Park. At the same time she was co-developer of the Timpani condominiums, downtown’s first residential renovation project, and owned and operated Magazine, the first new boutique downtown.

Starting as a public relations staff person at First Tennessee Bank in 1977, she rose in less than eight years to senior vice president for marketing and public affairs. Carol initiated the bank’s First Bravo Award, which provided $300,000 in grants to local artists; founded the First Tennessee Heritage Collection, a traveling exhibit of Tennessee art, and she organized and coordinated hundreds of citizen participants in the 1980 and 1981 Memphis Jobs Conference programs that won a $20 million capital grant from the State of Tennessee. She also was instrumental in the establishment of the public-private “superfund” which targeted promotion of tourism and the Uniport to boost Memphis’ growth.

Carol is a summa cum laude graduate of Memphis State University, pursuing her degree over a 10-year period while building a career and parenting her young daughter. Her personal civic involvement includes service as president of Memphis Planned Parenthood; chairperson of Mayor William Morris’ Economics of Amenity Task Force, and member of the Tennessee Committee for the Humanities and the Memphis Arts Council board.

All the while, Carol Coletta’s energetic leadership and dedication to both her career and her community built a model of initiative that inspires us all.

Carol, principal of Coletta & Co., is coordinator of The Community Compact, appointed by Mayor W.W. Herenton and Mayor Bill Morris to plan for the 21st Century.

Elnora Payne Woods

Women of Achievement
1995

INITIATIVE
for a woman who seized the
opportunity to use her talents and created her own future:

Elnora Payne Woods

Elnora Payne Woods was born in Olive Branch, Miss., the third of six children. The school she attended in Byhalia only went through the eighth grade. In order to finish high school, she moved to Memphis and boarded with her mother’s cousin. She supported herself by working as a waitress and dishwasher seven days a week. After her graduation she continued to work to help her younger brother and sisters through school.

In 1953 she married J.C. Woods, a cab driver, and together they had four children. In 1976 Mr. Woods bought Orange Mound Cab Co. He continued to drive a cab and Elnora worked in the office. Two and a half years later her husband died unexpectedly and Elnora was left to run the company.

Elnora had a little experience but a lot of determination. She already had trained to be a masseuse, keypunch operator and data transcriber, so she had confidence in her ability to learn new things.

At first each day was a struggle. According to Elnora she initially worked just to pay the expensive insurance. “I took one day at a time and listened to others,” she said. “Then I did what I could do and what I had to do.”

Under her leadership the company became Citywide Cab and grew from a total fleet of 22 cabs to 100 cabs and from 14 drivers to more than 100 drivers. The company now is self-insured and debt-free.

In 1992, Citywide Cab was named Small Business of the Year among companies with 75 – 350 employees in the annual Memphis Business Journal awards. Her goal was financial security for herself and her family.

Through initiative, Elnora Payne Woods built a thriving business and a legacy for her children.