Barbara Boucher

Barbara Boucher
WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2023

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Barbara Boucher

Many people in our community are hungry every single day.  And that’s not okay with Barbara Boucher.

Some statistics report that 19% of our local population suffers from food insecurity. Some say that 116,000 children and their families fall into that category. A recent study showed Memphis as number three in the nation for food insecure seniors. Whatever the stats, that’s way too many.

A long-time volunteer in food ministries for the Church of the Holy Communion, in 2010 Barb Boucher began helping prepare food for a monthly Sunday for the More than a Meal program at Grace St. Luke’s Episcopal. In 2012, she inherited the position of team leader. Barbara and her team haven’t missed a Sunday since. 

And that was just the beginning.

In 2019, Barb began cooking for women surviving life on the streets and overcoming addiction through the Lisieux Community. She included with each summer meal frozen cloths to cool the neck as there’s no air-conditioning on the street.  

In 2020 Covid struck and food ministries shut down. Constance Abbey, an intentional community working to meet immediate needs of the unhoused population near downtown, phoned. “Our clients are hungry,” they said. So Barb went into action. First, she personally prepared 300 sack lunches. Next, she developed Covid procedures to allow volunteers to safely prepare and deliver 80 – 100 sack lunches daily along with hot meals for dinner. This program continued until other food ministries re-opened in June 2021.   She also continued cooking for Lisieux.

 When community lockdown ended and other food ministries re-opened in June 2021, Barb’s individual work at Lisieux became part of her long-standing work through Church of the Holy Communion’s food ministry now called Recover Food, Feed Hope. Each aspect of the ministry draws different volunteers. Currently more 65 volunteers assist and the number is steadily growing.

Their work is supported by donations of cash and food. Individuals, faith groups, businesses all kick in. And since 2020, through contact with Clean Memphis, gleaning has had a huge impact.

In the present day, this biblical practice means recovering otherwise wasted food and feeding the hungry. Barb and team initially used gleaning for meals for Constance Abbey. It is now an essential part of the ongoing network.

In the summer of 2021 over 7,000 pounds of produce were collected twice a week at the Agricenter Farmer’s Market by a small crew of gleaners from Temple Israel and Beth Sholom synagogues. After Jewish Family Services provides for their community, the remainder comes to Barb’s team.

This produce can’t wait. 

Depending on the product, they decide what to do next. First chop, then cook or freeze. Picture crates and bushels of waiting, wilting, warming produce. By the end of last season, everyone had blisters from peeling and was tired of tomatoes, cantaloupe, and okra!

Now that word is out, grocery stores, restaurants, college cafeterias and sometimes even large private weddings and parties send food to the gleaners. No food is turned down, even on the weekend. Exotic spice donations have led to culinary research and creative recipes. Calls are made and food is delivered.

The standard for each meal is that it must be delicious enough to serve to your own family. A favorite comment from one client is that Barb’s banana pudding tastes as good as her mama’s, a high compliment, indeed.

In addition to prep work and delivery, Barb’s efforts include recruiting and scheduling both individuals and institutions to help.  Sometimes it’s through people she knows and sometimes it’s cold calls but clearly her tactics work She now has a large interfaith network striving to end hunger. And instead of making calls, she gets calls asking how to help.

How did Barb choose this volunteer activity?  She says that love of cooking is her gift from God.  The fifth of six siblings of a working mother, she was in charge of preparing whatever was left out each morning for their evening meal.  When her three sons were young and active in youth groups, she loved cooking for them and their friends .

What else does Barbara do?  She loves to bake and regularly makes birthday cakes for people in hospice. And of course, she spends time with her precious grandchildren.  Her intention is to make sure that everyone has enough to eat.  If it were up to the determined Barbara Boucher, no one would go hungry.

Mercy Mahal-Ko “Mahal” Burr

Women of Achievement
2020

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Mercy Mahal-Ko “Mahal” Burr

Do not let her soft voice and gentle smile fool you.

Mahal Burr is a woman whose grit, passion and energy for speaking out and standing up put her on the front lines of some of our community’s thorniest conflicts.

From Black Lives Matter and Confederate monument protest rallies to halls of the legislature, school board sessions and incarcerated teens’ jail cells – Mahal Burr is a community organizer and trainer determined to help young people raise their voices, become leaders and change agents who can make society better, safer and more just.

Survivor of a turbulent childhood and sexual assault, Mahal recognized early that it is essential that people affected by systems engage in setting solutions – from government to jails to law enforcement to school systems.

“We have to listen to the people who are experiencing those problems first-hand and involve them in repairing the systems that failed them.”

She also began very early to grapple with the constraints and destructiveness of labels and categories. She grew up with Muslim, Jewish, Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, Quaker, atheist and agnostic family members across two continents.

Her mom helped little Mahal learn right from left by putting her in mismatched socks. Years later, Mahal, whose mother is white and father Filipino, chose to wear different colors of socks for a different reason. She says, “I didn’t want to be known as the white girl or the Chinese girl or the Filipina girl. I wanted to choose my own identity. So, I became known as the mismatched socks girl.”

In her work with teens at Bridges USA, she helps seemingly mismatched youngsters find their own identities and support and respect those of others, across racial, ethnic, income and gender divides.

Mahal first worked with the combination of school, community and prison- based groups toward conflict resolution during her years at Minnesota’s Carleton College. She was program director of Alternatives to Violence Prevention, an association of those groups striving to share affirmation, respect for all, community, cooperation and trust. She also founded a sexual assault task force where survivors could share their stories, was an advisor on a campus hotline and pressed for policies that would enforce punishment of assailants and honor survivors’ traumatic experiences. She became a facilitator/trainer with AVP.

Mahal came home to Memphis summer of her junior year to partner with 12 organizations in creating the Teen Moms Against Child Abuse program. Research said the teen mothers were part of the population most likely to engage in child abuse so they were presumed to be the ones whose behavior change could reduce that violence.

Mahal remembers vividly when she met with one teen mom who listened to her description of the program and then said, “Why don’t you hire us to do this since you are not a teen mom?”

That was a pivotal moment, Mahal says, and it inspired her senior dissertation.

“Everything from then on has been based on listening to the voices of people most knowledgeable about the problem. They are the experts, and that voice has to create strong solutions and be able to work.”

She taught with Teach for America for two years and then joined Bridges, renowned for bringing together Shelby County youth from wide backgrounds to become social change leaders. At Bridges, Mahal helps seemingly mismatched teens find their own identities and learn to support and respect others, across racial, ethnic, income and gender divides.

As Bridges’ Community Action Coordinator, Mahal took the CHANGE
leadership development program in powerful new directions which in 2016 earned the Innovation Award from Inside Memphis Business. For seven years – with few weekends off — she guided a cadre of paid high school youth organizers, called CHANGERS, into the most current and volatile subjects, providing them the tools, advisors, voice and space to create strategic projects around gender and sexuality equality, school to prison pipeline, reviving the arts, community gardens, inter-generational mentorship and sexual harassment and assault in schools.

In 2021 Mahal was named director of Bridges’ new Youth Action Center to fully focus on assuring that policy and system change decisions affecting youth include youth by fostering and supporting youth councils in many settings. She directs community agreements and training that establish youth-adult partnerships in settings such as the Memphis Public Library where a youth council was established to redesign every branch based on recommendations from youth in those communities.

So far, teen voices have fostered a self-care room, a mental health workshop, a ramen tasting and anime club and guidance on addition of new technology among library branches.

Another youth council will help Seeding Success plan uses of $200 million in areas like housing, justice and culture. The Youth Justice Action Council is pressing county officials for change in the juvenile justice system, building off earlier recommendations from the Incarcerated Youth Speaking for Change. The Tennessee Youth Coalition, totally youth-led and sparked by the Youth Justice Action Council, lobbied legislators on bills that would directly affect them, such as one making it a felony to teach anything obscene. That language has been used to ban teaching of Maya Angelou, the Holocaust and Ruby Bridges among much more.

Drawing on her college experience with Alternatives to Violence (AVP), a conflict resolution program founded in prison, Mahal also co-developed and co-delivered Incarcerated Youth Speaking Out for Change in partnership with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. The program worked with young Memphis men in jail to turn their collective thoughts into six models for change they wish to see implemented in schools, local government and the criminal justice system. This work earned Mahal and her training partner the 2016 “Advocate Award” for Leadership in Juvenile Justice Reform.

Today Mahal is reviving the Memphis Activism Calendar to connect local social change activists and is on the board of Play Where You Stay bringing soccer and its scholarship potential to playgrounds and parks in areas where families can’t easily afford the sport.

Mahal’s determination to create a new generation of engaged, creative, caring community leaders and changemakers is growing, succeeding and giving us limitless hope for the future. Mahal says: “The solution isn’t what we bring. It’s what we find.”

Rachel Coats Greer

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Rachel Coats Greer

In 1958, Rachel’s father started Rachel’s Flowers, a small florist near the University of Memphis. In 1997, the business moved to 2486 Poplar near Hollywood, on the edge of Binghamton, the geographic heart of the city. The neighborhood behind the shop suffered from a lack of jobs and businesses. This resulted in crime, poverty and hopelessness.

After the move, Rachel Coats, working in the shop that bears her name, answered a knock at the back door. A young boy asked for a part time job to buy clothes and school supplies. She initially said no but he kept coming. She finally agreed to hire him. The next day he brought a friend. Then three. Then more. She said yes to them all.

As she got to know them, she realized they needed more than money. She started tutoring them, buying cakes for birthdays and helping with school clothes. Her parents and late husband Harry Greer worked with her.

She began mobilizing friends, family and employees to volunteer their time to mentor and tutor neighborhood kids. Her church, Central Christian Church, provided support.

In 2002, Rachel’s Kids, Inc. became a non-profit. The mission: Provide opportunities and improved quality of life for the children of Binghamton. The method: Call Rachel.

In 2003, Rachel and Harry moved their home to Binghamton and opened their door. Mondays and Tuesdays would find 25 kids there, most with tutors recruited from their church, their friends, or nearby Rhodes College. They took the kids to Tigers’ games, to medical appointments, sent them to camp. Rachel shopped at thrift stores to help with school clothes.

Rachel’s Kids, Inc. is not a calendar of grant-funded programs. It is a relationship with families. The nonprofit depends on donations from individuals and support from Rachel’s Flowers.
Rachel does what is needed as it is needed.

She never knows when the phone rings what the problem will be, but if possible, she’ll find a solution. If it requires money, she’ll spend it. She says that just as the bank account is getting low, funds arrives. Her mother, who lived with Rachel, slept in her tennis shoes because she never knew where they’d go when they got a call.

Help with school? Tutors are hired. Need food? It is delivered. Transportation? It is arranged. If there is domestic violence or another need for safe haven, it is found. If it’s advice or an opinion, Rachel doesn’t hesitate. Her kids know they can tell her anything.

And once a Rachel’s Kid, always a Rachel’s Kid.

More than 300 kids have been helped by Rachel and her volunteers. Rachel believes that it is not her place to judge actions taken by others, that she is there to help those who ask in whatever way she can. For older kids that may mean, cell phones, cars, childcare for their kids, or help with a college application.

Now kids are growing up and giving back.

Rachel constantly reminds her kids to believe in themselves and not to allow their circumstances to define their future.

A long-time customer says, “Rachel is a shining light of hope in a neighborhood where there are growing opportunities but still devastating challenges. She is a mentor, a counselor, a business partner, a problem solver, a go-to person and a humble servant leader for this neighborhood.”

Sometimes Rachel wonders if she’s made a difference. The many little Rachels and Haleys living in Binghamton named for Rachel and her daughter say yes! Women of Achievement says yes. Rachel’s determination continues to make a difference in the lives of kids in Binghamton.

Mary E. Mitchell

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2019

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Mary E. Mitchell

Born in 1936, Mary Mitchell has lived in the same home in Orange Mound since she was six years old. Today, Orange Mound has one of the higher levels of housing blight in Memphis. The unemployment rate has for some time remained above 20%. Some tidy homes and thriving small businesses have faded into boarded-up storefronts. Television and media too often present negative stories of poverty and violence.

Yet to Mary, Orange Mound is sacred ground. She determined that the rich historic and cultural heritage of Orange Mound deserved to be preserved and celebrated and she works to make this happen.

Orange Mound started in 1890 as one of the nations’s first planned African-American communities. It was a source of pride to the business owners, lawyers, teachers and other professionals who called it home. In 1919 it became part of Memphis.

The Orange Mound Mary Mitchell grew up in was thriving. During World War II her grandparents and neighbors strategically organized their limited resources. They worked together to ensure that neighborhood children were fed before heading to school. Children watched adults go to work every day, instilling a work ethic and making sure that every young person knew their value. The community had a vision and a purpose that Mary recognized as she matured.

At some point, as Mary watched, the neighborhood began a slow decline. Buildings closed, employment opportunities decreased, the beautiful neighborhood park shut down, and poverty and crime were on the rise.

Mary became a mother in her teens, raising five children, but she always planned to go to college. In 1980, at age 44, she enrolled at LeMoyne-Owen, graduating with a degree in Philosophy in 1984. She had always loved Orange Mound, but it was a project at LeMoyne-Owen that inspired her to start telling the story of her beloved community.

After graduation, she started a business but continued to promote the importance of Orange Mound at every opportunity.

From 2000 through 2005 she chaired the Orange Mound Collaborative. Funded by the Ford Foundation, the Collaborative stressed education through empowerment. Included were an Early Childhood Institute, an oral history project and a community newspaper. After grant funding ended Mary enlisted the help of the University of Memphis Journalism Department to continue the paper for several more years.

Unwilling to lose the momentum begun by the Collaboration, in 2006 she and several others founded the Melrose Center for Cultural Enrichment in Orange Mound. The group is committed to the preservation and restoration of the Historic Melrose School building which include a genealogy center as well as a museum.

According to her nominator, Mary promotes collaborations by uniting teams around historical, cultural and socioeconomic factors to advocate for the epic history of “The Mound.” She sees opportunity and progress even when faced with challenges. Mary sees the best in people and encourages those behind her to reach past the obstacles of today and be the bright spirits of the future. Thanks, in part to the extraordinary determination of Mary Mitchell, the history of Orange Mound has been documented through newspaper articles, tours, speaking engagements and documentaries.

Mary E. Mitchell, Shelby County’s Honorary Orange Mound Historian, is determined not to make lemonade out of lemons but to make orange juice out of oranges.

Rachel Sumner Haaga

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2018

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Rachel Sumner Haaga

In 34 years, Rachel Sumner Haaga is the first living abolitionist honored by Women of Achievement.

Determined to raise awareness and help victims of human sex trafficking – modern slavery in all its ugliest forms – this Memphis native works every day to rescue women and children from the grip of evil predators.

While working two jobs for pay – as a waitress at Huey’s and a first responder with Shelby County Rape Crisis – Rachel devoted long and late hours for years to build the non-profit Restore Corps into a funded program where she could devote full time to advocacy, training and services. Her work is singular in the Memphis area and she is called on regularly by law enforcement and victims’ advocates to assist traumatized and scarred trafficking survivors.

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of Memphis in 2004, Rachel joined Youth with a Mission, an international volunteer organization for five and a half years. Over half of her time with the organization was spent in Cambodia where she worked with SALT Academy, Sports and Leadership Training, introducing soccer and leadership training to females ages 3 to 20 in orphanages as well as safe-house rehabilitation homes for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. She still is in contact with women from the soccer teams she coached.

Upon return to Memphis, Rachel joined a local nonprofit called Operation Broken Silence working on human trafficking as the assistant director of the anti-trafficking team in 2010. Restore Corps was birthed out of that team in 2013 as Rachel worked at restaurants to pay her bills and dedicated every possible moment to building awareness and resources to help victims of trafficking.

Her team wrote and lobbied for 19 legislative changes, all of which are now in effect and which have made Tennessee a national leader in anti-trafficking law.

Gradually support grew for Restore Corps so that by 2016 Rachel could serve as the full-time executive director of the program, housed at Memphis Leadership Foundation. Last year the first part-time staff member, a survivor, was hired, joined this year by three more staffers and the opening of Restore Corps’ first transitional residence for adult survivors. Services for children include coordinating with foster parents.

Restore Corps is designated as the official Single Point of Contact agency for West Tennessee, part of a state system to assure each individual survivor’s needs are coordinated and met through a collaboration of nonprofits, direct service providers and law enforcement agencies.

She has been an expert panelist at human trafficking forums at the University of Memphis Law School, University of Memphis Social Work Department, Union University Social Work, and University of Tennessee Health Sciences, and is an appointed member of the Tennessee Human Trafficking Task Force.
In addition to work on the statewide response plan, Rachel has contributed to national studies about services for human trafficking survivors. She speaks regularly to agencies and community groups.

Once a month, she joins partners who meet with women who have been arrested for prostitution for a program called Lives Worth Saving. Organized in December 2014 by Restore Corps, Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County District Attorney’s office, the class seeks to honor, educate and empower people exploited by the commercial sex industry. Those who complete the class are eligible to have current prostitution charges dismissed.

Rachel talks with them about victimization and asks who they know who has been a victim – of rape, of physical abuse, childhood sexual abuse, homicide. She helps them recognize the ways they are victimized by the sex industry.

Rachel says, “No little girl at 4-years-old wants to grow up and sell her body. We just have to believe that as a society. There are different elements of victimization – or at least vulnerabilities – that currently exist or have existed in their lives that put them where they are right now.”

Restore Corps’ vision is “to see a slave free community through the rehabilitation and empowerment of survivors and a community galvanized against human trafficking.” Rachel Sumner Haaga, 21st-century abolitionist, is determined to lead that charge.

Margot McNeeley

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2014

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Margot McNeeley

Margot McNeeley was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, but moved a lot. She lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Twenty-two years ago she was working in a bookstore called Bookstar in Phoenix, Arizona, when one of the owners called asking if she’d ever been to Memphis. A month later she moved to Memphis to open Bookstar at Poplar Plaza. She worked and attended the then-Memphis State University.

She and her husband dined out a lot and Margot began to notice all the waste that restaurants create. Each meal served was reported to generate a pound and a half to two pounds of trash. She didn’t want to be part of that and grew tired of just complaining about it.

In late 2007, she met Chef Ben Smith and his wife Colleen Couch-Smith from Tsunami to talk about what might be done to reduce restaurant waste since the city doesn’t recycle for businesses. Margot found out that Ben and Colleen were already taking steps to reduce their environmental impact so working with them was the perfect starting point.

The three met for about seven months, figuring out what steps could be taken that would have the greatest impact but that would not break the bank or create too much more work for businesses. Margot searched for an organization to model or join, looking for something local, affordable to restaurants and unique to the Mid-South.

Finding nothing in Memphis that fit this description, Margot made the idea a reality by establishing Project Green Fork. The mission: to contribute to a sustainable Mid-South by helping reduce environmental impacts, with a focus on strengthening homegrown restaurants.
“Tsunami was a great pilot restaurant for Project Green Fork and from there it just kind of caught on,” Margot said. She had always been interested in environmental causes and even as a child preferred being outdoors, but had not been involved in green efforts until founding Project Green Fork.

Today 58 restaurants are Project Green Fork certified, with a few more working on their steps toward certification. Margot is the only staff member and works with 16 dedicated board members and usually a summer intern. Certified restaurants are promoted through advertising and social media – and the Project Green Fork sticker on the front window.

Since Project Green Fork receives so many calls from other communities trying to set up their own version of it, Margot enlisted the help of a local writer and created the “Toolkit for Restaurant Sustainability” that other like-minded people can purchase.
The organization certifies restaurants as practicing sustainability based on six steps:
• Engage in kitchen composting.
• Recycle glass, metal and cardboard.
• Use sustainable products.
• Replace toxic cleaners with non-toxic cleaners.
• Complete an energy audit and take necessary steps to reduce energy and water consumption.
• Prevent pollution.

Margot connected with another woman who wanted to help – Madeleine Edwards. Together the two set up Madeleine’s business, Get Green Recycle Works, which picks up and recycles glass and cardboard from the eateries and also will haul bins of composted food debris to community gardens.

To date, Project Green Fork restaurants have kept the following OUT of the landfill:
• 1,780,050 gallons of plastic, glass and aluminum
• 1,630,500 pounds of paper and cardboard
• 220,000 gallons of food waste

And the numbers continue to grow.

Memphis is fortunate that Margot McNeeley chose to live here and to share her business savvy and her determination with local restaurant leaders so that we can watch for that distinctive sticker with the leafy green fork that lets us know that we are dining in a business that cares about our environment.

Rosalyn Nichols

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2005

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Rev. Rosalyn Nichols

In March 1998, Rev. Rosalyn Nichols attended the third funeral of a
childhood friend, killed by what she calls “relational violence.” She delivered the eulogy, and then asked herself “What can I do to prevent this from happening again?”

Her answer was action — first through Sisters4Life, a small group of women who united after loss of their friend Rosmari Pleasure, shot to death by an ex-boyfriend.

In the years since organizing the first Rosmari Pleasure Memorial 5K Walk/Run, Rosalyn has made domestic violence her singular cause within her service as a pastor.

She organized and leads A More Excellent Way, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on ending domestic violence. Local crime statistics confirm the need – more than 11 percent of homicide cases last year were domestically related. Domestic violence counselors estimate only 1 in 10 cases of assault is ever reported.

“At the heart of it, we have to change the way some people think about how to live in love,” Rosalyn, 41, says. “This ‘break up to make up, that’s all we do’ mentality has to go. We have to change attitudes before we can change behavior.”

Rosalyn attended Booker T. Washington High School and LeMoyne-Owen College where she graduated cum laude with a major in biology. She earned her Master of Divinity summa cum laude in 1996 from Memphis Theological Seminary. After a turn as visiting professor at a seminary in Zimbabwe, Rosalyn joined Metropolitan Baptist Church as associate pastor.

She served there for five years before turning her attention full time to A More Excellent Way. Her mission is to promote and encourage loving, healthy relationships in the home, school, workplace, neighborhood and places of worship toward the elimination of violence.

She says, “We want to teach men and women what healthy relationships look like, to make good, stable marriages a functional, acceptable cultural norm.”

The original 5K race has grown into a full weekend called Love4Life dedicated to domestic violence awareness. On the second weekend in November, it includes the 5K run, a conference, a memorial service for families of slain victims and a Sunday “prayer and praise’’ service. Another program of AWay Inc. is called the Circle of Courage which provides training and resources on domestic violence for churches and other faith-based communities. And Love Talks is a study program being developed for high school and college students with a pilot program in place at Booker T. Washington High School.

In 2001, Rosalyn founded at her dining room table with eight other people a ministry that became Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church. In May 2004, she earned her Doctor of Ministry degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond and moved her church into its first worship center. Freedom’s Chapel has grown to about 50 members and has celebrated 15 baptisms of adults and children. “The church and AWay Inc. share the space,” Rosalyn says. “Both are very interested in relationship building and both are faithful to a vision.”

Rosalyn Nichols turned her grief and dismay into action and is determined each day to teach Memphis to love without hitting, without hurting, without violence.

For that work, despite inertia, apathy and ignorance around her, Rosalyn Nichols is the 2005 Woman of Achievement for Determination.

Rebekah Jordan

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2007

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Rebekah Jordan

In a community where city employees routinely worked two or three jobs to provide for their families, the idea of a living wage was a hard sell, to say the least.

Lucky for Memphis, the young woman who took on the job of selling it had the tenacity, fortitude and intelligence to sell, sell and sell again.

Rev. Rebekah Jordan, daughter of a Memphis minister and a Memphis school teacher, set out to train in college to teach, but found her way to an internship in social change — and the rest is now very important Memphis history.

Rebekah saw the powerful connection between ministry and social change. She went to seminary and sowed the seeds of what became the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice as she prepared for ordination. Working with union leader Fred Ashwill and Rev. Steve Shapard, they laid ground work to form a faith community focused on work related issues.

Beginning in November 2002, coalition members researched what a living wage in Memphis is and shaped the campaign and ordinance. In summer 2003, they began to meet with City Council members.

Through numerous setbacks, political shenanigans and even disputes among the campaign’s community supporters, Rebekah persevered. She drew and redrew strategy, rallying volunteers to go door to door with petitions, to come to rallies in bitter cold, to call council members and press them to appear at hearings and to vote for the living wage.

She was informed, insistent, unflagging, respectful, respected.

And successful.

The final aspects of a living wage ordinance passed in Memphis in November 2006 extending guarantee of $10 an hour with benefits or $12 an hour without to all full and part time city employees, employees of most city contractors and companies that are granted property tax exemptions.

In celebrations of the victory, Rebekah graciously credited the coalition of faith, labor and community groups and those individuals who steadfastly answered the call to rally or contact council members or otherwise answer.
But all who participated in the campaign know that the reason Memphis now has a living wage is because Rev. Rebekah Jordan was determined that Memphis workers have a living wage.

Rev. Andre Johnson of Gifts of Life Ministries captured Rebekah’s impact in these words at a worship celebration: “When all hope seemed lost, she continued to fire us up with her emails and phone calls, telling us where we needed to be and what we needed to do when we get there! …and with her leadership, we have assembled a nice diverse group of people from all over Memphis who have shown us support. From Christians to Jews and Muslims; from black and brown; from white and all around; from Germantown to Downtown; from Boxtown and Uptown; from rich and poor; from inner city and suburb, from gay and straight, from PhD to no D, from CEO’s to mopping floors.”

Rebekah Jordan is determined that low-wage workers be treated with respect and justice. Even as she leads the push to bring the living wage to county government employees, she is now also organizing a Memphis Workers Center where immigrant workers could learn about their workplace rights and organize to improve working conditions.

This 2007 Woman of Achievement has just gotten started!

 

Reverend Rebekah Jordan (Gienapp) is the writer of a blog called The Barefoot Mommy which gives parents advice on how to raise children free of racism, sexism, and homophobia. Her blog has been featured in The Washington Post, The Lisa Show, and Brownicity.

Felica Richard

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2013

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Felica Richard

Felica Richard knows what it is to be misused and abused. She knows about being hurt – with verbal and emotional abuse, molestation and rape – and not telling anyone. She knows how important it is to have access to the right help when you ask for it.

Her own experience has made Felica Richard determined to help survivors of violence feel strong and feel good about themselves. She has created an organization, recruits fellow cosmetologists and works beyond her paid job as a victim navigator at the Family Safety Center to offer extra support for those in need.

Felica has lived in Memphis all her life. She grew up on the city’s north side, third of five children in a family where her parents were not married but her dad lived a few blocks away.

Her school friends at Craigmont Middle and High School often sought her out for advice. Even at that early age, Felica found herself drawn to the wounded and rejected.

She understands now that it was the molestation by a family member and the rape during a date as a young teenager that caused her not to love herself. This under laid her drinking and promiscuity as a young adult, her bounce between multiple colleges and stack of college loan debt. She married – but won a divorce within six months to escape verbal and emotional abuse.

Eventually Felica entered and completed cosmetology school and began to work full-time as a hairdresser while also beginning a social work degree. After coursework at Southwest Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and University of Memphis, Felica earned her bachelor’s degree in social work in 2009. She interned at the Shelby County Crime Victim Center and continued to “do hair” part-time.

By then Felica had been a mom for six years, having adopted at birth a baby girl born to a family member.

Since she graduated from high school in 1989, Felica has had a dream of building a safe haven for hurt women and their children. Felica calls the organization she founded in 1999 Women Loving Themselves First believing “If I can get the mother together, she can take care of children. I’m looking to help her build her self esteem, give her hope, love herself and then she can give love. You can’t give what you don’t have.”

She began her outreach simply with a routine of communicating encouraging emails and prayer requests. In 2009, she began offering direct services to women referred to her by other agencies. She provides help with their immediate needs, especially temporary emergency housing, often by reserving motel rooms in her name – to protect the fleeing woman. “I pay a night and they pay a night,” Felica says. She rents a U-Haul for those who need it and puts their belongings in storage. Sometimes she styles their hair for free.

Now a full-time navigator for domestic violence victims at the Family Safety Center, Felica still recruits colleagues in local salons to give violence survivors professional makeovers to prepare them for court or a job interview. She is offering training on the dynamics of domestic violence to local professional stylists.

Her goal is to raise funds for a gated community where survivors of abusive, violent relationships could live during their healing, both single women and mothers, with programs for children, comprehensive case management and constant security.

“I’m a server. . . I went into social work because that’s where God needs me and I can help women. . . I compare myself to David and domestic violence is Goliath. I believe that giant can come down – I really do.”

With her passion for helping and her determination to be of service, Felica Richard will be here to help women damaged by violence for many years to come.

 

Felica Richard now works with the Shelby County Crime Victims and Rape Crisis Center as Community Engagement Supervisor.

Shelia Williams

WOMEN OF ACHIEVEMENT
2015

DETERMINATION
for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Shelia Williams

Have you ever had to rely on a Memphis bus to get to work, to get to the store, or to get to a doctor’s appointment? Have you ever wanted to go to an event outside your neighborhood but knew you couldn’t because you wouldn’t be able to get home because your bus route shuts down at 6:00 pm or, if it’s Sunday, doesn’t run at all?

Shelia Williams has and she is determined to do something about that.

In 2000, Shelia Williams, a working mother who then had four children, started looking at a way to make ends meet. She had a car that was constantly in need of repair and decided to just ride the bus. At the time she lived in the Raleigh-Frayser area and worked at a spa miles and neighborhoods away near Park and Primacy Parkway. Taking the bus meant a 2 ½ hour trip on three buses.

But this is more than one woman’s story.

Shelia found that those who ride the bus become a part of your family. You check in on their health and families, worry about them when they’re not there, and you cry with them because they lose their jobs because of the bus being late one time too many.

In Memphis and Shelby County, 90% of bus riders are African-American. A majority of those on the bus are women, and 60% have incomes of $18,000 or less. Those who depend on bus service include people with disabilities, students, workers and seniors. Cuts to bus service combined with inequitable economic development and residential segregation disproportionately affect low-income residents and communities of color. All these facts mean that the funding, planning and function of mass transit is a civil rights issue.

In late 2011, frustrations including inconsistent schedules, route cuts, safety concerns and customer service issues led Shelia to call the number from a flyer she found on the bus. This took her to an early meeting of what was then the Transportation Task Force. There she met community activist and dynamo Mother Georgia King who is also a Woman of Achievement for Courage 1994.

In February 2012, Shelia, along with Mother King, co-founded the Memphis Bus Riders Union. The grassroots organization fights for better bus service in our city, speaking up about MATA practices and policies with key decision-makers, including the MATA board and administration and city government.

The riders union fights racism and oppression based on socioeconomic status as it is reflected in our city’s grossly inadequate public transportation system – advocating for improved services.

In June 2014, Mayor A C Wharton nominated Shelia to serve on the MATA Board which governs the transit agency. This group votes on MATA’s budget, routes, schedules and fare. Many board members come from big business and Shelia admits that at first she was nervous about her reception, but she has been completely welcomed and her voice is heard.

Now the board is welcoming to members of the public and a change in process means that the public is heard before votes are taken on MATA issues.

Routes are still limited and some buses do still run late, but progress has been made. Customer service and signage have improved.

But there’s still plenty to change – expanded routes, schedules, better safety and nicer relationship between bus riders and employees.

And Shelia’s vision is bigger than that. She wants to do away with the stigma associated with riding the bus in Memphis. She seeks a cultural change that results in everyone riding the bus together, going to work or to play by bus. For this to happen, bus service has to become consistently dependable, with better routes, longer hours and a new image.

Shelia Williams is determined to see this happen and for that we salute her.