Mercy Mahal-Ko “Mahal” Burr

Women of Achievement

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.”

Women of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park


for a woman whose achievements still enrich our lives:

The Women of Citizens to Preserve Overton Park

The power and might of the entire federal government seemed to be aimed at the city of Memphis.

The nation’s ballyhooed interstate highway system had mapped a route due west for Interstate 40. It would plow across the state from Bristol, driving to the Mississippi River right through mid-Memphis neighborhoods and homes and levelling about 24 acres of the 170-acre Old Forest of Overton Park.

The path had been drawn in 1955 on a route that today is named Sam Cooper Boulevard and ends at East Parkway. The interstate would separate the Memphis Zoo from the rest of the city’s unique urban green space which also housed Memphis Art Academy, Brooks Art Gallery, a nine-hole golf course and amphitheater in addition to its most unusual ecological feature – the rare old-growth forest.

Local, state and federal leaders, local newspapers, even the City Beautiful Commission arrayed in full-throated support of the plan, convinced that expressways and parking garages would lure shoppers back to an emptying downtown and relieve traffic congestion.

After ignoring advice since the 1940s urging limits on eastward expansion, they had watched downtown businesses close or move, following the growth into East Memphis and suburbs.

But a cadre of determined Memphians organized to stop the destruction I-40 would cause.

They formed the Citizens to Preserve Overton Park (CPOP) and got busy waking the city to what the roadway would mean. While men were certainly engaged and male attorneys certainly were critical to the eventual victory, it was women who fought first and fought the fight every day — working long hours on letter-writing campaigns, filing, phone calling, raising money, consensus building with neighborhood groups and more.

It was women who urged the citizenry to get involved to prevent what local poet Agnes Bowe called “the rape of Overton Park.”

It also was the women who received the most criticism: death threats, political retribution and derisive name calling, including that infamous line about being “little old ladies in tennis shoes” meant to intimidate them and diminish their voices. That phrase really had enduring power. Wikipedia uses it to this day to describe “a group of local citizens, spearheaded by a group of elderly women dubbed the ‘little old ladies in Tennis shoes’ by multiple media outlets, (who) began a campaign to stop this construction.”

These women fought City Hall, state government, federal government, local courts, newspapers, the chamber of commerce and other powerful business interests in their determination to protect our environment and preserve neighborhoods in Midtown.

Learn their names: Rosemary Alderdyce, Betty Buchignini, Mary Evelyn Deupree, Grace Gordon, Marie Handy, Sara Naill (Sally) Hines, Martha Lackner, Lou Packer, Laura Rodenbaugh, Nadine Smith, Sunshine Kidd Snyder, Anona Stoner and Helen Witte. 

Others worked hard but were afraid to be known publicly.

CPOP president Marie Handy wrote, “The proposed route through Overton Park would not just ruin the park: It would annihilate it. That which is removed is annihilated and it is impossible to ‘restore it.’” She also said that “highways were needed for ‘progress’ but parks, created by God, for the people, should not be ignored and destroyed by men.”

Opposition to CPOP was so intense that information about many participants and donors of art and money was kept secret and anonymous for fear of harm to them or their spouses’ workplaces or careers. Some worked behind the scenes, their names never known.

Local businessman William Pollard accused the activists of having hands smeared with blood because of traffic deaths that would increase without the expressway. He quoted Bible scripture comparing expressway opponents to the mob who shouted for the head of Jesus.

Years later, a surviving CPOP leader, Sunshine Snyder, wrote for the West Tennessee Historical Society a paper titled “The Finale and True Story Behind the Scenes of ‘The Citizens to Preserve Overton Park.’” Sunshine describes the work of a loosely-knit but dedicated group, maybe 6 or 12 meeting together at a time during the mid-1960s, making signs, stuffing and stamping envelopes, organizing rallies.

Mary Evelyn Deupree, who recruited Sunshine, and Sally Hines had been fighting the expressway encroachment for years. Lou Packer led the nucleus group called the Committee for the Preservation of Overton Park in 1957 that later became CPOP legally and formally. Anona Stoner, who moved into Memphis with experience successfully organizing opposition to multi- lane highway projects in Ohio, became the defacto CPOP coordinator, willing to work 24/7 at her home answering the phone and serving as contact for donations, records and communications. She wrote letters, researched freeway opposition tactics and spoke at Memphis City Council meetings to defeat resolutions.

Sisters Martha Lackner and Laura Rodenbaugh joined early on. Young and enthusiastic, they began in 1971 to sponsor fundraising events: an art auction, a spaghetti supper, a booth at the Fairgrounds flea market, a Pink Palace event and a sale at Albertson’s.

Local news media continue to support the expressway. While news stories said the route through the park would be a 20-foot wide strip, CPOP’s Bill Deupree paid $1,000 for an ad in The Commercial Appeal explaining it would be two 20-foot strips with a median between and that an interchange on the eastern edge would take several hundred feet.

Sunshine and others put together rallies trying to get the truth out, such as one on the park’s eastern edge when Tennessee Sen. Bill Brock came to support the expressway. “My children and other children were on hand to demonstrate that the truth was that the expressway at the eastern border of the park was much, much larger and wider than had been reported. To demonstrate the true width, the children strung a roll of toilet paper the entire several hundred feet the expressway would take.” A newspaper reporter watching the kids remarked he had no idea the road would take so much of the park.

Over the next few years CPOP’s opposition held up final approval of various plans, including tunnels, walkovers, landscaping.  In the meantime, not believing a women-led grassroots organization would finally win, homes and businesses in Binghamton and just west of the park were bulldozed.

On Dec. 1, 1969, at 5:45 p.m., CPOP held a special meeting of about 10 including spouses. Local attorney Charlie Newman and Jack Vardaman with a Washington D.C. firm agreed to take the case pro bono. Gasps were heard when the lawyers said $2,000 was needed to get started but the vote to go ahead was 10-0. Bill Deupree and Sunshine’s husband James each put up $1,000. Two individuals had to be named plaintiffs beside the organization. Bill and Sunshine agreed to be named. Sunshine wrote: “This was an awesome step for so few of us….
There was not a penny in our coffers.”

CPOP lost at the district court level and again on appeal at the 6th Circuit.

CPOP appealed to the Supreme Court of the United States. Oral arguments were heard on Jan. 11, 1971.

On March 2, 1971, the justices ruled in favor of CPOP 8-0. But the fight still wasn’t over.

CPOP’s case had shown such a mess of legal interpretations and administrative missteps that the justices sent the matter back to the West Tennessee district court who sent it to the Transportation Secretary Volpe for review “under a correct understanding of the law.” Two years later he approved a tunnel under Overton Park!

Further action on the redesign dragged on but failed. Finally, on Jan. 9, 1981, Gov. Lamar Alexander submitted a request to the federal government to cancel the route through Overton Park and release the $300 million in its construction budget to the City of Memphis for other transportation uses.

The request was approved on Jan. 16. After some 25 years, the battle for Overton Park was finally over!

The favorable Supreme Court ruling in Citizens to Preserve Overton Park v. Volpe is taught as a “Genesis” case about environmental law. It has been cited 28,127 times.

Today, generations of Memphians and visitors enjoy the trees, trails and fields of Overton Park.

Without the courage, determination and savvy of these women imagine: Traffic on six lanes of interstate concrete, roaring through Overton Park, with the zoo and Rhodes on the north side and a polluted forest on the south.

Even if you can imagine it in a trench, the roadway sunken out of sight — the noise and huge lights and fumes and the massive barrier of it leave animals, birds and people terrorized. It becomes the definition of unwelcome and unrelaxing. And the memory of a historic, unique urban park for solace and natural beauty and learning is only – a memory.

Let us celebrate and honor the story of the preservation of Overton Park as a dramatic account of women’s leadership and persistence that is important to know during this National Women’s History Month and always.

Sandra Ferrell


for a woman whose heroic spirit was tested and shown as a model to all in Shelby County and beyond:

Sandra Ferrell

What does the face of trauma, addiction, prostitution look like? Look in the mirror. It could be mine.

That’s what Sandra Ferrell realized in 2013 as she sat in St. Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral listening to Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms, a Nashville community for women survivors of trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. As Becca discussed the well-established link between childhood abuse and prostitution. Sandra realized that if not for her loving family, she could easily be that woman on the streets.

Filled with gratitude for the grace she received in her life, she knew that she must help other women who did not have the support she had experienced. Right then Lisieux Community was born. In operation since 2014, it provides support and education for women who have survived trauma, addiction, and prostitution.

At age two, Sandra, the daughter of a Southern Baptist preacher, was left regularly in the care of a trusted congregant so her mother and older siblings could pick cotton to help support the family. “Be good and do what the man says,” her mother unsuspectingly told Sandra. So she did. She was sexually abused for two years. Believing that what adults said was always true, she never told her parents.

Abuse began again at age 8 and was attempted yet again when she was 12. She never told. She never recovered from this abuse, never reached emotional maturity.

When her children were 12 and 16, she was unable to manage their behavior. She took them to a counselor who, recognizing Sandra’s deep trauma, said, “We can help you, too.” “I don’t need help,” Sandra said but with guidance, she checked into Lakeside Hospital for a week of intensive therapy and then began the long road to recovery.

Sandra’s children grew up and Sandra retired from a successful career then worked another 5 years. But she never forgot her own trauma. Leaving paid work, she became a volunteer at Caritas Village which was established by Woman of Achievement recipient Onie Johns to build community and break down economic and racial barriers that separate people. There, after her sudden flash of insight, Sandra told Onie that she wanted to provide support to women on the streets. Onie mentioned the name of a man Sandra needed to meet. That very day he showed up at Caritas for lunch, listened to Sandra’s dream and said, “You’re doing it now.” So, she started.

Sandra believes that God opens a door and, though you don’t know what’s next, you walk through and figure out what to do. And so it was with the founding of Lisieux Community. She would tell one person what Lisieux need. That person would say yes and then bring another person who would then bring another. Each person was just the right person who did what needed to be done.

The Lisieux Community started as a residential program on North Parkway. But women often did not stay long. According to Sandra, they had no trust. That facility was closed and in February 2019, Sandra with her volunteers took the program directly to the streets.

Not just any streets but dangerous Mitchell Heights.

Just off the Summer Avenue corridor, poverty and crime rates are high. Drugs and women’s bodies are sold and their lives are in peril. Despite the danger, every Thursday night Sandra would go to a liquor store parking lot and open her trunk. Women walking those streets soon came to know that Lisieux would be there with sanitary supplies, soap, toothpaste, clothes, food. The van was there rain or shine. Women were met with respect and love. Trust was established and word spread.

The pandemic made it impossible to gather in the parking lot, so Lisieux went on the road, traveling Mitchell Heights earlier in the day one afternoon per week. Recognizing the van, individually women would come for care bags and conversation, sometimes risking the anger of the men who profit off of them. Lisieux continues that Thursday drive.

Even before the pandemic, Sandra envisioned a drop-in center, a place to take a shower, wash clothes, and get help connecting with community resources such as counseling and rehab. That center opened on Valentine’s Day, 2021, with a cozy living room and beautiful, vibrant art on the wall, as suggested by Onie, to bring beauty into difficult lives.

Every Tuesday, clients are welcomed with love and asked what they would like that day.

Often, it’s a home cooked meal followed by a shower and possibly a nap in the living room. The Center serves as a home address and phone number which is essential for many services, including social security benefits and medical appointments. Once a month clients can choose a pair of shoes, a coat, a warm blanket. These things that we take for granted are regularly stolen. It’s part of street life.

Sandra always allows clients to choose. If you go to counseling and drop out, she doesn’t reprimand. If you go to rehab and drop out multiple times, she doesn’t judge. She helps whenever a woman is ready. Because she always remembers that she could have easily been that woman walking the streets.

The Lisieux website says: Our goal is to love each of the women we serve right where they are today, and then love them again tomorrow and again the next day.

Heroically, Sandra Ferrell never judges, and Sandra Ferrell never gives up. And Sandra Ferrell always loves.

Sandra Ferrell is the 2020 Woman of Achievement for Heroism.

Ayile Arnett


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

Ayile Arnett

Ayile says that if she sees a problem and she thinks of a solution, then it’s time to start a business. And that’s exactly what she does.

Problems: People need free rides to medical appointments. Millions of dollars’ worth of unopened medications are thrown out when a patient dies. There are people who cannot afford their medications. There are people who cannot pick up their medications and need them delivered to their homes.

Imagine a kind of Uber that solves each of these problems and you will understand what Ayile has accomplished.

Using a technology called blockchain she set up businesses to meet just these needs. The process providing free transportation to take patients to doctor’s appointments served 200 people per month across four states. That service stopped during the pandemic, but Ayile’s other solutions continue.

She is responsible along with Phil Baker for creating RemediChain, which reclaims unused medications and makes them available to vulnerable patients in need. Shortly after start up, RemediChain had collected over $2.2 million worth of unused oral chemotherapy drugs.

This was followed by Scriptride, which provides home delivery of prescription medications for those who cannot get to the pharmacy.

How did this happen?

Ayile worked in healthcare for over 18 years. Part of her work included tracking patient information to ensure that patients were going home with what they needed to get well and avoid being readmitted. Through this work it became apparent to her that treatment results differed based on patient income levels.

Less money, worse outcomes, more hospital returns. Those with higher incomes experienced fewer hospital returns, better health outcomes.

She also saw a huge amount of waste of unopened prescriptions which were being thrown out after patients died. She realized that if these drugs could be salvaged, they could be used by other patients who struggled to pay for their meds. She met Phil Baker, founder of the nonprofit Good Shepherd Pharmacy. He wanted to address this problem. And so together they established Remedichain.

This was shortly followed by Scriptride which delivers medications to those who cannot get to the pharmacy. These solutions all require secure data collection and that’s where blockchain comes in. What kind of data is collected for these businesses? Who needs a ride to the doctor? Who can donate unused medication? Who needs these medications? Where do they live? Picture blockchain as a safe, immutable ledger that can be trusted by medical professionals.

During Covid, Ayile and her husband transformed their business Communiride into a transport business concentrating on serving small businesses. Ayile is the CEO. Her husband, whose background is in logistics, works with the drivers.

She continues working with Phil Baker, now serving on the non-profit’s board and being the point person for Scriptride, the medication delivery system. Drivers do not know what meds are being delivered or anything about the client’s health condition, so confidentiality is maintained. How did Ayile become an entrepreneur? She started young, “pushing” candy sales in elementary school.

Ayile was born in Madison, Wisconsin. There she was surrounded and inspired by determined people who were always involved in community projects. Her mother was an attorney with her own business and her father an entrepreneur. In the sixth grade she met her BFF Amy. Amy is from a Nigerian family who moved to Wisconsin before Amy was born. Amy’s mother was constantly learning, eventually earning a Ph.D. and always keeping the kids informed about school and about community work. From this Ayile learned that if one solution doesn’t work, she “finds the solution tomorrow.”

She followed a favorite cousin to Nashville where she enrolled at Tennessee State University. There she met her husband and in 2011 they moved to Memphis to be near his family. The mother of four children, ages 2 ½ to 12, Ayile’s passions are community building and mentorship. Ayile is a huge Whitehaven booster.

Communiride is located there and 81 percent of the workers are Whitehaven residents.

Shortly after joining the Memphis Chamber of Commerce, Ayile was invited to be a mentor through Epicenter. She is paired with a new entrepreneur with whom she meets weekly. Mentees are paired with an experienced entrepreneur to develop new skills. Pairs normally meet for an hour, but Ayile and her partner regularly meet for several. Ayile says she is sure she learns just as much as her mentee.

Ayile and Phil Baker received a Memphis Business Journal CEO of the Year Innovation Award in Ayile also chosen as one of the 2019 Forty Under Forty, influential urban elite professionals.

We can’t wait to see where her initiative takes her next!

Beverly Marrero


for a woman with a lifetime of achievement:

Beverly Marrero

Beverly Marrero began a lifetime of activism in 1960 as a young mother knocking on doors for Sen. John. F. Kennedy’s presidential campaign. Over the next four decades, she campaigned for many Democratic candidates and represented Tennessee at the 1976 Democratic National Convention. She became a candidate herself in 2003, serving in the General Assembly until losing her seat following redistricting in 2012. Just this week, she tweeted about writing her senators in support of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. That’s 62 years of advocacy and counting.

Beverly traces her political involvement to her 9th grade civics teacher who instilled in her the idea that government was only as good as the people involved. Her religious upbringing emphasized civil rights. And growing up in segregated Memphis, she realized how unfair society was to black people in our community. Campaigning for Kennedy was a way to address those inequities. Formative memories of that time included the assassinations of Kennedy and two other leaders she admired: Martin Luther King, Jr., and Robert F. Kennedy. She also recalls ironing clothes in front of the television while watching the Watergate hearings.

It was no surprise that she responded when a friend of a friend encouraged her to support little-known Georgia Gov. Jimmy Carter for president. She and two other Memphis women drove to Atlanta and became the only non-Georgians among members of the so-called Peanut Brigade of Carter supporters who flew to New Hampshire for that state’s primary. Carter won.

Beverly campaigned in other states and was tapped to represent Tennessee on the Convention Rules Committee, where she played a role in Democratic Party history. Beverly and a delegate from North Carolina introduced a measure to guarantee women delegates an equal share of the seats for the 1980 convention. At that time, women did all the daily work in the campaigns – knocking on doors, folding paper, stuffing envelopes, and sorting bulk mail. The men went to the conventions. The controversial gender equality measure failed in the Rules Committee, and on June 21, 1976, a headline in the New York Times read “Democratic Panel Refuses Equality Pledge to Women”.

Beverly moved to Florida a few years later but remained close to her good friend Congressman Steve Cohen. After she returned to Memphis in 1999, Cohen encouraged her to run for the General Assembly. Beverly hesitated but eventually she became a first-time candidate at age 64. She won a seat in the Tennessee House of Representatives in 2003. When Cohen was elected to Congress, he endorsed Beverly for his Tennessee Senate seat, which she won in 2007 and held until 2012.

As an elected official Beverly was an outspoken champion for civil rights, consumer rights, the environment, and women’s, children’s, and LGBTQ issues. She also was known for her signature fashion accessory: a hat. But the true defining aspects of her legislative tenure were her values and her approach, said former legislative colleague Jeanne Richardson.

Beverly knew how to make a compelling point in debate without alienating her opponent, Richardson said. “Her points are always based on her own loyalty to her basic values, the improvement of the human condition especially for those most in need without resources or respect, the improvement of the environment out of respect for future generations and nature itself, and a strong sense of fairness and equity in all human interactions including those with the environment.”

Those values led Beverly to take unpopular – and sometimes ultimately unwinnable — stands in Nashville. She voted against holding a referendum to amend the state Constitution to ban gay marriage. The referendum passed, but the ban was later overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court.

In 2006, while on the Public Health and Family Assistance Subcommittee, she voted against a proposed amendment that would have given state lawmakers more power to restrict and regulate abortions. She worked diligently to keep this in committee for many years, but it eventually passed the House and the Senate, became Amendment One on the 2014 ballot, and was approved by Tennessee voters. In 2012, during what would become her final legislative sessions, she cast the sole vote against a Senate bill requiring an abstinence-centered family life curricula in Tennessee public schools.

Beverly’s commitment to economic issues led to her recognition as a Family Economic Success Champion by Women in Government, a national organization that supports women state legislators. The organization highlighted several bills including protecting identify theft and reducing foreclosures.

For her stewardship of the environment, in 2009 she received the highest ranking of any legislator by the Tennessee Conservation Voters. Beverly fought for clean water, recycling, minimum energy requirements for appliances, and equitable representation for environmental interests on air, water and solid waste quality control boards. A key conservation accomplishment was successfully sponsoring legislation to make Overton Park’s Old Forest a state Natural-Scientific area in 2011.

The following year, Beverly lost her re-election bid after her Senate district was redrawn. She returned to her role as a citizen advocate. In 2014, Planned Parenthood honored Beverly with its highest honor, the James Award for her work in the House, the Senate, and in the community, saying: When we needed an Attorney General’s ruling on pending legislation, Beverly made the request. When state agencies were slow to respond to requests for information, Beverly broke up the logjam. She spoke out against legislation that harmed women, families and children, even when she stood alone in the Tennessee Senate chambers to do so.

Today, Beverly’s priority is advocating for seniors. At a time when many people have been retired for nearly two decades, Beverly was just reappointed as chair of the advisory committee to the Aging Commission of the Mid-South.

Whether working for a candidate, sponsoring legislation or volunteering in the community, Beverly sums up her accomplishments in a single statement: “I think we have a responsibility to do something to level the playing field.”

Judy Card


for a woman whose sensitivity to women’s needs led her to tremendous achievements for women:

Judy Card

Madeleine Albright, the United States’ first female secretary of state,
famously said: “There is a special place in Hell for women who don’t help other women.” Be assured: Judy Card is headed for whatever Paradise she chooses!

Judy lives as a vibrant example of what it means to help other women – to nurture, to value and to celebrate all that is powerful, that is precious, that is universal, mysterious and eternal about the feminine.

The Mid-South was blessed the day that this daughter of the East Tennessee hills chose to cross the state for a job in the Memphis Public Library. Thanks to her, Women of Achievement was born and has survived and thrived since 1984.

Judy came to Memphis carrying generations of Appalachian storytelling and singing in her veins. She sang when her extended family gathered in four-part harmony around a piano, and she sang in the car with her mom. Judy graduated in a class of 125 from the same Hixson, Tennessee, school building where she began her education. She happily escaped to university in Knoxville to finally live in a place where everyone did NOT know everything about her whole life!

She awakened to the stirrings of women’s equality on campus – swapping “person” for “he” in conversation and reading – a lot. She moved to Memphis in 1975 with her library degree and special training in children’s service, leaving behind a brief marriage, a no-benefits job with some architects and beginning her 40 hugely productive, creative years as a librarian.

The Memphis library was striving to desegregate staffing, so she was posted to the Hollywood Branch. After a break for some San Francisco adventures, she returned as acting director of the children’s department and eventually was invited to apply to direct the adult literacy project. She trained prison inmates and spoke at many African American churches. She recalls the most memorable moment of two years with the literacy program — when she had to speak after the masterful Apostle GE Patterson delivered his Sunday message!

Judy found other women sharing her concerns in the Memphis chapter of the National Organization for Women and its consciousness raising groups where storytelling was again a potent force. She also volunteered with the Memphis Center for Reproductive Health self-help groups. Volunteers with the center’s Memphis Self-Help Collective were trained using their own bodies to teach other women about their sexual health and how to check for disease and care for their bodies – from birth control and abortion to pregnancy, menopause and abuse. They instructed about women’s health at campus events, women’s fairs and in church basements, equipped with a metal speculum, which Judy still has, and a slide show of their cervixes. “We rabidly wanted to show you all about your body,” Judy says.

For several years, she counseled patients before termination procedures at the center, now known as CHOICES, and served on the board.

In the late ‘80s and 1990s, Judy and four women friends formed Delta Rising Storytellers, a collective that told stories about women, “love stories, more or less,” at events like Take Back the Night for free and for pay at festivals and museums. She was part of the first group of Artists in the Schools, telling tales to engage children in active listening. She hosted a radio show on WEVL for about 6 years, called Pass It On. And she also performed with a group called Tellervision that combined stories and music. She served on the board and produced festivals for the Tennessee Association for the Preservation and Perpetuation of Storytelling. As a volunteer, she coordinated children’s tents for the Center for Southern Folklore and Memphis in May.

Judy was the pick when library leadership created a staff development position for planning programs and writing grants. That’s where she was, in an airy office high above Peabody Avenue, when community organizer Jeanne Dreifus sought library partners to seek a federal Humanities grant for a women’s history project offered through Radcliffe College. Judy wrote a winning grant and the Memphis team produced Women in the Community in 1981, four programs of panels and music on women’s historic leadership in religion, music, social services and work. The series brought to light many rarely mentioned and little-known stories of women’s roles in local history – city builders, change makers, creators of institutions and makers of policy.

Journalist Deborah Clubb, weary of covering events that honored men’s accomplishments, was inspired by those local stories and came looking for help inventing a celebration of local women to be part of the new national recognition of women’s history each March. Judy says, “It was the obvious next thing to do.”

Meetings of the 15 founders were held around her conference table, talking about Deborah’s idea of building a community coalition of women and women’s groups to collect local women’s history and give awards for outstanding community work by women. They invented a program of seven awards that capture and preserve women’s essential and outstanding work to make communities better – and indeed to make history.

Judy is the only person besides Deborah who has participated in the Women of Achievement process and planning most years since 1984. She was the third president and the two have co-written many of the essays. Judy’s wide connections across Memphis communities shaped and strengthened WA’s diversity of faiths, ages, races and communities engaged in the nomination and selection process and in the panorama of women among the 262 honorees and three groups whose stories are preserved. It’s an archive of stories that can’t be matched, Judy says. Stories and honorees come from the community and are shared with the community, not as a fundraiser, she says, but “because someone has done something to be remembered and recognized.”

In 2004, Judy was named Librarian of the Year by the Mid-South Chapter Special Librarians Association and the Memphis Area Library Council. She served twice as president of the library association now called the Library Learning Network.

She retired from the Memphis system after 28 years in late 2003, as head of Staff Training.  She traveled a bit then joined the 5-county First Regional Library in Mississippi in 2006 to coordinate Youth Services. She retired again in 2016, then returned to be interim director, then REALLY retired in 2018.

She is on the board of the Memphis Area Women’s Council and recently rejoined the Nubian Theater Co. where she is transforming the folktale The People Could Fly into Fly: The Musical.

Judy Card has a vision of a world where all people are free and empowered by their stories and where women’s truth and contributions are valued, known, learned and shared. She strives purposefully toward making that vision a reality for today and always.

Judy Card is our 2020-2022 Woman of Achievement for Vision.