Roquita Coleman-Williams

Roquita Coleman-Williams is a member of the Memphis Area Transit Authority Board of Commissioners and former president of the Memphis World Trade Club. She became a certified train conductor in her role as a solutions manager for Canadian National Railway. 

Shelby Farms and the quarantine work week

By Updated: May 06, 2020 6:28 AM CT | Published: May 06, 2020 4:00 AM CT GUEST COLUMN

As the City of Memphis joins communities across the U.S. in easing restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic, I spent the majority of my Saturday at Shelby Farms Park reflecting on what eight weeks taught me.

Yes, I said eight weeks! With a regular work week that would normally encompass a dozen in-person meetings as well as regular travel from the U.S. to Canada, I was among a group of professionals who were at very high risk for contracting and spreading the coronavirus.

Walking in Memphis with an eye for its ‘considerable charm’

Thankfully, my employer rolled out policies the first week of March restricting travel and mandating home office work for administrative and professional staff.

<strong>Roquita <br />Coleman-Williams</strong>



I am sales manager for a Class 1 railroad. As part of my role as a rail professional, I also became certified as a train conductor in 2016, a journey I talked about at TEDx Memphis in 2019. For the past 22 years I have maintained career, business, civic and philanthropic commitments that have required me to travel nearly 70% of the month.

My family – a devoted husband and two children, ages 25 and 7 – have never known a time when I did not travel. Demanding travel is part of the fabric of our lives. To the surprise of no one who knows me, it did not take long for the quarantine, 12-hour work days and homeschooling a second-grader to take a toll. Paired with the restricted access to mental and physical self-care, I was left scrambling to find a way to manage before I imploded. 

Shelby Farms Park would become the anchor of my physical and emotional health during this time. An unplanned meeting shortly after I left a doctor’s appointment in East Memphis took me into Shelby Farms, one of the nation’s largest urban parks, with 4,500 acres of green space. Five hours later, I had completed a work project several days ahead of schedule and felt better than I had before the quarantine started.

From that day forward, I planned five hours of my work week at Shelby Farms, waking up bright and early, packing up lunch, protective gear, my 7-year-old and heading from my Downtown home to the park for work and homeschooling. Before long I ordered a hammock from Amazon and found us a spot near Beaver Lake that had very few people during the week. Everyone was respectful. While some park attendees needed reminders on social distancing, I was pleased to see that most people maintained 6 feet of distance and wore masks. 

Parks Alliance tells cities to ‘look to Memphis as a model’

It is no secret that time in nature can help relieve stress and anxiety and improve your mood. According to the National Recreation and Park Association, “Several studies have confirmed that separation from nature is detrimental to human development, health and well-being, and that regular contact with nature is required for good mental health.” And, “Use of green spaces is associated with decreased health complaints, improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels, reduced stress, improved general health perceptions and a greater ability to face problems.”

 Editor’s Note: The Daily Memphian is making our coronavirus coverage accessible to all readers — no subscription needed. Our journalists continue to work around the clock to provide you with the extensive coverage you need; if you can subscribe, please do. 

Over the past eight weeks, I learned that a visit to the park made me feel as good as a visit to the massage parlor and that a work time in the park was as productive and fulfilling as a day of packed business meetings abroad. It also taught me that a language arts assignment near Beaver Lake was a far more productive homeschooling session than the shouting matches and tears at the kitchen table of our home. 

So what have we as a community learned from this quarantine? And how can we adopt policies today that will support us in using green spaces as we face future waves of the coronavirus? 

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