Jamie R. Griffin

Jamie Griffin is a graduate of Leadership Memphis Executive Program's 2019 class. He is the City of Memphis agency manager at Whitehaven Library. As a volunteer, he has worked with Youth Villages, OutMemphis, NCCJ and others.

A Leadership Memphis grad relives the Executive Program journey

By Published: May 14, 2019 2:37 PM CT

I am too busy. Those were my thoughts when my employer nominated me to participate in the Leadership Memphis Executive Program. I had heard good things about Leadership Memphis, though the most recurring comment was, “It’s a long commitment.”

<strong>Jamie R. Griffin</strong>

Jamie R. Griffin

Leadership Memphis immerses participants in a rigorous experience to develop relationships and networks that drive positive change. Our 80-member class met with members of the faith community, city and county officials, diversity supporters, and leaders in education, arts and business. We were divided into eight 10-member groups and served as mentors for high school students in a particular community.

I was part of the Hickory Hill Community team with Power Center Academy. While the knowledge I gained from just those elements would have made the program worthwhile, it was the learning and "doing" journeys that enabled me to go behind the scenes to hear from people who are impacted by initiatives and events in our city.

Participants are required to complete two learning and two doing journeys. A learning journey centers on acquiring knowledge about an aspect of our community. A doing journey is assisting or helping out in the city.

Leadership Memphis suggests journeys, but I uncovered one that complemented my program experience – the Hickory Hill Town Hall Meeting. I was impressed with the number of people who attended and were engaged. When discussing slow trash pickups in the area, one resident said, “That’s the same mess I’ve heard for years.” City of Memphis COO Doug McGowen explained that he understood her frustration and then articulated the city’s plan to improve. For people who think their voice means nothing, they should have been at this meeting; it was the epitome of holding government accountable.

My second learning journey was a MATA (Memphis Area Transit Authority) Board of Commissioners meeting. Attendees were more upset than I had ever seen before in a meeting, adding credence to my belief that change starts with everyday people. People of all ages and abilities told stories about how removing a route in their area would limit, or eliminate, their capacity to get around. MATA later announced it would keep all the routes – two more points for the little person.

One of my first doing journeys was serving community lunch at First Congressional Church. Chef Carter Beard put me to work helping serve more than 100 people. I talked to and shared fellowship with many individuals. One lady explained that she came all the time – not for the food, but the interaction with people. That conveyed a great deal about the human spirit. I told Beard I would be back to serve and I’ve kept my word.

I fulfilled my Leadership Memphis journey obligations in less than five weeks. However, like my parents, I have always wanted to do more to improve the lives of others, and Leadership Memphis provided a unique conduit to accomplish that goal by opening doors that might not have otherwise been available. I forged ahead with more journeys.

Serving as a judge at a Black History Oratorical Competition was one of my favorite doing journeys. The students were asked, “If their neighborhood could talk, what would it say and how has it molded them into the person they are?” Fifth-grader Kaliyah Wyatt gave an award-winning speech on the highs and lows of living in the Douglass Community. Deonna Waller, a high school freshman, also won for her presentation on how the Lester Community toughened her up to become a teen on a mission. These kids have a greater understanding of how one’s environment impacts lives than I had at their age. Our challenge is to find ways to keep people like them here once they become adults.

It is one thing to attend a MATA meeting; it is another to ride a bus to get from place to place, which I did as a doing journey.

It was a reality check ­– making sure I had everything I needed when I got to the bus stop because there was no turning back. While I realize my experience was different from those who rely on MATA daily, it helped me appreciate the obstacles facing people who depend on it as a primary source of transportation. I realized that people who make decisions about MATA should occasionally take the bus to and from work before considering changes.  

Waste tire pickup at Fuller Park was the hardest doing journey. Three volunteers from St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, a Tennessee Department of Transportation worker and I pulled about 400 discarded tires out of wooded areas in the Mitchell neighborhood. I had no idea tire dumping was such an issue in Memphis. Most rewarding was seeing one of the students we were mentoring from Power Center Academy, Jau’Kizah Rogers, there in the trenches as well. She is another person who will help take Memphis to another level years from now.  

I learned so much by the time I graduated from the nine-month program – about myself, about my neighbors, but especially about the fantastic diversity that makes Memphis unique. My greatest takeaway is that one person can make a difference. I witnessed it firsthand in every one of my journeys.

I completed a total of 24 learning and doing journeys, and my experiences have amplified my desire and paved the way for me to do more. I was asked to join the Volunteer Memphis Steering Council and to serve as co-board chair with Diversity Memphis. I am more comfortable speaking about different organizations now that I’ve had this experience, and I am grateful for Leadership Memphis for providing the vehicle to expand my investment in Memphis.

Yeah, I’m busy, but this is a busy that fills my soul.


Leadership Memphis

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