A New Project: 365 Memphians, Week One
It’s been five years since the last 365 Memphians project, and I think it’s time to show off another few hundred awesome people who call our city home. Hello, big project for 2016!
How it will work: Every Thursday, I’ll post photos and quick Q&As with seven Memphians. Occasionally one of those seven might be someone who was featured last time – a kind of “where are they now” deal because that’s just fun. Otherwise, I’m looking for people who weren’t in the 2011 project.
Here are Memphians numbers 1 – 7.
1. Me – Following tradition, I’ll go first and subject myself to the same thing as the other 364 people I’ll meet this year.
I’m Holly Whitfield. I was born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, but I’ve lived in Memphis for more than a decade. Managing all things I Love Memphis is my full-time job through the Memphis CVB. I’m an alumni of the University of Memphis, and before the I Love Memphis blog, I made magazines for the Commercial Appeal.
How does Memphis make you feel? Like anything is possible.
Best thing I’ve eaten this week: The Big Deuce slider from Slider Inn, – which incidentally was the first thing I ate on Jan 1, 2016 – washed down with a screwdriver, in the company of a good friend.
What’s something you’re proud of: People care about what I write.
2. Janae Pitts-Murdock
Janae is the Coordinator of Teen Services for the Memphis Public Library, and I had the pleasure of meeting her last year at the opening of the Memphis Central Library’s CLOUD901 teen lab. Her credentials are impressive: she’s earned master’s degrees from Carnegie Mellon, United Theological Seminary, and the University of Memphis. Originally from Detroit, she’s lived in Memphis for eight years and is wife to Jeffrey and mom to Jeffery III (age 4) and John Patrick (age 2).
How do you think Memphis has changed in the last 5 years? “Opportunities for innovation and access to capital seem more widespread. Investments in underserved communities seem more impactful. It feels like there’s more collaboration happening at multiple decision making levels and new voices are sitting at the table. It feels like Memphis has a new rhythm.”
What’s something you’re proud of? “I’m proud of the transformative impact of CLOUD901. Teens are developing 21st century skills and self-confidence. It’s so moving to see it and be a part of it.”
You can learn more about CLOUD901 teen learning lab here.
3. Carolyn Michael-Banks
Carolyn grew up in the Bronx, NYC. She led and innovated city tour companies in Washington D.C., Savannah, and Philadelphia before moving to Memphis 15 years ago to be with her husband. You could say that love brought her to Memphis. She is the owner and operator of A Tour of Possibilities, a driving tour of the city that focuses on African American history. Carolyn is also the guest of the January I Love Memphis Podcast, so you can listen to a more in-depth interview with her here.
How does Memphis make you feel? “Hopeful.”
What’s something you’re proud of? “I am proud that I chose to follow my passion. I built a business that gives me the opportunity to share the richness of African American History with residents and visitors alike. This journey is ever-evolving and stretches me to grow in ways I may not have been able to without taking such a huge step.”
Find out more about A Tour Of Possibilities on Carolyn’s website.
4. Sophorn Kuoy
Sophorn was featured in the first week of the 2011 edition of 365 Memphians. She’s now lived in Memphis for more than ten years, works as an architect and designer at Looney Ricks Kiss and as a freelance photographer and writer for the Memphis Flyer. She’s mom to 9-year-old Atticus. I’d like to add that Sophorn always looks impeccably stylish.
What has changed for you in the last 5 years? “Almost everything. I got divorced, struggled with the whole single mom thing, and had to find new steady work. The upside is that I’m more independent. I finally became a licensed architect and I work for one of the top architecture and planning firms in the nation, Looney Ricks Kiss, which happens to be in Memphis. I’m more connected with people who have the vision to propel the city towards some exciting changes.”
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten this week? “The Sakamushi Clams at Robata in Overton Square. The sake butter broth is as amazing as it sounds.”
5. Erling Jensen
Chef Erling Jensen – a native of Denmark – has been a staple of the Memphis culinary scene since he arrived in 1989. He operates fine dining restaurant Erling Jensen in East Memphis, where I met him during a Page 52 wine dinner last week.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten this (last) week: “The turkey, ham, and dressing that my wife cooked for Christmas.”
6. Dylan Sandifer
Dylan came to Rhodes College in 2008 from her hometown of Longview, Texas, and has lived in Memphis ever since, except for a quick stint in Nashville (“I came right back”, she says). She worked at the Church Health Center before starting a new job at MIFA a few weeks ago. As MIFA’s communications officer, Dylan manages their social media and digital marketing efforts and educates people about the non-profit’s work.
How has Memphis changed in the last 5 years? “I think it’s begun to embrace its identity as a mid-sized city. We have our own interesting culture and history, so we don’t have to try so hard to be something we are not.”
What’s something you’re proud of? “I’m proud of my work at the Church Health Center, the community building and projects I did in the Crosstown neighborhood, especially the mural at Midtown Crossing Grill. Though I’m not an artist myself, I was proud to facilitate that project and be involved in public art-making.”
7. Chris Porter
Chris Porter is the marketing coordinator for the Downtown Memphis Commission. He moved to Memphis in 2008 from Flowood, Mississippi, to play on The University of Memphis soccer team He has coached high school soccer for Westminster Academy for the last five years and runs his own business, Pillow Tees. Chris didn’t mention this during our conversation, but I also happen to know he’s a fan of the Tottenham Spurs.
What’s the best thing you’ve eaten this week? “I just ate a turkey sandwich from Court Street Deli, and I’m addicted to that place. Also, I didn’t eat there this week, but Gus’s is easily my favorite food on the planet. Every time I go, I slot out 3-4 hours to include the food coma nap afterwards and let my body truly enjoy the combo of fried chicken, fried pickles, and sweet tea.”
How does Memphis make you feel? “Memphis makes me feel alive. It never feels dead or dull even if I’m just chilling somewhere, there people around and everyone is welcoming. There is always something going on. It makes you feel alive and awake and happy.”
That’s it for week one. I’m off to meet seven more Memphians, and probably eat some fried pickles. I’ll share their stories (the Memphians’, not the pickles’) with you next Thursday.
Which Memphians would you like to meet?