News » Cover Feature

20 < 30 The Class of 2021

by

comment

This is the 12th year the Memphis Flyer has asked our readers to tell us about outstanding young people who are making the Bluff City a better place. We had a record number of nominees, so narrowing it down to 20 was more difficult than ever. We do this so Memphis can meet the leaders who will be shaping our future. Even though we live in a time of uncertainty, speaking to these talented 20 never fails to fill us with hope.

Here they are: Your 20<30 Class of 2021.

cover_01_28_21_facebook.jpg

PRESENTED BY

coverstoy_sponsors.jpg

......

Alexus Atakora - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Alexus Atakora

Alexus Atakora

Fashion Entrepreneur, House of Reign

"Fashion has always been my passion," says Alexus Atakora, who first hit the modeling runway at age 8. While studying at the University of Memphis, she was inspired by Professor Peggy Quinn to make her passion a lifetime career. "I wanted to do my own thing. I started my own boutique, so I took that opportunity into my own hands."

When she's not working to make House of Reign a national chain, she upholds a family tradition of volunteering. "I take the time because I feel like my mom instilled that in me as a young child," she says. "There are people less fortunate than us. And this is our community. Why not make it beautiful?"

......

Chima Onwuka - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Chima Onwuka

Chima Onwuka

Mental Health Professional/Entrepreneur/Speaker

Chima Onwuka's family is from Nigeria, which gives him a unique perspective on Memphis. Bullied in school for being different, he experienced depression at age 15. "Before I went to college and got a psychology degree, I had no idea what all this stuff that I was feeling was called. I never knew there was a name for it."

Perhaps it was inevitable that a life spent conquering fear would lead to a desire to help others. For Onwuka, that meant overcoming his fear of public speaking. "There's a negative stigma to mental illness. For me to reach a broad amount of people, I had to start speaking. ... I wanted to be an advocate for mental health. That way, if you feel touched by my speech, you will be more inclined to see a counselor, even if it's not me."

......

Colleen Chandler - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Colleen Chandler

Colleen Chandler

Grants and Initiatives Manager, ArtsMemphis

When the pandemic hit, Colleen Chandler was in a unique position to help at ArtsMemphis. "I live and breathe grants and initiatives day in, day out."

As the country shut down around her, Chandler assessed her community's needs and reached out to funders. Within weeks, the Artist Emergency Fund was up and running, distributing millions of dollars in grants to artists who had seen their income evaporate overnight. "The arts will be one of the last sectors to recover from all this," says Chandler. "So we're definitely trying to support in any way we can."

The Junior League member has a passion for volunteering to help make her community better. "I feel like the creative community is so resilient, and I think the pandemic has just highlighted that."

......

Sean Winfrey - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Sean Winfrey

Sean Winfrey

Digital Art Instructor and Filmmaker, Cloud901

"I'm teaching kids right at the brink of adulthood, and a lot of kids don't know that you can do careers that are actually fun," Sean Winfrey says. "I've learned that a lot of kids don't have confidence in the world, and they're scared of the future around that age. I've just grown more passionate about it. I've personally seen some long-term change and impact on some of these kids."

The animator, who has created music videos for artists like Al Kapone, was at first apprehensive about teaching but found a supportive environment at Cloud901. "I feel like I work with a bunch of geniuses," he says. "It is a very strange place, but I feel like, on a personal level, I relate to these kids. The reason why I got the position was because I'm a very good uncle."

......

Kady “Kadyrox” Brown - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Kady “Kadyrox” Brown

Kady "Kadyroxz" Brown

Musician, Founder of Memphis Women's Rights Advocacy Group

The Berklee College of Music graduate has worked in London, New York, and Nashville, but Kady Brown's decision to move home was vindicated when her single "Strawberry Feels" was embraced by Memphis radio. "I wanted to be able to do what I do from wherever I am," she says.

Last summer, as the Black Lives Matter movement was inspiring activism all over the world, Brown started the Memphis Women's Rights Advocacy Group to help victims of sexual assault seek justice and healing. "I think it's this idea of impacting what you can impact and hoping to cause a chain reaction. My biggest goal is to do what is within grasp and create a work that can either be continued or inspire another."

......

Kayla Seabrook - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Kayla Seabrook

Kayla Seabrook

Musician/Marketing Manager, IRIS Orchestra

Kayla Seabrook started playing piano at age 7, and discovered jazz while at St. Benedict high school. "I studied classical when in college, but I came back to jazz, because that's really where my heart's at."

Before COVID sidelined her performances, you could find Seabrook tickling the keys for audiences large and small all over Memphis. "I am going absolutely crazy. I have only been performing in my own house in front of my cat and my husband for the past many, many months."

She's thankful to be able to represent IRIS' classical music education and performance agenda. "It's been a great outlet for me to be able to still really be part of the music scene, but in kind of a different way. It's such a good organization. It's one of those places where, and this is kind of a cliché to say, but it really does feel kind of like a family."

......

Torrey Harris - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Torrey Harris

Torrey Harris

Tennessee State Representative, District 90

"In 2017, the representative before me stood up before an education committee and said our generation was the most ill-mannered, know-nothing, never-gonna-be-anything, immoral generation."

That thoughtless slander motivated Torrey Harris to run for office. "But my true motivation is just that I am all about helping people."

In 2020, on his second try, he defeated veteran legislator John DeBerry by a margin of more than 50 percent to become the youngest person in the state House of Representatives, one of only two LGBTQ members, and the first bisexual. Soon afterward, Harris hosted the first town hall meeting in his district for 15 years. "It was so impressive to see people my age are on the call being vocal about what it is that they want. As young people, we just want someone who's gonna listen to us."

......

Gisela Guerrero - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Gisela Guerrero

Gisela Guerrero

Immigration and Inclusivity Accountability Committee Chair, Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope (MICAH)

Gisela Guerrero wants to break down the language barriers that keep the Latinx community from integrating into Memphis culture. In her day job, she helps patients access health information. "Some people may not know this, but at Church Health, about 40 percent of our patient population is Spanish speaking."

Born in Mexico City and a citizen of Memphis since age 5, Guerrero was in a unique position to help when COVID hit the Latinx community. "While it has been tricky to put all this health information in an easy and digestible method in English, it has been even more difficult to be able to do that in Spanish, or any other language, because of the misinformation that quickly gets around.

"No one should have to be waiting for a translation. No one should have to wonder, if they call the hotline, if they're going to be able to get somebody on the phone who understands them in the language they're most comfortable in."

......

Jared Moses - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Jared Moses

Jared Moses

Administrative Director of Operations, Baptist Memorial Hospital

"It is a lot of responsibility, but it's one that I appreciate," Jared Moses says. "I think it's fun because I am the youngest person on the team by far. But I think I bring a new perspective, new ideas, new ways of seeing things. ... There are people who've been working here much longer than I've been alive."

The pandemic saddled Moses' healthcare team with the biggest responsibility they would ever face. "You really get to see people's true colors, and how great of an asset they are, in times of need. Our team members stepped up and worked a ton of hours. We all started to rotate 12-hour shifts in the command center for the entire month of March and half of April. ... I think I've always had a calm personality, a calm demeanor, but I really had to continue that level when the urgency was high."

......

Anne Ross - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Anne Ross

Anne Ross

Director of Marketing and Merchandising, Hollywood Feed

When she first applied for a job at Hollywood Feed, Anne Ross was just looking for something to do after college. "It would help me pay the bills, and I'll figure out my life from there. And I just ended up staying and loving it."

When she started, the Memphis-based pet store chain had 20 locations. "We have rapidly expanded over the years to the point where we have 105 locations across 14 States. So it's been an adventure. ... I think what I like the most about my job is that I don't know what's coming next. There's always some new challenge, whether it's COVID or it's sourcing products from Brazil. It was just nothing that I could have ever dreamed up."

......

Brianna Smith-Herman - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Brianna Smith-Herman

Brianna Smith-Herman

Journalist/Project Manager, Three(i) Creative Communications

"I think I wrote my first article for the new Tri-State Defender in 2015 about female violence. And right then I knew, I kind of liked journalism," says Brianna Smith-Herman.

She was following in the footsteps of her father, Bernal Smith, who saved Memphis' storied Black newspaper. Armed with a mass media degree from Clark Atlanta University, she produced three films, worked on the popular show Real Housewives of Atlanta, and helped create music videos for artists such as T-Pain, before seeking her fortune in Los Angeles. But after her father passed away unexpectedly, she returned to Memphis to carry on the family legacy. "God makes no mistakes, but my dad still had a lot of things that he wanted to accomplish in the city," she says.

"I felt that here in Memphis, I had a lane that I could go into that was not there in L.A. There was a lane for journalism. There was a lane for film. There was a lane for music. There was real opportunity, and room for growth."

......

Geoffrey Morris - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Geoffrey Morris

Geoffrey Morris

Attorney, Butler Snow

The law runs in the Morris family. Geoffrey's father and brother are both attorneys, and he says he fell into the family business. "I love the reading and writing aspect of it, and the problem-solving aspect of it. [The law] touches just so many things in the world."

After graduating from Vanderbilt, he could have gone anywhere, but Morris chose to return to help grow his hometown. "I've always seen potential in the city. I'd like to see a city that's more modernized, more developed, but also still more equitable for everyone. You hear a lot about gentrification and things like that going on, but I think there's kind of a middle ground where you can develop the city while also looking out for people of different socioeconomic backgrounds, different races, ethnicities, and not displacing people from their communities."

......

Spencer Beckman - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Spencer Beckman

Spencer Beckman

Clinical Quality Improvement Specialist, Church Health

When Spencer Beckman came to Church Health as part of Rhodes College's Kinney community service program, he had no idea he would find himself on the front lines of a global pandemic, coordinating the Midtown healthcare facility's COVID testing program and screening 30 to 120 people a day. "Typical to the Church Health model, we relied heavily on our volunteers," he says. "We used to have to worry about getting ice packs on our swabbers, because they'd be overheating in the summer sun. Now we're having to buy propane tanks to make sure that our volunteers are not getting frostbite from being outside too long on cold, rainy mornings.

"I would love for [Memphis] to be a place where, regardless of your background, regardless of your access to resources, regardless of previous experiences, everyone can have the opportunity to make their life what they want it to be."

......

Destany Story - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Destany Story

Destany Story

Educator, Founder of Wonder Women and Wisdom

"I actually graduated from the school where I teach at now, Power Center Academy," says Destany Story.

Inspired by the Teach For America educators who instructed her, she decided to pursue education. "That was my first experience where I had teachers who really cared more about me than just my education."

While at Mississippi State University, she founded a support group to empower young women with ambition. "I wanted to focus it on minority students, because I did go to a predominantly white institution, and I felt like we weren't represented enough."

Wonder Women and Wisdom met regularly for networking brunches until Story graduated. "I kind of put it on the back burner for a while, but when I came to my high school, I just noticed a lot of girls looking up to me, just because I was more relatable."

Wonder Women and Wisdom was reborn. "I transitioned it to a mentoring program for girls 9th through 12th grade. We do workshops based on business etiquette, mental health, body love, and support."

......

Samantha Calhoun - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Samantha Calhoun

Samantha Calhoun

Clinical Assistant Professor, University of Memphis Loewenberg College of Nursing

"Whenever I was asked 'What do you want to be when you grow up?' the answer was always 'a nurse,'" Samantha Calhoun says. "My mom's attitude about taking care of people is my moral compass for approaching patient care. It's the core of who I am as a nurse and nurse educator."

Calhoun is one of the youngest nursing professors in the history of University of Memphis. "The biggest lesson I've learned from teaching nursing students is the beauty in making mistakes. You don't always need to have all the answers."

After almost dropping out of nursing school, she founded the nonprofit Simply Faith to help coach others through difficult times. "Simply Faith is who I am. My mother named me Samantha Faith, and I honestly believe that my gift of faith is the most significant part of my identity."

......

Leah Ford - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Leah Ford

Leah Ford

Political Campaign Manager

Leah Ford cut their political teeth as President of Rhodes College's Voices for Planned Parenthood. Gabby Salinas was on the board of the organization, so Ford worked on her 2018 State Senate campaign. When Salinas ran again in 2020, she tapped Ford as her campaign manager. "I was really honored, and definitely had a little bit of 'imposter syndrome' at first. I'm just always grateful to Gabby for giving me that chance because I learned so much.

"If we're going to ever change the way Tennessee politics works, we need people to stay here who are from here to fix it and to make things better, because it's not going to be these national organizations swooping down and saving the South. It's going to be people who live here, who know their communities and know what needs to happen."

......

Joy Marseille - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Joy Marseille

Joy Marseille

Public Engagement Coordinator, Crosstown Arts

Joy Marseille is on a mission to make the art world more equitable. "I think Crosstown Arts is under no mistaken assumptions around how much it means to have somebody leading a program who looks like the people they're leading."

When the pandemic shut down her public programs, Marseille created a series of "race talks" for arts professionals. "This has created a very strange silver lining for us to be able to create the infrastructure and set some systems in place that we have been wanting to get in place for a long time. But we're all really eager to get Crosstown Arts back up and running again, because it's been such a positive influence on the community."

With her friend, biologist Chandler Purity, she created Are We Terrible People?, a podcast she calls "a lighthearted take on heavy topics."

She's also working on a novel and expecting her first child. "I don't know that Memphis even realizes how unique it is. In good and bad ways, I think it's a perfect example of the truest America."

......

Emmanuel Spence - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Emmanuel Spence

Emmanuel Spence

Prospect Development, ALSAC St. Jude

"I believe that philanthropy is something that can be used to really uplift social good," Emmanuel Spence says. "I wanted to make a difference in people's lives, but not necessarily to be on the front end of it, but really on the back end."

After starting his nonprofit career at Bridges, Spence is now one of the star fundraisers for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. "I'd like to see the future of Memphis as a city where people come together to make change. I'm biased to say that I love philanthropy, but I really would love to see people more engaged from a philanthropic perspective, whether that means volunteering, serving, or giving, because I think Memphis has a lot of great assets. We need to figure out how to lift each other up."

Brian Mounce - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Brian Mounce

......

Brian Mounce

History and Politics Professor, Christian Brothers University/Incoming Associate Attorney at Evans Petree

After studying at Rhodes College for three years, finishing his degree at the University of Tel Aviv, and traveling the world, Brian Mounce found work at an intelligence think-tank unsatisfying. "I felt like the work I was producing wasn't really helping folks," he says. So I changed my career trajectory to try to become somebody who could help my community in a more tangible way."

He got a master's degree and started teaching high school. "I absolutely loved it."

Now he teaches students about the Constitution at CBU while finishing his law degree. "My grandfather believed in this old ideology, which translates to 'Repair a broken world.' I'm an ardent believer in that, and Memphis helped my family so much that I felt the need to give back to Memphis."

Jasmine Worles - BRANDON DILL
  • Brandon Dill
  • Jasmine Worles

......

Jasmine Worles

Strategic Planning Advisor, Shelby County Schools

Jasmine Worles had been in Washington, D.C., training candidates to run for office when she returned to Memphis two years ago to work for SCS. She was still learning the ropes when COVID hit and she was charged with empowering students for remote learning. "It went from, that February, looking at each other and saying, 'There is a pandemic spreading across Europe, it's coming into the United States. How are we going to cope with this?' By August, we were procuring and employing 95,000 devices."

In normal times, a project that size would have taken three years. "With the amount of students we have, and the fact that we were able to give devices and hotspots to students who needed internet access in a three- to four-month time period, that's the quickest mobilization that we've seen across the nation for a school district."

Worles somehow still finds time to help train candidates, and is currently expecting her first child. "I am a part of the pandemic baby boom."

Keep the Flyer Free!

Always independent, always free (never a paywall),
the Memphis Flyer is your source for the best in local news and information.

Now we want to expand and enhance our work.
That's why we're asking you to join us as a Frequent Flyer member.

You'll get membership perks (find out more about those here) and help us continue to deliver the independent journalism you've come to expect.


Add a comment