History

About Leadership Memphis

Leadership Memphis’ mission is to build a great Memphis by building great leaders. Since 1979, Leadership Memphis has continually developed new ways to connect and create more effective community leaders.

Leadership Memphis was founded in 1978 from the need for Memphis to change the international image and reality of a city divided by race and heading for failure. Recognizing the need for a new breed of leaders that would unify Memphis and respect its diversity, Memphis leaders drew inspiration from leadership programs in Nashville and Atlanta which provided leaders with nine months of in-depth information about their cities and sparked new alliances between diverse citizens.

Ultimately, several Memphis organizations set leadership development as their top priorities, and when this building interest in new leaders converged, the foundation was laid for the organization that would become Leadership Memphis.  The first class of 42 persons was convened in December 1978, hearing the Governor-elect challenge them to take charge of the city’s destiny.

From the beginning, Leadership Memphis’ programming was anchored by its emphasis on racial reconciliation. The sessions on diversity were complemented by sessions on justice, health care and hospitals, media, environment, and faith.  In June 1986, Leadership Memphis held its first Celebration of Leadership, which became an annual tribute to civic leadership and the organization’s most popular event. 

As an arena for civic understanding, Leadership Memphis has been a leader fighting the vestiges of racism, embracing leaders from all sectors of the city, and convening diverse people in honest conversation about their city’s future.  Now, over 30 years after the birth of Leadership Memphis, it is impossible for many of its current class members to understand the despair and division that it was created to combat.  That in itself is an indicator that Leadership Memphis, along with other organizations, has had a positive impact on race relations in this community. 

Nearly 2,000 alumni have completed the Executive, FastTrack and Grassroots programs. Among them are mayors, City Council members, County Commissioners, City of Memphis executives,  Shelby County executives, 21 federal government executives, executives of civic and community organizations, public and private corporation executives, clergy representing over a dozen denominations, school or school system faculty and administrators,  health care executives,  professionals (doctors, attorneys, and accountants), and  small business owners.  Over 40% of Leadership Memphis’ alumni are African-American, Latino, Asian, or of another culture. 

Leadership Memphis continues to serve as a civic tool for forging new and meaningful relationships between unique blends of people from different sectors of the city.  Without Leadership Memphis, there are those who would never have had an opportunity to learn so much about the community, other people and themselves.   

Going forward, Leadership Memphis will be the standard-bearer for strong, progressive, diverse leadership for Memphis.  Leadership Memphis will work with others to build a great Memphis by serving as our city’s window to the world, and by encouraging a wide-open exchange of the best thinking, ideas, experiences and solutions the world has to offer our community’s leaders.  As Memphis moves forward, there is an increased urgency for Leadership Memphis to connect leaders to leaders, leaders to information, and leaders to community. Leadership Memphis advances diversity, increases innovation and promotes civic engagement.

For more information about Leadership Memphis, call (901) 278-0016

365 South Main Street | Memphis, Tennessee 38103
901-278-0016 p | 901-278-4868 f | info@leadershipmemphis.org