I was born on October 27th, 1982 at St. Francis in Memphis, Tennessee. Early on, I learned to work with different backgrounds and look at many sides of issues. Half of my family was Catholic from Chicago, who moved to the beautiful city of Memphis in 1970. The other half of my family was Protestant from Missouri and Alabama. I grew up off of Riverdale and Shelby Drive, and I saw, first hand, what flight looked like. I saw people flee to Mississippi, and I saw people flee to the county and other surrounding areas. I watched my childhood hang out, the Hickory Ridge Mall, crumble. While it took time to find my passion, I knew I needed to do something to address the inequalities around me. Unfortunately, at the time, I did not have the education or the tools to do it.
With this in mind, I attended Southwest TN Community College, and a couple of wonderful professors, one on the Macon campus and one on the Union campus, believed in me. Because of this, they put me in charge of the Honor’s Society, the Young Dems, and the Diversity Club. I graduated from Southwest with Associate’s degrees in Political Science and Pre-Law. My grades merited a transfer scholarship, which paid for my classes and books at the University of Memphis. In 2005, I rebuilt and was the President of the University of Memphis College Democrats. Through that group, hundreds of students and I listened to and questioned elected officials from all levels of government. When my favorite local public servant, then-State Senator Steve Cohen, spoke with our group, I asked him if I should take part in the TN State Legislature’s internship program. He said not only should I take part in the program, but that I should work for him.
During that internship, I saw first hand what a true public servant looks like. I watched him as he took down legislation on constitutional grounds, and I witnessed him speak truth to power on numerous issues. Inspired by this, I went on to work for his 2006 campaign, where I volunteered between 60 to 80 hours a week of my free time, knocking on doors until my knuckles ached and putting up yard signs until my fingers bled. My hard work and loyalty led me to being his Field Director in 2008 and 2010, and from there, his Campaign Manager in 2012 and 2014.
In 2007, I completed my B.A. in Political Science with a minor in Liberal Arts and Legal Thought. Upon graduation, I received the John W. Burgess Community Service Award from the University of Memphis Political Science Department for my volunteer work on multiple projects and multiple campaigns. I then went on to become the first graduate from the University of Memphis’ J.D./M.A. dual program, completing my law degree in 2010 and my Masters in Political Science with a concentration in American government and public law in 2011. While completing my law degree, I was fortunate to extern under Linda Seeley at Memphis Area Legal Services. There, I worked on issues for the poor involving debt and Miller Trusts, and I saw first hand how people try to take advantage of the elderly in nursing homes. I will never forget seeing a man try to convince a woman with dementia that he was her husband and not her ex. That seems to be a common theme in our world-just as the lion targets the injured antelope, the predators of our world prey on the weak.
After passing the Tennessee Bar Exam, my first job as an attorney was with the City of Memphis from 2011-2012. There, I conducted the research that was used to temporarily allow library cards to be used as voter IDs. While the City of Memphis successfully used this and other research to win their case in the Tennessee Supreme Court, the state legislature met and changed the law.
In 2012, the Memphis Flyer put me in their “20 < 30 cover issue” for my leadership and vision of Memphis. Soon after, I accepted a position Downtown at Congressman Cohen’s district office. It further exposed me to stories of people who need help in our community. I learned how to help people find answers and navigate them through our terrifying bureaucracy. It was an eye opening experience to hear the stories from disabled veterans and the elderly. Injustice was in my face and I was proud to work with the dedicated staff in his office.
This also happened to be the same year that former state representative, current school board member, and lifelong public servant Mike Kernell brought me onto the Memphis Bridge: The Memphis Street Paper. He told me some Rhodes College students were trying to produce a newspaper for homeless people to sell for an income. So I figured, “why not Memphis?” knowing similar papers were successful in Nashville and D.C. I volunteered as much legal services and advice as I could. Those brilliant young students created a beautiful non-profit that now serves our community. In 2013, I joined the Board of Directors of the Memphis Bridge, and I continue to do everything I can for that organization.
In 2014, I was sworn in to serve on the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board, where I became the first person in Memphis to call for body cameras on all Memphis police officers. They protect the police, they protect the public, and they protect your taxpayer dollars. I had read about the effectiveness of body cameras in Rialto, CA in 2013, but everyone dismissed the idea as too expensive when I suggested it then. In the aftermath of Ferguson and Baltimore, they listened, so Memphis is now in the process of implementing the idea. Now I am focused on increasing the Review Board’s powers in order to help rebuild relationships between the public and police. By reading this, you already know where I grew up. I know we need our police, and I am also well aware of their perception by some of my friends and neighbors. We cannot live in a safe community without rebuilding our trust. Body cameras provide the transparency we need, and the Citizen Law Enforcement Review Board, if given teeth, can start rebuilding that trust. I love my city, and I do not want it to become the next national headline.
After Congressman Cohen’s 2014 race, a 2 to 1 victory, I temporarily moved out to Denver as the Deputy Director for DSCF (Democratic Senate Campaign Fund). In that role, I worked directly with the Director. We ran a $2.5 million budget. While we helped each other in all areas of the campaign, he focused more on fundraising while I was running the ground game. During our battles, one of our opponents tweeted a white supremacist web site. None of the local press picked up the story at all. Because I grew up in an African American neighborhood and city, I was infuriated to see that a man seeking public office would have the nerve to tweet such hateful rhetoric about a group of people he never lived with or knew. I spent countless hours sending out the screenshot and supporting materials to multiple national and local sources. That got national news to expose him. Because of this and the strength of his opponent, Colorado now has a state senator from the Western Slopes who opposes such hateful rhetoric. We were not supposed to win her race.
After living in Colorado, I stood in awe of the progressive state and the beautiful mountains and views within it. I wondered if it was home. While at a Halloween party at Cervantes in Five Points, I looked around at the crowd. While I should have been enjoying Zoogma and the wonderful craft beer they had, I could not help but realize that I was not home. I had over a thousand people around me, but I somehow felt alone. The one thing that cheered me up was noticing my friend running the light show wearing a Memphis t-shirt. That was the moment when I decided I needed to go home, and I did the day after my contract ended.
Now that I’m home, I have begun practicing criminal defense law, and, through other incredible board members on the Bridge, I recently became a member of the Memphis Rotary Club where I hope to secure funding for Housing First in Memphis as a means of reducing costs to the city and helping the most vulnerable in our communities. I have lived off Patterson and Kearney for more than seven years and in Midtown before that. District 5 is the core of our great city, and I know I can represent it well as your next councilman.