If you haven’t heard of Dorian Spears, it’s most likely because she doesn’t need the spotlight to keep her motivated to create change in Memphis. She’s petite and soft-spoken, but Dorian has packed a big punch in her career in government and nonprofit over the last fifteen years. A native South Memphian, Dorian has had a passion for serving the community, and she has continued to expand her knowledge and experience, dividing her time between volunteer and employment opportunities after earning her Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Christian Brothers University.
Dorian’s extensive resume includes heavy hitters like Corporation for National and Community Service – AmeriCorps, Literacy Mid-South, Volunteer Memphis, the YMCA, Seedco, and the Mayor’s Innovation Delivery Team – Bloomberg Philanthropies, addressing the challenges of increasing neighborhood economic vitality and advancing a culture of excellence in government with a focus on customer service. Because of her work on the Innovation Team, she was awarded the Ruby Wharton Outstanding Woman in the area of Business n 2015. She most recently worked with the Economic Development Growth Engine to assist small business growth in inner city neighborhoods, and also helped with the transition process for Mayor Jim Strickland through serving on the Poverty, Community, Minority Business Development, and City Planning teams.
Over the last few months, she’s been working as a nonprofit consultant, advising organizations on everything from community gardens to domestic abuse reduction. Dorian is already a superstar, but she deserves a moment in the spotlight for her work to make Memphis a better, more equitable place to live.
If you could describe Memphis in three words, what would they be?
Soulful, self-deprecating, cocoon
What do you think is the most misunderstood issue facing Memphis today?
‘Memphis is on the cusp of being great’ is a phrase that resonated when I moved back home from Atlanta because I felt the optimism in those words. We should limit the lengths of conversations and words and strengthen our actions to make the city what it needs to be: one that honestly acknowledges its turbulent history that lends to its current state of disparity and one that seeks equity at every level of interaction with its citizens in spite of that history. We will continue to be mired in our past until we educate ourselves properly and work to grow in the spirit of reconciliation and healing. The work will not be easy, and intentional efforts must be made to make life better for all, including people of color and those affected by poverty. The decreasing disparity is critical to this city’s greatness. Serving with various non-profits as staff and a board member taught me that the sense of urgency was not there before. That tide seems to have turned in recent years, and I am thankful to have served on a team that was able to expedite initiatives just outside of government to add to that momentum of ‘doers.’
The city’s assets are comprised of those who have and those who have not. We are only as strong as our weakest link. In the midst the good things that are happening, we can not claim victory when people are left behind. For a city to operate in a spirit of excellence, it’s a collective effort and not in the hands of one insular group or even one person. Those who may not have many resources also possess the genius and skills to transform the city. Welcoming them to the table will make a difference if we are seeking positive outcomes. When they can articulate their dreams of Memphis and become a part of making them come true is when we can say we’ve done something right. That is a great Memphis.
What’s the most exciting work you’ve ever been able to do to help build Memphis?
My current work entails working with various non-profits in partnership to build healthy initiatives that will create capacity building opportunities to strengthen neighborhoods in our city. My previous roles and service opportunities over the past 15 years have prepared me for the valuable work that is on the horizon to be completed. To see how my work has layered over the years to this point has been pretty exciting for me.
Who are four people are destined to change Memphis?
Terri Lee-Johnson’s work with Birth Strides and her passion for women who aspire to be or are currently mothers. She encourages the development of successful systems and special care for the mother and her child. I remember sitting across from her in my home over five years ago and hearing her speak about how she felt that this was her life’s work. I am encouraged to see it coming to fruition.
Dr. Adriane Johnson-Williams has brought a refreshing and eloquent candor to conversations around equity and working on a whole child strategy for our babies who will be the next generation of leaders.
Kym Moore Alexander is my birthday twin who is exploring a beautiful path in working with women and social justice. Just watch her and see.
Jeremy Calhoun & Alton Cryer of Setting the Standard (STS) Enterprise. These young men found me on LinkedIn over four years ago, and we’ve developed a beautiful relationship with the work they are doing in the community around building young leaders in Memphis. Some of their core values include humility, respect, winning expectation, and a sense of urgency. I see great promise in their ability to grow this work in an even higher capacity. It’s needed in this town, and they have what it takes to make it successful.
What do you like most about living in Memphis?
It’s beginning to feel more like home as I learn to appreciate its many treasures.
What are your three favorite restaurants?
Rizzo’s Diner, De Javu, and Mot’s & Ed’s
Memphis is still a secret gem often overshadowed by cities like Nashville that are experiencing massive growth. Why do you think this is the case?
From what I’ve read about Nashville’s progress and talking to friends who live there, it seems that a group of people gets together, discuss what needs to be addressed, align, make some decisions and act upon them. We are just now having candid discussions around how the siloed approach has failed us. If Memphis wants to go far, it must quickly move along a similar path of coalition building. Not at the surface, but at the root.
What is the most important thing that readers can do to help make Memphis a better place?
I have a list. 1) Properly educate yourself about the city’s history 2) Invite someone to your dinner table who does not look like you and learn more about them. 3) If you have a heart for the community, please include the residents in the process in an authentic way.
Anything else you’d like to add?
Since I love quotes, I will leave you with one around visionary leadership. “The true meaning of life is to plant trees, under whose shade you do not expect to sit.” ~ Nelson Henderson