There are over 202,000 adults under the age of 40 in Memphis, TN. I’ve personally interacted with approximately 2,000 of them – over, and over and over again.
That was the staggering statistic and moment of reflection that took place during the early days and weeks of developing Millennials For Memphis. The organization – an economic and community engagement platform for millennials who live, work, or play in Memphis – seeks to find and involve young adults in the decision-making processes that move Memphis forward.
Let’s keep it simple. Over one-third of adults in Memphis are under 40. Yet, we make up an underwhelming percentage of appointed or elected leadership positions, neighborhood planning coalitions, or even entertainment planning committees. This issue isn’t worrisome because millennials want to be involved. This isn’t merely about inclusion. This is an economic problem.
How do we convince millennials in Memphis to make a long-term investment in the city if we are unable (or unwilling) to demonstrate a most basic understanding of young adult expectations as they (we) advance in their careers and start families? How do we gain an understanding of those perspectives when the average age of adults at the proverbial table is well over 50? And how does Memphis continue to thrive as the Baby Boomer generation retires to a life where Gen-X and Gen-Y are expected to maintain a city that doesn’t reflect them.
We don’t, we can’t, and we won’t.
It’s easy for me to forget that millennials aren’t at the table. I’m involved. I’ve had countless conversations with past and current mayors, participated in two well-connected leadership development programs, and served on a handful of committees meant to develop a plan for Memphis. My friends and I have supported social justice, women’s rights, and political action efforts in Memphis. Peers lead nationally recognized non-profits, support our local technology community, serve in elected office, and are generally “connected.”
But, that’s not the reality of most.
Most millennials in Memphis have a week that goes a little like this: Wake up. Go to work. Go home. On the weekends, go to a sports bar or bowling alley. Shop at the local Galleria. Research jobs in competing cities because there is “nothing to do in Memphis.” Return to work on Monday. Become a little bitter. Rinse. Repeat.
One-third of millennials in Memphis have a week that goes a little like this: Survive poverty.
So, what do we do? Well, Millennials For Memphis will do four things over the next two years as a part of our Operation 731 plan.
First, we will answer the “How, Sway?” question (shout out to Kanye). How do we get proper representation at the table, in City Hall, on our school board, or in the County Commission? We do so by getting involved in the political process. Our Millennials In Leadership (MIL) Accelerator will offer committed young adults an opportunity to learn about the political process, make value-added connections, successfully fundraiser, and prepare for the 2018 election season. Upon completion, two dozen millennials will be equipped to develop a successful platform, raise money, manage a campaign, or even run for office.
Secondly, we’ll partner with local economic and personal development organizations to boost the profiles of young professionals while influencing area businesses to get excited about hiring local talent at competitive wages. So many forward-thinking adults leave Memphis and invest their skills elsewhere. We want to retain our most innovative talent right here in Memphis and the only way to do that is to recruit #LocalFirst.
Thirdly – and perhaps my favorite effort, is our Millennial Reconnection Project. This effort, led by an all-millennial task force, works to take ten millennial families from poverty to productive citizenry in two years. Through record expungement, job training, and a mentorship program – our team makes it our business to support the interests of all millennials in Memphis while measuring the economic impact of that support.
Finally, we will continue our commitment to get young adults out of the house and into the local community. We began last year with a highly political mayoral debate featuring the top candidates for mayor and sixteen millennial panelists. We will continue with conversations with public servants, community service drives, and purely social events.
On March 24, Millennials For Memphis will take over the New Daisy Theatre with the city’s Ultimate ‘90s-themed Lip Sync Battle and Dance Party. Attendees will [fake] sing for their lives and reminisce to the tunes that birthed bad hair styles, wide leg jeans, and bleach blonde highlights. 100% of proceeds support the Millennials In Leadership Accelerator.
To get tickets, visit lipsyncmemphis.eventbrite.com.
For more information about Millennials For Memphis, visit millennialsformemphis.org.
For more information about Operation 731 or to join a task force, visit millennialsformemphis.org/operation-731.
Join our network of over 1,800 millennials in Memphis, by visiting millennialsformemphis.org/make.
Danielle Inez is the owner of ding! Marketing Studio and executive director of Millennials For Memphis. Social justice, innovation in government, and her 16 month old toddler inspire Danielle’s quest to #BeTheChange.