John Minervini, 30, made his way back to his hometown of Memphis by way of Portland, Boston, and Shanghai. He is a graduate of Harvard University. His reasons for returning were a personal one–to care for his grandmother. John has become rooted in the city, serving as a cheerleader for whatever program and issue he’s discussing. John recently became the Community Engagement Manager for New Memphis Institute, where he can continue his role as cheerleader by engaging New Memphis Institute alumni. Keeping alumni engaged so that they stay in Memphis is hard work, but we can’t think of anyone better to champion talent retention in Memphis. Retaining talent is literally his job!
We chose John because of his constant and energizing promotion of our city.
If you could describe your feelings about Memphis in three words, what would they be?
Stay with it.
Why is talent retention so important for Memphis?
Short version: you can’t build a great city without great people.
Long version: Until recently, Memphis sustained annual net losses of adults with graduate, professional, and bachelors degrees. In other words, potential city builders were moving to places like Nashville and Dallas. But in the last few years, the tide has decisively turned. Now, each year, Memphis experiences a net gain in adults with degrees, and the corresponding benefits are felt in all corners of the city.
I believe that sea change can be traced in part to the efforts of organizations—like New Memphis Institute—that recruit, train, and retain top-shelf talent. By connecting city builders with great jobs, networks, service opportunities, cultural experiences, and professional development, we are making Memphis an appealing place for them to live.
Describe your ideal day in Memphis.
Saturday. Wake without alarm. 8am yoga. 10am farmers market. Afternoon spent cooking and listening to music. 6pm supper with friends. 8pm games. In bed by midnight.
Name four people in Memphis whom you view as mentors.
Antony Sheehan. Micah Greenstein. Marvin Stockwell. Todd Richardson.
What’s the one Memphis restaurant you couldn’t live without?
Ecco. (Order the orange and fennel salad with seared salmon. You’re welcome.)
What’s the last book that you’ve read?
The last book I finished—on the plane to San Francisco over winter break—was Bring Up The Bodies, by Hilary Mantel. It’s like Game Of Thrones, except everything’s historically accurate, and the prose is achingly beautiful.
What makes Memphis different from other cities?
If you live here, on some level, Memphis is your project.
What’s the one misconception people have about Memphis that is simply untrue?
People assume there isn’t an indie film scene here. In fact, Movie Maker just ranked Memphis among the ten best US cities for filmmakers to live and work. See, for example, Brooks Films, Filmes Fatales, Indie Memphis, Memphis Film Society, Craig Brewer, Melissa Sweazy, Morgan Jon Fox. I could go on.
What area of town is your favorite and why?
The Fairgrounds. When I bike down Tiger Lane or along Early Maxwell, I see so much potential. Ask yourself: what if these 155 acres could be something amazing? What if there were a plan that would engage the surrounding neighborhoods and make Memphis a better place to live? Over the next few years, it will be the responsibility of all of us to figure out what that looks like.
What can Memphians do to make a difference in our community?
I’m going to plagiarize on this one. I recently got to see Bryan Stevenson speak in Memphis. He’s an activist for social justice and the author of Just Mercy—another great read, FYI.
Stevenson says that if we want to change the world, we’ve got to do four things. 1) Get proximate to the problems we care about. 2) Change the narrative. 3) Remain hopeful. 4) And sometimes, we’ve got to do uncomfortable things. I don’t know about you, but that sounds right to me.
What is one thing you’re most excited about for Memphis?
Density. Because you can’t have a walkable city when you’re stuck with a population density of just 2,000 people per square mile.