Welcome to The Dean’s List! The Dean’s List will profile up-and-comers in Memphis who are certain to be the next group of leaders in the nonprofit, corporate, government, and faith communities. The Dean’s List is curated by Kevin Dean.
At first glance, you’ll notice that Kelechi Ordu is pure muscle. As a Crossfit instructor at The Box, Kelechi gets to flex those muscles three to four times per week as a Level 1 Trainer. A former collegiate football player for Tennessee Tech, Kelechi, 28, graduated with a degree in Exercise Science in 2011, which has been an ongoing passion for most of his life.
Yet whipping people into shape isn’t Kelechi’s only strength. When Kelechi isn’t teaching Crossfit, he’s focused on his other calling in life, working with youth in North Memphis though STREETS Ministries at their Graham Heights location. Kelechi was hired onto the staff in 2011 after a brief summer job, working his way up the ranks to become the Site Director in 2014. At the center, Kelechi oversees the many programs that serve hundreds of Memphis youth every year. STREETS is a safe place for kids after school where they have the opportunity to get help with homework, enroll in a tutoring program, work on computers, or just shoot some hoops on the basketball court.
A native of Atlanta, GA and born to Nigerian parents, Kelechi grew up in the church. Now a member of Downtown Church with his wife, Brittany, and their two children, Chioma and Naomi, he is led by his faith to be a mentor and an inspiration to youth in the North Memphis neighborhood, many of whom live in economically disadvantaged homes. STREETS is part of a larger movement in Memphis to mitigate the lack of access for youth in lower income neighborhoods. “Some of the things that many of our kids face are challenges along the lines of illiteracy, low ACT scores, and lack of transportation to help provide them access to other resources around the city,” he says. “There are so many organizations that are doing great work in this city and I am glad to serve alongside one of them. I hope to be in this city for a while and to continue to witness change and hope in the lives of our communities.”
We chose Kelechi for his amazing work with opportunity youth through his work at STREETS and his commitment to inspiring Memphis’ next generation of leaders.
If you could describe yourself in three words, what would they be?
Consistent, determined, and a life long learner
What’s your favorite part about living in Memphis?
Our community! My wife and I do not have much family in Memphis, so raising our two little girls away from all of your immediate family can be a struggle. And just being in a city that we are not from and had no real ties prior to coming is a challenge. But our community of friends and co-workers is one of the reasons that I love being here in Memphis so much. It is a humbling and encouraging feeling to know that many of our family are not here but we have so much support, love, and encouragement from our community of friends here in Memphis. To me this is what makes Memphis feel like home for my family and I, and part of the reason why we love living here.
What led you to work at Streets Ministries?
My wife initially moved to Memphis to go through the Memphis Teacher Residency (MTR) and so we knew that this being a four year commitment we were going to get settled down in Memphis. I knew that I wanted to work in some form of ministry coming out of college and I was connected to a couple really awesome ones around the city and STREETS was one of them. Once I met with Reggie Davis (STREETS executive director) and heard of their mission I fell in love with this organization. As I transitioned into moving to Memphis I eventually came on staff and I have enjoyed the past 5 years being with STREETS.
What has been your best experience working with STREETS Ministries?
My best experiences at STREETS is seeing what it does to people. I am not just talking about the kids, although through the past five years I have seen the impact that STREETS has had on so many of our kids lives, but I also have seen and experienced what it does in the lives of our volunteers and staff. As someone on STREETS staff it has helped me see my giftings in ways that I myself had not seen them before. Also the culture I am a part of has challenged me to do things with excellence at all times and also it stretches me in a way that constantly grows me as a leader and a professional. For our volunteers that come in and build relationships with our students I think that they have taken away so many things that they themselves may not have expected when they first started. Many have been able to become better learners of different people & cultures and as well gain purpose & satisfaction in making a difference in the lives of others as those individuals are also making a difference in their lives as well.
What’s a common misperception about the kids that you serve?
A common misperception is that many of them are either misguided or lost. I think this thought comes about when people hear something negative about our youth today. The reality of this is that there are a couple bad apples that give a bad reputation to a larger population that are actually great young individuals that are very bright and have so much to offer to our city!
What’s a common misperception about Memphis?
A common misconception is that it is one of the most violent places in America (some might argue the most violent) and that only terrible things happen down here. I have talked to many outsiders that have such a fear of Memphis because of what they hear in the news. The reality is that every major city also has violence and negative things happen, but there are also many great things that happen in those cities, just as there are many great things that happen in Memphis. It is just not talked about as much mainstream as the negative stuff.
What’s the one thing that readers can do to support STREETS Ministries?
Readers can support by signing up to be a volunteer or help to refer others to volunteer at STREETS.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve seen in Memphis?
A plate of hot cheetos with nacho cheese on top! This seems to be a crowd favorite in many neighborhoods in Memphis.
If you had an out of town guest, what would your sightseeing itinerary look like?
We are typically hitting up as many local food spots as we can. Also may take a visit Downtown and over by the river.