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, the Executive Director of Literacy Mid-South.
Our first profile is Troy Wiggins. Troy, 30, was chosen because of his love for Memphis and his potential to be a great leader in the nonprofit community. Born and raised in Memphis, Troy’s passion for the city is evident in his nonprofit and volunteer work. Troy serves as the Adult Learning Coordinator at Literacy Mid-South. Troy earned his MPA in 2012 from the University of Memphis. He served at other nonprofit organizations in Tennessee, including Knowledge Quest, WriteMemphis, and Tennessee State University. Prior to joining Literacy Mid-South, he spent time in South Korea, where he taught English as a Foreign Language. In his spare time, he is a writer of Fantasy and Science Fiction. His short fiction has appeared in several print anthologies and online journals. He is also a contributor for Book Riot.
Why do you call Memphis home?
I call Memphis home because it is home. I’ve lived in a lot of different places, but Memphis has always been the place where my roots are. I don’t feel so restless when I’m here because I know that this is where I’m supposed to be.
What do you think is Memphis’ greatest challenge?
Our city seems to be enjoying a period of fresh new ideas and beautiful developments in our physical and cultural spaces, which is fantastic. Despite these developments, I think that we have a series of interconnected challenges. The first and perhaps most important of these challenges is ensuring that every Memphian has equal access to opportunities to succeed and enjoy these new developments. Access to opportunities means that marginalized, criminalized, and forgotten Memphians get access to education, employment, economic, and social opportunities that have historically been unavailable to or denied them. The cool things that are happening in Memphis can’t just be for one group of people or one type of person. They have to be for everyone, and everyone must be welcome to partake of them.
Tell us why your job is important for Memphis.
Between 20% and 30% of adults in the Mid-South are low-literate. Over 6,000 students in Shelby County move on from the 3rd grade without the ability to read at grade level. Literacy is a complex thing for us to learn, and when we miss out on it, it has a staggering effect on our entire life. Literacy ability affects a person’s job prospects, how they interact with the world, and how close they come to achieving the dreams that they have. I work to connect literate adults with a passion for helping low-literate Mid-Southerners to the skills, abilities, strategies, and resources that they need to succeed. It is actually very difficult to teach someone to read, and our tutors need a lot of assistance. I’m the person who provides that assistance for them.
Name three people in Memphis that you view as mentors.
I’d have to say–and no, I’m not kissing up–that the Kevin Dean, Executive Director of Literacy Mid-South, has been a mentor to me. I’ve worked with and for him twice, and each time he’s taught me so much about what it means to be a nonprofit professional here in Memphis. He has also shown me what it’s like to be a person who’s dedicated to innovation, and I’m less afraid to take professional leaps now.
I don’t know if she knows it or not, but Kim Williams-Collins, Assistant Director at the Counseling Center at the University of Memphis, has been one of my mentors for a long time. She’s really been supportive of me throughout the years and she always takes time to listen to me when I need an objective ear. And she gives great advice.
I’m also glad that we were able to get Jamey Hatley back from New Orleans. Her advice and support have been invaluable to me, and she has given me access to so many opportunities. She’s a treasure.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever seen (so far) in Memphis?
My dad and I were barbecuing one day, and someone came up to our house while we were both inside and stole a slab of half cooked ribs off of our grill. I’ve seen a lot of wild stuff in my time here, but that was by far the strangest thing I’ve ever experienced.
If one of your friends was coming to Memphis to visit and wanted you to build their itinerary, what would it look like?
The first thing that we’d do would definitely be a trolley ride, followed by a quick meal at Mot&Ed’s or Gus’s. Then we’d head to Soulsville to visit the Stax Museum and Memphis Slim’s. Crosstown Arts would be on the itinerary too. We’d play kickball at Overton Park, hit up the Rec Room, or maybe go to Comics Cellar for some gaming (because anyone who’d be coming to see me would be open for gaming). We’d go to Otherlands for coffee before heading over to the BBQ Shop and getting a sandwich. Our night would end with Beers and Music, catching some of Memphis best soul, r&b, and hip-hop music at the Hi-Tone, Juicy Jim’s or The New Dizzy.
What’s the one Memphis restaurant you couldn’t live without?
Pho Binh. I probably eat there too much.
What makes Memphis different from other cities?
So much of my cultural history as a southerner and a black man is right on display in Memphis. I get to see my ancestors’ contributions daily, and I get to interact with so many different kinds of people with so many different worldviews and ideas about what makes a place great. Our city is dripping with history and culture, both of which are laced with the power and pain of our country’s legacy. Being able to live in that and experience it on the daily is wonderful for me, and I assume it’s the same for other people.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Well I have a travel bug, so I could be anywhere. Wherever I am, I’ll be writing.
What’s the one misconception people have about Memphis that is simply untrue?
A lot of people think that Memphis is some desolate gray dystopia, or that we’re on our way to becoming Detroit. Neither of those is true.
What area of town is your favorite and why?
I’m living in Orange Mound now, and I love it there. It’s emblematic of both the great stuff and problems that exist in Memphis.
What can Memphians do to make a difference in our community?
We could all stand to listen to each other more, and be more intentional about making each others’ lives better. This really applies to those whose voices and concerns have been traditionally considered over those of others, but all of us need to take this advice. It won’t be easy, but it will lead to a better Memphis.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I Love Memphis!