Urban planner Whitehead drawn to city lights

The Memphis Daily News/The Memphis News

Dec. 6, 2013

As planning director for the Memphis & Shelby County Office of Planning and Development, Josh Whitehead wears the hat of a mediator – a facilitator of wishes among government, private business, developers and citizens.

It’s work that has seen plenty of coverage and plenty of controversy lately with the rejection of a proposed McDonald’s in the University District and the planning of a new concept restaurant, Truck Stop, at the corner of Cooper Street and Central Avenue in Midtown.

“I think that’s what OPD’s job is, to help an applicant hit a level of compromise,” Whitehead said.

He pinpoints his interest in community planning to a pecan pie. As a boy growing up in Plano, Texas, he’d made his way uninvited through the dessert. His mother told him she’d need a bottle of Karo syrup to whip up another pie and that he was responsible for going to the store for it.

“Plano was, and still is, such an auto-centric environment (that) some seemingly simple task like going to get a bottle of Karo syrup from the supermarket, it was terrifying to me,” he said. “I didn’t do it. I rode my bike who knows how many miles to get to the major arterial, and then it was straight down the major road to get to the shopping center where the grocery store was. It was such a terrifying experience for a child on a bike on that road.”

It was an experience that stuck with him and is a reason he’s sought out urban environments in which to live – and one that began him on his path to planning. It was a path that would ultimately begin in Memphis, where he had moved with his parents and attended Houston High School. He began college at Christian Brothers University, eventually graduating from the University of Memphis with a bachelor’s degree in geography with a concentration in urban planning.

A natural fascination with older, pre-war, original cities found him looking in the Rust Belt for graduate school and enrolling in the University of Cincinnati for a Master of Community Planning . . . (read more)


The carrying of Thanksgiving traditions

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Dec. 5, 2013

Tech-savvy kids know meaning of ‘handle with care’

On Thanksgiving Day at my in-laws’ house, I awoke from a turkey-induced nap to see my 11-year-old daughter, in a scrum of siblings and cousins, wielding my Nikon camera. I started to suggest she put it down, or at least be careful, when I realized that these kids have grown up with such valuable objects in their hands. They’re comfortable with phones and tablets and cameras used as pacifiers from the earliest age. Indeed, they expect to be able to walk from room to room while playing a video game or watching a television show.

I’m certain that I was never trusted with the latest technology in that way. I know for a fact I didn’t walk around the house carrying a solid wood Magnavox television console. It was as tall as I was and outweighed me by 80 pounds. Nor would I have been allowed to handle our new microwave oven, the latest in cooking technology. It was still called an “oven” then because it was nearly as large as one. We were told that just looking at it would burn our retinas.

After coming out of my second nap, I saw my 7-year-old daughter walking around with her new niece. There was no way that in 1977 I was left to carry my baby sister around our house. I wasn’t trusted with the television set or the microwave oven — a tiny human was out of the question.

And yet there they were, these siblings and cousins, taking pictures with a digital SLR camera and their grandfather’s iPhone of the little girl holding the little baby.

By this point, the children had already commandeered that phone to show their grandfather how to use it and to load the apps they thought he might need on there. Apps like Instagram.

I remember a Christmas when we were kids and my mother got a new Polaroid camera. I don’t think I was even allowed to handle the pictures that came out of it.

But this is a new generation, one for which the technology — this tiny technology — is the norm. Tending to their younger relatives appears innate as well, perhaps out of necessity since their parents are busy with their telephone apps and turkey naps.

They can still be as clueless and careless as any child at any time in history, yet they seem to know instinctively that you treat these valuables with care.

I might have dozed off a third time that day because I was rushed back to consciousness by the adults finally shouting at a child who had tried to carry dessert across the carpet. So that’s where the responsibility ends — cake. I watched that day as $2,000 worth of equipment and a 2-month-old baby were passed around like hot potatoes, but it was the chocolate cake that finally commanded the attention of the parents.

Was I allowed to carry sweets around the house as a child? I think there’s a Polaroid picture somewhere of my newborn sister and me in the living room eating a microwave brownie off a tray in front of that Magnavox television set.

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Silva strikes right chord with immigration practice

The Memphis Daily News/The Memphis News

Dec. 5, 2013

Tony Silva with Donati Law Firm LLP grew up in Nashville and with a background in music. He left the Music City for the University of Memphis as a classical performance major, with plans to become a performer and professor. He would go on to receive bachelor’s, master’s and doctorate degrees in music performance in classical piano before taking a turn towards law.

“I was halfway through my doctoral studies when I thought, ‘You know, I just want to do something different. I’ve been doing this for so long, and I love it, but I don’t know that I really want to make a career of it,’” Silva said.

So in the middle of his doctoral pursuit, he made the decision to enter law school. The three-time graduate of the University of Memphis decided to make it one more with a juris doctorate from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law.

“This kind of sounds crazy, but in my spare time in law school, I actually finished up the doctorate,” he said.

Silva received the final two diplomas on the same weekend in 2008 and was told by the university that it was a first. His initial notion was to focus on entertainment law, but taking into account his background with its variety of players, he “sort of stumbled into” immigration law.

“Being in a conservatory setting, you see people from all around the world,” he said. “So I had friends and colleagues from anywhere from Japan and Germany, South Korea, Taiwan, France, Australia – and you get really used to being around different types of people and different cultures.”

During law school he was a clerk with Siskind Susser PC, where his mentor, David Jones, encouraged Silva to focus on the practice of immigration law. During the clerkship, his training as a classical musician came into play, as he worked on cases involving aliens with extraordinary ability, those immigrants making a living in the creative and performing world . . . (read more)


Barrett’s business has races covered from start to finish

The Memphis Daily News/The Memphis News

Nov. 30, 2013

For Brent Barrett of Start2Finish Events, small-business ownership is a marathon, not a sprint.

The racing events management and production service, begun in 2004, has grown out of Barrett’s custom-printed apparel business, Bluff City Sports, and RacesOnline.com, the events calendar and registration portal of the footrace world.

The Start2Finish staff includes, from left, Daniel Shaffer, James Adrian, Matt West, Brent Barrett, Wyndell Robertson, Ryne Lamm and Adam Shelton. 

(Photo: Andrew J. Breig)

“We’ve kind of created this one-stop shop for events to come in here and we’re able to build their website, do their online registration, help them market, help promote, print their T-shirts, do their awards,” Barrett said.

Having worked with screen print during college and after, Barrett moved back to Memphis and opened his own apparel shop in 1991. He’d begun participating in triathlons as a hobby several years earlier and found it was difficult to find information on upcoming events.

A niche made itself apparent, and in the nascent World Wide Web of 1994, RacesOnline became the fill for that niche as a simple cyber calendar of events.

They made cards with a logo and website address, and put them into every race shirt they printed. “So we were putting those in probably 300,000 or 400,000 shirts a year and they were going all throughout the Mid-South,” Barrett said.

It was not meant to be a revenue generator in the beginning, but a “sales tool,” Barrett said, opening a door for Bluff City Sports to contact the race directors and bid on their shirt production.

This pulled them ahead of the competition, and Barrett added a partner and functionality to the site to allow for online registration. The site has about 12,000 active events listed at any given time and is free for race directors with revenue now coming from a service fee when a participant registers for a race.

“It is self-supporting, actually a very good, solid business,” he said. “We do probably close to 300,000 transactions a year with that now.”

The most recent part of the puzzle within the building at Cooper Street and York Avenue – the starting line for the Cooper-Young 4-miler every year – is Start2Finish . . . (read more)


Ludlow’s boot camp takes fitness to a higher level

The Memphis Daily News/The Memphis News

Nov. 30, 2013

While there are those people who jump headlong into exercise, pulled in by the rush of endorphins and an eagerness to look and feel better, others need a push.

That’s where Tony Ludlow comes in. The former staff sergeant for the U.S. Marine Corps leads participants five days a week in push-ups, crunches, weight training and jumping jacks through his USMC Fitness Boot Camp in the parking lot of Christ United Methodist Church in East Memphis.

Ludlow hails from Ft. Smith, Ark., and a military family.

“I’ve got family members that have served in the Marine Corps going back generations,” he said. “Military service was kind of expected. It wasn’t really a matter of whether or not you would serve, just which branch you’d serve in.”

He enlisted after high school and served from 1975 to 1985. After leaving the Corps, he went into education and taught world history and English as a second language in Japan at an international school and a Japanese University. He had served in Millington and came back to Memphis in 1998, where he taught and was the athletic director at Memphis Catholic High School.

He began a similar boot camp program while in Japan.

“The parents would drop the kids off at school in the morning and then they would work out with me, and then they’d go on their way to their jobs,” he said.

He coached multiple sports at Catholic and restarted the boot camp program in 1999. When his sport was in season, he would be on campus by 7:15 a.m. and might not leave school until 10 p.m., going home to grade papers and complete lesson plans. The boot camp grew from his desire to stay fit while making some extra money on the side . . . (read more)


Rainy Kizer’s Dexter named board chair for Girls Inc.

The Memphis Daily News/The Memphis News

Nov. 28, 2013

Latosha Dexter, an attorney with Rainey Kizer Reviere & Bell PLC, has been named board chair of Girls Inc. of Memphis, as well as the organization’s Mentor of the Year.

She has been involved with Girls Inc. since 2007, but her passion for helping began at an early age.

“Mentoring has always been a big thing for me even at home growing up in Jackson (Tenn.),” she said. “I started mentoring with the Boys & Girls Club when I was in ninth grade.”

Dexter had an interest in becoming a pediatrician, yet she later discovered a greater interest in history and English. In conversation with a friend in college administration, she worked through these interests to learn where they might lead as a career, and law became the obvious choice for her.

She earned a Bachelor of Science in political science from Middle Tennessee State University before heading farther east for a law degree from the University of Tennessee College of Law in 2000.

Dexter’s area of practice at Rainey Kizer focuses on employment law.

“I really had an interest in that, specifically from a defense perspective just because I enjoy helping, but I also enjoy teaching, so I do a lot of preventive advice and counseling,” she said. “It just fit with my overall personality.”

Within that specialty, Dexter’s focus is on municipalities and governmental liability issues. Municipalities will have concerns that do not apply to a private employer such as First Amendment issues, due process rights and constitutional rights in law enforcement issues. “They have their own unique issues that makes it a lot more interesting, and then you’ve got that political aspect of it too.”

Dexter left the practice of law briefly to become program management adviser with FedEx Corp. in the human resources department, an experience that gave her more insight into working with employers and human resources specialists. She is now certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR) . . . (read more)


Choosing Memphis right path for Carroll

The Memphis Daily News/The Memphis News

Nov. 28, 2013

Although John Carroll didn’t grow up a part of Memphis, the city has become a part of him.

The Murfreesboro, Tenn., native moved here in 2004, and has become a force for good with his City Leadership consulting group and Choose901 initiative.

After attending Union University in Jackson, Tenn., to study public relations, he returned to Murfreesboro and Middle Tennessee State University for a Bachelor of Science in political science and business administration. Work took him to Dallas, where he met his wife and stayed for four years.

Nine years ago, wanting to take a career path that was for-profit, but also benefited society in some way, he came to Memphis as vice president of Ugly Mug Coffee, the company with a conscience that worked in organic and fair trade goods.

He also was a part of a movement of people from around the country who relocated here for the church Fellowship Memphis. He worked as operations director, overseeing building, finances and programming.

During his first week with Fellowship Memphis, Carroll was approached by someone looking to start a homeless ministry.

“I thought, ‘that’d be great, we should do that,’” Carroll said. “And about five minutes later someone walked up to me and said, ‘Hey, can you help me out, I’d be really interested in starting a tutoring ministry.’ I realized in that moment that I wasn’t going to be able to manage all those kinds of things.”

Instead of starting a group of individual ministries, Carroll and others on staff sought to create a system where their church could “help and be a part of, and significantly engage in other nonprofits,” he said. “There are too many nonprofits in Memphis not to engage in them.”

He went to these organizations to collect information on where and how to send and train volunteers, and what other resources they might need that Fellowship Memphis could help them acquire. They were working with close to 40 nonprofits and the church began City Leadership Residency, hiring people to work specifically with those nonprofits . . . (read more)


Shoreline building business one custom job at a time

The Memphis Daily News/The Memphis News

Nov. 25, 2013

You may not be aware of the creations of Shoreline Custom Woodworks, yet you may very well have placed your beer down on one of their bar tops, eaten a favorite entrée from a tabletop or maybe even passed a bid proposal across a custom-made conference table.

From a 30,000-square-foot warehouse next door to Wayne’s Candy Co. in Downtown Memphis, Shoreline Custom Woodworks owner Jason Ramirez and his team are churning out custom furniture, cabinets, molding, wood flooring and signage of birch, walnut, maple, cypress and exotic woods at an impressive rate.

Shoreline Custom Woodworks churns out custom furniture, cabinets, molding, wood flooring and signage of numerous woods around town.

(Photo: Andrew J. Breig)

Ramirez, 36, learned his trade from a family friend growing up in California. The friend’s business was called Shoreline Construction and, though there is no affiliation, Ramirez wanted to show his appreciation for his mentor.

“I started out real young and worked with him through high school,” Ramirez said.

In 1997, after a stint in the Army, Ramirez moved to Memphis, where his parents had relocated for work. He met his future wife, decided to stay and joined the Memphis Fire Department, where he still works with Engine 48. He began Shoreline in a 3,000-square-foot space off Pleasant View Road in 2008. It was a shop just large enough to handle the smaller jobs of a side business.

When he met Mark Beck, the foreman who runs the shop with him, Ramirez said, “we decided we wanted to take it to another caliber.”

An investment was made in more machinery such as a 5-by-10-foot CNC router, which allows Ramirez to create a design on the computers in his office and have it realized on the production floor . . . (read more)


Pote builds bridges through Seedco community work

The Memphis Daily News/The Memphis News

Nov. 22, 2013

Seedco is a national nonprofit whose mission statement since 1987 has been “to advance economic opportunity for people, businesses and communities in need.”

This is done, says Lisa Pote, senior vice president for Seedco’s Mid-South regional office, by working with individuals and businesses, and within the communities themselves, “to be a contribution to the communities that we’re in.” Seedco has been working within Shelby County since 2004, and has 30 employees.

Pote was born and raised in Washington, received a bachelor’s degree from Syracuse University and worked for Dun & Bradstreet before moving to Nashville in 1994. There, she attended the University of Tennessee-Nashville College of Social Work for a master’s degree in social work with a focus in management and community practice.

She doesn’t do clinical work but, instead, is a “bridge builder” who has a passion for problem-solving and doesn’t shy away from confrontation.

“I’m not afraid to step into the middle of a difficult conversation to try and make it better,” Pote said.

Leading a consultant practice for nonprofits at the Center for Nonprofit Management at the time, Pote was recruited as the interim director of Seedco in 2011. Saying she “always thought they would be a great organization to work for because the purpose of Seedco aligns with my own mission personally and professionally,” she nevertheless split her time between Memphis and Nashville, unwilling to commit to the Bluff City.

“Interim directors are supposed to have the trains run on time,” she said, “and I had no intention whatsoever of moving, none.”

While she’d been working across a broad range of nonprofits, though not necessarily for the purpose of poverty relief, within a month the work she did in Memphis, she said, “tugged at me.”

Going back to her personal mission and how it aligns with that of Seedco’s, Pote paints the picture: “My mother will tell you that I pretty much popped out of the womb trying to solve problems. We’re all born with our own thing that we’re meant to do. For me, weaving together systems that don’t love to work together because of their own rules – to make things better for people – that really is, I believe, my purpose.”

During her tenure as interim director over that spring and into summer, no obvious leader rose to the top, and in August of 2011, with those missions aligning, it was a natural leap into her role at Seedco . . . (read more)


Hungry teenager a menace to kitchen

“Because I Said So” column for The Commercial Appeal

Nov. 21, 2013

Hungry teenager a menace to kitchen

There are nights when I lie in bed and hear the scurrying through the walls, a scrabbling down hallways and into the kitchen. The refrigerator opens, cabinets close, and there is the faint beeping of a microwave.

This is no mouse, no roof rat; we’ve seen those before. There is no singing and dancing, anthropomorphic Disney rodent hunting a wedge of cheese. It’s a teenager, the most troubling of vermin, and he is in search of a nighttime snack. It will be his eighth meal of the day.

It takes a lot of energy to become 16 years old, the same way it takes a lot of fuel to push an SUV across town or electricity to cool your home during a Memphis summer. If MLGW had a meter smart enough to measure for such energy, I think we would be surprised by the consumption necessary to power a student through a day at White Station High School.

I’m usually not threatened by Calvin’s random meals, as our tastes rarely overlap. The leftover chili dog he eats at 10 a.m. is not a problem, and I know my chicken curry is safe at noon; the days-old Garibaldi’s pizza with everything on it under the sun is safe from this son at 8 p.m. But that midnight microwave was full of my spaghetti and meatballs, and that’s where I draw the line.

There have been times when I’m in the kitchen cooking dinner for the family and he’ll come in to ask how much longer until we eat. “About 30 minutes,” I say. He then pours himself a bowl of cereal that would choke Jethro Bodine.

“Are you going to eat dinner?”

He doesn’t answer because his mouth is full of cornflakes. I’m not so much worried about him ruining his appetite — I know he’ll eat dinner in 30 minutes, and he’ll eat it again in 2 hours and 30 minutes — as I am jealous that I can’t eat a meal just before eating another meal. Not anymore. Not at my age.

And when I hear the patter of size 11’s in the kitchen late at night, and the clumsy clunking of bowls and silverware, more than wanting to get out of bed and tell him to keep it down or that it’s too late for ice cream with a warmed-over brownie, I want to join him. But I can no more get out of bed than I should be eating dairy at that hour.

Vermin have been known to stow away, and sometimes I wonder what he does at friends’ houses. I have this image of him rifling through unfamiliar cabinets in the wee hours. Is he eating someone else’s chicken leg or a slab of meatloaf found in the back of the fridge? Should I tell him not to eat what he finds, or should I suggest he scurry over to the neighbor’s for that midnight snack from now on and keep his growing paws off my leftovers?

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