The Dean’s List: Chaka Conway


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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.

Chaka Conway believes in getting a head start in developing the leadership of tomorrow’s Memphis.  Currently serving as a development officer at BRIDGES, a youth development organization that trains young people in grades 6-12 to appreciate diversity and strengthen their leadership skills to improve the community, Chaka is able to watch young Memphians blossom through the Bridge Builders program.

“I love Memphis and am passionate about community transformation,” she says. As a native Memphis, she has an vested interest in ensuring that the future is bright for the city.  Chaka is a proud John P. Freeman and Whitehaven High alum who decided to stay in Memphis for college.  She received her undergraduate degree in Psychology and graduate degree in Public Administration from the University of Memphis.  Now married with two children, Chaka, 38, has been able to work her way up the ladder at BRIDGES, moving from the programmatic side of the organization to the fundraising side, meeting and promoting past and future graduates of the program.    

We chose Chaka Conway for the Dean’s List because we believe this homegrown Memphian will continue to build better leaders for our city for years to come.

Chaka (1 of 1)

What three words would your friends use to describe you?

Genuine, Compassionate, Approachable

Why do you choose Memphis over another city?

It’s my home. I was born and raised in Memphis. I‘ve briefly lived in other cities but nowhere else feels like home.  I think maybe because my support system is here – my family and friends.

 Name three people in Memphis who you would consider to be mentors.

  • Linda Williams, President/CEO -Rise Foundation, Inc.
  • Linda McNeil, Sr. Account Manager – Gaskill Strategies
  • Susanne Landau, Grant Writer – BRIDGES

You meet some of the best and brightest young people in Memphis.  What has been your favorite moment working at Bridges?

My most memorable moments at BRIDGES often happen during summer conference.  I love taking pictures of our Bridge Builders for our private parent Facebook groups.  During e weeks, I have the opportunity to see our Bridge Builders bond with youth they normally wouldn’t interact with. They are challenged to recognize their strengths, expand their abilities and discover their leadership potential.  I love seeing our youth transform throughout the week.  It is hard to narrow down to one specific moment.

What do you see as one of the greatest challenges facing the youth in Memphis today?

One of the greatest challenges facing youth in Memphis today is poverty. According to the 2015 Poverty Fact Sheet provided by the University of Memphis, child poverty in Memphis was 46.9% – that is staggering! My first job out of college was working with individuals in poverty. Therefore I saw first-hand how poverty influences their daily lives. They may experience fewer learning experiences, residence instability, inadequate nutrition, lower quality schools and the list goes on and on.

Where is your favorite place to buy birthday presents or holiday gifts?

Bed Bath and Beyond is my favorite place to buy gifts.  The store has so many cool home electronics and random items that anyone would enjoy.

What’s your most embarrassing moment?

My most embarrassing moment happened after a meeting with a potential donor at Flight Restaurant.  We sat near the stairs on the second level.  When we finished the meeting I stood up and stepped down, missing a step …and all I heard were guests gasping as I continued to trip down the stairs.

What’s the one part of Memphis that you couldn’t live without?

I am not sure if I could live without One and Only BBQ.  A co-worker introduced me to One and Only BBQ several years ago and that has been my favorite place to eat ever since.  Matter of fact, I have a birthday dinner there every year.

Where do you see yourself in ten years?

I see myself either continuing work in the nonprofit sector or working in community affairs in a corporate setting.

What’s the one misconception people have about Memphis that is simply untrue?

People seem to think Memphis is “Hustle and Flow”.  I think Memphis is more like “Uptown Funk”.

On the weekends, where would we most likely find you?

My children have a very busy schedule; therefore you would most likely find me at track practice, track meet or maybe a basketball game. If you find me at a track meet or basketball game, I will be the one taking pictures. I have grown to love photography; therefore I take pictures anytime I get a chance.  I like sports photography the best.

What is one thing you’re most excited about for Memphis?

I am excited that a new generation of young leaders is making positive changes in our community.

 What do Memphians need to do to make Memphis a better place?

I think Memphians should follow the BRIDGE Builders pledge :  I am a Bridge Builder.  I am a leader who can lay aside individual, social, economic and cultural differences and work for the benefit of all.

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