Memphian to Meet: Robbye Good

Posted on January 25, 2014

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Article by Kendra Lyons
Photography by Regina Lucreziano

From her red hair, to her shameless self-categorization of “nerd,” to her poised and eloquent way of speaking in even the most casual settings, Robbye Good is striking. Born a Memphian, Robbye pursued an education on the west coast and in Paris before coming home to the “new” Memphis in more ways than one. Robbye is a recent addition to New Memphis Institute as coordinator of the Embark program, and sees positive change in Memphis since the last time she lived here. Robbye sets an example for young people who love Memphis and are eager “grow up” and start their lives here- whenever the time feels right, that is:

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COMING HOME TO ‘NEW MEMPHIS’
KL: What are the main things that pulled you back here?

RG: That’s a great question. I think my answer will probably meander, but I’ll try to wrap it all up at the end after I’ve really processed my thoughts. I love the south. I love Tennessee. Going to school in Nashville for my Masters- living in Nashville for the last two years kind of made me realize how much I do love the south and how much I think Tennessee is just a beautiful state because of its geographical assets and its people. People in Tennessee are very hospitable, very welcoming. I really appreciated Nashville and would consider living there again, but I think what Memphis has is really unique. Memphis has authenticity and this strong sense of community. People here are genuinely interested in helping others, which is so refreshing. Additionally, Memphis seems to be perched on the precipice of greatness right now. For someone who is younger – I’m not thirty yet! – I’m able to get in on the ground floor of very exciting work, and hopefully, be able to impact real change, which has always been a motivating force for me. That kind of access and opportunity isn’t available in many other cities.

RG: It seems to me that Memphians on the whole are extraordinarily driven to be a new Memphis, to be better. Places like L.A., New York and D.C. have that same entrepreneurial spirit, but are so large that it’s difficult to find your place in it.
Whereas in Memphis… in only the five or six months I’ve lived here as an adult I already have a relatively strong network. I understand how my work is contributing to the overall growth that’s happening here, which is so inspiring. I think millennials love that…we crave it. Memphis wants, as a city, we want people who are going to be invested here, and who are going to want to call this home.

KL: For someone who’s never heard of the Embark program, can you outline what the goal is?

RG: New Memphis is known for its Leadership Development Intensive and Fellows Program. The LDI is designed for C-Suite Executives- CEO’s, CFO’s, COO’s of companies as a three day residential experience, where participants receive really robust, really rigorous leadership development. The Fellows Program for emerging leaders, average age 34, is similarly focused on leadership development, expanding networks and also plugging Fellows into organizations around the community as agents of change. We know these two programs achieve exceptional results and we recognized an opportunity to help attract, develop, activate and retain twenty-somethings in Memphis who are at the outset of their career, Embark aims to support high performing young professional talent who are interested in growing in their career and growing in the Memphis community. (You can find more information about all three New Memphis programs at: http://http://www.newmemphis.org.)

KL: A lot of young Memphians are pretty familiar with New Memphis Institute and a lot of them aspire to work there, or with New Memphis on some level, would you tell us what it’s like working there? What’s the office environment like?

RG: It’s amazingly dynamic. It was the only job I wanted during my most recent search in Memphis. Not only because I genuinely believe in the mission of the Embark program to developing and retaining young professionals in the city, but also because I am inspired by the organization and its staff. New Memphis works to ‘forge a vital and prosperous new Memphis, by attracting, developing, activating, and retaining talent.’ Individuals are the building blocks to any community, and New Memphis is focused on helping individuals realize their full potential so the city of Memphis can achieve its full potential. That’s a vision I buy into. I think that ties into my background in education, because education at its foundation is about investing in an individual’s potential. As far as the team, we’re all girls except Mac, though I don’t know if he minds it too much.

KL: I’m sure he’s fine

RG- (laughs) yeah, and it’s incredibly dynamic and collaborative. We help each other on things with most things.

img_6635GROWING PAINS

KL: So last time I spoke with you, we had an interesting conversation about how Memphis is in this growing pains, sort of, stage. As it’s getting more modern and progressive, and emphasizing so much about getting better or improving, Memphis is also so…Memphians in general are so obsessed with the history because it’s so amazing. I feel like that clash is scary for people because we don’t want Memphis to become too commercial in that process, but they also don’t want to be stuck in the past. Do you think we’ll be able to pull it off? Can we be that progressive city where people want to live because it’s modern and convenient and all of those things, but we still are paying tribute to our history of incredible music and political history that makes Memphis…Memphis?

RG: I’m an eternal optimist, so I think yes, we can pull it off. I think it’s going to be a very careful balancing act, but we have case studies we can look for best practices in balancing the future and then, this really amazing seminal past. Memphis contributed so much to our nation’s history as a site of events and progress I think progress must be really deliberate and inclusive. The way to honor a community or a city’s past is to make sure that the people who lived that past are included in plans for the future. With any kind of community development there seems to be a risk of losing what was had long been that community’s identity. We must be strategic and deliberate and thoughtful.

WORDS OF WISDOM

KL: What advice would you give to young adults who are starting their lives here and how do you advise that they just…jump in and get connected quickly? Because it seems like that’s a big selling point of Memphis. So how would you suggest for someone who just graduated from a local college and is starting their life here, or someone who just moved here, what sort of ways could they feel connected?

RG: This isn’t Memphis specific, I’ll get to that part, but I think the advice I mentioned earlier that resulted in me delaying my graduate school experience, was, firstly, that you’re never making a decision for the rest of your life, so try things out. Experiment- get in there, see if you like it, see if you don’t like it, if you don’t like it, choose something else. As far as your career and individual jobs in particular, or at least, that side of your life, um, which kind of translates nicely into some advice that I love living by and sharing with others who ask (laughs). I usually try to only provide advice only when solicited…I’m taking this question as a solicitation- but that’s to try things, experiment, but also to make mistakes and learn from them, which is definitely one of the start-up m.o.’s as well, is, make mistakes, take risks, particularly calculated risks, and learn from them. I think Google’s thing is, ‘fail fast and fail smart’… I think that’s important to anyone regardless of where they are in their career, but particularly right as they’re starting it, is to see what you like. We don’t get a lot of exposure to vocations in k-12 and higher education these days. In higher education, you have pre-law, pre-med, pre-dentistry, but aside from those …that handful of tracks, if you’re going to do anything else, you’re really piecing it together yourself, particularly in a liberal arts school. So just get out there and see what you like and what you don’t like. As far as Memphis, I think Memphis is eager for people who have the drive to contribute, and the interest to get involved and don’t say no to opportunities, say yes.

FINAL NOTE

KL: OK, the grand finale. Can you tell me a moment recently when you felt proud to be a Memphian?

RG: That’s a good question. I need a second to think about it. Hmm…the one that most readily comes to mind has nothing to do with what I’ve been bragging about Memphis for the last hour or so, but I recently went for a run along the river from South Bluffs to Mud Island, and then enjoyed a great cup of coffee from Bluff City Coffee. It was a beautiful fall day, shining brightly on the geography of Memphis. South Main is really exciting right now with all of the locally owned restaurants and coffee shops and stores that are going in there. At the same time, South Main embraces what we were talking about earlier with Memphis’ past and history. It’s very industrial- the trolley still runs up and down, the Arcade is there, the diner that’s forever old and National Civil Rights Museum, and I was just sitting there, surrounded by all of this, and just basking in what is the past, the present and the future of Memphis.

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