Rachel Sumner Haaga


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Rachel Sumner Haaga

In 34 years, Rachel Sumner Haaga is the first living abolitionist honored by Women of Achievement.

Determined to raise awareness and help victims of human sex trafficking – modern slavery in all its ugliest forms – this Memphis native works every day to rescue women and children from the grip of evil predators.

While working two jobs for pay – as a waitress at Huey’s and a first responder with Shelby County Rape Crisis – Rachel devoted long and late hours for years to build the non-profit Restore Corps into a funded program where she could devote full time to advocacy, training and services. Her work is singular in the Memphis area and she is called on regularly by law enforcement and victims’ advocates to assist traumatized and scarred trafficking survivors.

After receiving her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from University of Memphis in 2004, Rachel joined Youth with a Mission, an international volunteer organization for five and a half years. Over half of her time with the organization was spent in Cambodia where she worked with SALT Academy, Sports and Leadership Training, introducing soccer and leadership training to females ages 3 to 20 in orphanages as well as safe-house rehabilitation homes for victims of sexual assault and human trafficking. She still is in contact with women from the soccer teams she coached.

Upon return to Memphis, Rachel joined a local nonprofit called Operation Broken Silence working on human trafficking as the assistant director of the anti-trafficking team in 2010. Restore Corps was birthed out of that team in 2013 as Rachel worked at restaurants to pay her bills and dedicated every possible moment to building awareness and resources to help victims of trafficking.

Her team wrote and lobbied for 19 legislative changes, all of which are now in effect and which have made Tennessee a national leader in anti-trafficking law.

Gradually support grew for Restore Corps so that by 2016 Rachel could serve as the full-time executive director of the program, housed at Memphis Leadership Foundation. Last year the first part-time staff member, a survivor, was hired, joined this year by three more staffers and the opening of Restore Corps’ first transitional residence for adult survivors. Services for children include coordinating with foster parents.

Restore Corps is designated as the official Single Point of Contact agency for West Tennessee, part of a state system to assure each individual survivor’s needs are coordinated and met through a collaboration of nonprofits, direct service providers and law enforcement agencies.

She has been an expert panelist at human trafficking forums at the University of Memphis Law School, University of Memphis Social Work Department, Union University Social Work, and University of Tennessee Health Sciences, and is an appointed member of the Tennessee Human Trafficking Task Force.
In addition to work on the statewide response plan, Rachel has contributed to national studies about services for human trafficking survivors. She speaks regularly to agencies and community groups.

Once a month, she joins partners who meet with women who have been arrested for prostitution for a program called Lives Worth Saving. Organized in December 2014 by Restore Corps, Memphis Police Department and the Shelby County District Attorney’s office, the class seeks to honor, educate and empower people exploited by the commercial sex industry. Those who complete the class are eligible to have current prostitution charges dismissed.

Rachel talks with them about victimization and asks who they know who has been a victim – of rape, of physical abuse, childhood sexual abuse, homicide. She helps them recognize the ways they are victimized by the sex industry.

Rachel says, “No little girl at 4-years-old wants to grow up and sell her body. We just have to believe that as a society. There are different elements of victimization – or at least vulnerabilities – that currently exist or have existed in their lives that put them where they are right now.”

Restore Corps’ vision is “to see a slave free community through the rehabilitation and empowerment of survivors and a community galvanized against human trafficking.” Rachel Sumner Haaga, 21st-century abolitionist, is determined to lead that charge.

Margot McNeeley


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Margot McNeeley

Margot McNeeley was born in Brookline, Massachusetts, but moved a lot. She lived in Ohio, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Florida, Texas and Arizona.

Twenty-two years ago she was working in a bookstore called Bookstar in Phoenix, Arizona, when one of the owners called asking if she’d ever been to Memphis. A month later she moved to Memphis to open Bookstar at Poplar Plaza. She worked and attended the then-Memphis State University.

She and her husband dined out a lot and Margot began to notice all the waste that restaurants create. Each meal served was reported to generate a pound and a half to two pounds of trash. She didn’t want to be part of that and grew tired of just complaining about it.

In late 2007, she met Chef Ben Smith and his wife Colleen Couch-Smith from Tsunami to talk about what might be done to reduce restaurant waste since the city doesn’t recycle for businesses. Margot found out that Ben and Colleen were already taking steps to reduce their environmental impact so working with them was the perfect starting point.

The three met for about seven months, figuring out what steps could be taken that would have the greatest impact but that would not break the bank or create too much more work for businesses. Margot searched for an organization to model or join, looking for something local, affordable to restaurants and unique to the Mid-South.

Finding nothing in Memphis that fit this description, Margot made the idea a reality by establishing Project Green Fork. The mission: to contribute to a sustainable Mid-South by helping reduce environmental impacts, with a focus on strengthening homegrown restaurants.
“Tsunami was a great pilot restaurant for Project Green Fork and from there it just kind of caught on,” Margot said. She had always been interested in environmental causes and even as a child preferred being outdoors, but had not been involved in green efforts until founding Project Green Fork.

Today 58 restaurants are Project Green Fork certified, with a few more working on their steps toward certification. Margot is the only staff member and works with 16 dedicated board members and usually a summer intern. Certified restaurants are promoted through advertising and social media – and the Project Green Fork sticker on the front window.

Since Project Green Fork receives so many calls from other communities trying to set up their own version of it, Margot enlisted the help of a local writer and created the “Toolkit for Restaurant Sustainability” that other like-minded people can purchase.
The organization certifies restaurants as practicing sustainability based on six steps:
• Engage in kitchen composting.
• Recycle glass, metal and cardboard.
• Use sustainable products.
• Replace toxic cleaners with non-toxic cleaners.
• Complete an energy audit and take necessary steps to reduce energy and water consumption.
• Prevent pollution.

Margot connected with another woman who wanted to help – Madeleine Edwards. Together the two set up Madeleine’s business, Get Green Recycle Works, which picks up and recycles glass and cardboard from the eateries and also will haul bins of composted food debris to community gardens.

To date, Project Green Fork restaurants have kept the following OUT of the landfill:
• 1,780,050 gallons of plastic, glass and aluminum
• 1,630,500 pounds of paper and cardboard
• 220,000 gallons of food waste

And the numbers continue to grow.

Memphis is fortunate that Margot McNeeley chose to live here and to share her business savvy and her determination with local restaurant leaders so that we can watch for that distinctive sticker with the leafy green fork that lets us know that we are dining in a business that cares about our environment.

Rosalyn Nichols


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Rev. Rosalyn Nichols

In March 1998, Rev. Rosalyn Nichols attended the third funeral of a
childhood friend, killed by what she calls “relational violence.” She delivered the eulogy, and then asked herself “What can I do to prevent this from happening again?”

Her answer was action — first through Sisters4Life, a small group of women who united after loss of their friend Rosmari Pleasure, shot to death by an ex-boyfriend.

In the years since organizing the first Rosmari Pleasure Memorial 5K Walk/Run, Rosalyn has made domestic violence her singular cause within her service as a pastor.

She organized and leads A More Excellent Way, Inc., a non-profit organization focused on ending domestic violence. Local crime statistics confirm the need – more than 11 percent of homicide cases last year were domestically related. Domestic violence counselors estimate only 1 in 10 cases of assault is ever reported.

“At the heart of it, we have to change the way some people think about how to live in love,” Rosalyn, 41, says. “This ‘break up to make up, that’s all we do’ mentality has to go. We have to change attitudes before we can change behavior.”

Rosalyn attended Booker T. Washington High School and LeMoyne-Owen College where she graduated cum laude with a major in biology. She earned her Master of Divinity summa cum laude in 1996 from Memphis Theological Seminary. After a turn as visiting professor at a seminary in Zimbabwe, Rosalyn joined Metropolitan Baptist Church as associate pastor.

She served there for five years before turning her attention full time to A More Excellent Way. Her mission is to promote and encourage loving, healthy relationships in the home, school, workplace, neighborhood and places of worship toward the elimination of violence.

She says, “We want to teach men and women what healthy relationships look like, to make good, stable marriages a functional, acceptable cultural norm.”

The original 5K race has grown into a full weekend called Love4Life dedicated to domestic violence awareness. On the second weekend in November, it includes the 5K run, a conference, a memorial service for families of slain victims and a Sunday “prayer and praise’’ service. Another program of AWay Inc. is called the Circle of Courage which provides training and resources on domestic violence for churches and other faith-based communities. And Love Talks is a study program being developed for high school and college students with a pilot program in place at Booker T. Washington High School.

In 2001, Rosalyn founded at her dining room table with eight other people a ministry that became Freedom’s Chapel Christian Church. In May 2004, she earned her Doctor of Ministry degree from Virginia Union University in Richmond and moved her church into its first worship center. Freedom’s Chapel has grown to about 50 members and has celebrated 15 baptisms of adults and children. “The church and AWay Inc. share the space,” Rosalyn says. “Both are very interested in relationship building and both are faithful to a vision.”

Rosalyn Nichols turned her grief and dismay into action and is determined each day to teach Memphis to love without hitting, without hurting, without violence.

For that work, despite inertia, apathy and ignorance around her, Rosalyn Nichols is the 2005 Woman of Achievement for Determination.

Rebekah Jordan


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Rebekah Jordan

In a community where city employees routinely worked two or three jobs to provide for their families, the idea of a living wage was a hard sell, to say the least.

Lucky for Memphis, the young woman who took on the job of selling it had the tenacity, fortitude and intelligence to sell, sell and sell again.

Rev. Rebekah Jordan, daughter of a Memphis minister and a Memphis school teacher, set out to train in college to teach, but found her way to an internship in social change — and the rest is now very important Memphis history.

Rebekah saw the powerful connection between ministry and social change. She went to seminary and sowed the seeds of what became the Mid-South Interfaith Network for Economic Justice as she prepared for ordination. Working with union leader Fred Ashwill and Rev. Steve Shapard, they laid ground work to form a faith community focused on work related issues.

Beginning in November 2002, coalition members researched what a living wage in Memphis is and shaped the campaign and ordinance. In summer 2003, they began to meet with City Council members.

Through numerous setbacks, political shenanigans and even disputes among the campaign’s community supporters, Rebekah persevered. She drew and redrew strategy, rallying volunteers to go door to door with petitions, to come to rallies in bitter cold, to call council members and press them to appear at hearings and to vote for the living wage.

She was informed, insistent, unflagging, respectful, respected.

And successful.

The final aspects of a living wage ordinance passed in Memphis in November 2006 extending guarantee of $10 an hour with benefits or $12 an hour without to all full and part time city employees, employees of most city contractors and companies that are granted property tax exemptions.

In celebrations of the victory, Rebekah graciously credited the coalition of faith, labor and community groups and those individuals who steadfastly answered the call to rally or contact council members or otherwise answer.
But all who participated in the campaign know that the reason Memphis now has a living wage is because Rev. Rebekah Jordan was determined that Memphis workers have a living wage.

Rev. Andre Johnson of Gifts of Life Ministries captured Rebekah’s impact in these words at a worship celebration: “When all hope seemed lost, she continued to fire us up with her emails and phone calls, telling us where we needed to be and what we needed to do when we get there! …and with her leadership, we have assembled a nice diverse group of people from all over Memphis who have shown us support. From Christians to Jews and Muslims; from black and brown; from white and all around; from Germantown to Downtown; from Boxtown and Uptown; from rich and poor; from inner city and suburb, from gay and straight, from PhD to no D, from CEO’s to mopping floors.”

Rebekah Jordan is determined that low-wage workers be treated with respect and justice. Even as she leads the push to bring the living wage to county government employees, she is now also organizing a Memphis Workers Center where immigrant workers could learn about their workplace rights and organize to improve working conditions.

This 2007 Woman of Achievement has just gotten started!

Felica Richard


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Felica Richard

Felica Richard knows what it is to be misused and abused. She knows about being hurt – with verbal and emotional abuse, molestation and rape – and not telling anyone. She knows how important it is to have access to the right help when you ask for it.

Her own experience has made Felica Richard determined to help survivors of violence feel strong and feel good about themselves. She has created an organization, recruits fellow cosmetologists and works beyond her paid job as a victim navigator at the Family Safety Center to offer extra support for those in need.

Felica has lived in Memphis all her life. She grew up on the city’s north side, third of five children in a family where her parents were not married but her dad lived a few blocks away.

Her school friends at Craigmont Middle and High School often sought her out for advice. Even at that early age, Felica found herself drawn to the wounded and rejected.

She understands now that it was the molestation by a family member and the rape during a date as a young teenager that caused her not to love herself. This under laid her drinking and promiscuity as a young adult, her bounce between multiple colleges and stack of college loan debt. She married – but won a divorce within six months to escape verbal and emotional abuse.

Eventually Felica entered and completed cosmetology school and began to work full-time as a hairdresser while also beginning a social work degree. After coursework at Southwest Tennessee, Middle Tennessee and University of Memphis, Felica earned her bachelor’s degree in social work in 2009. She interned at the Shelby County Crime Victim Center and continued to “do hair” part-time.

By then Felica had been a mom for six years, having adopted at birth a baby girl born to a family member.

Since she graduated from high school in 1989, Felica has had a dream of building a safe haven for hurt women and their children. Felica calls the organization she founded in 1999 Women Loving Themselves First believing “If I can get the mother together, she can take care of children. I’m looking to help her build her self esteem, give her hope, love herself and then she can give love. You can’t give what you don’t have.”

She began her outreach simply with a routine of communicating encouraging emails and prayer requests. In 2009, she began offering direct services to women referred to her by other agencies. She provides help with their immediate needs, especially temporary emergency housing, often by reserving motel rooms in her name – to protect the fleeing woman. “I pay a night and they pay a night,” Felica says. She rents a U-Haul for those who need it and puts their belongings in storage. Sometimes she styles their hair for free.

Now a full-time navigator for domestic violence victims at the Family Safety Center, Felica still recruits colleagues in local salons to give violence survivors professional makeovers to prepare them for court or a job interview. She is offering training on the dynamics of domestic violence to local professional stylists.

Her goal is to raise funds for a gated community where survivors of abusive, violent relationships could live during their healing, both single women and mothers, with programs for children, comprehensive case management and constant security.

“I’m a server. . . I went into social work because that’s where God needs me and I can help women. . . I compare myself to David and domestic violence is Goliath. I believe that giant can come down – I really do.”

With her passion for helping and her determination to be of service, Felica Richard will be here to help women damaged by violence for many years to come.

Shelia Williams


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Shelia Williams

Have you ever had to rely on a Memphis bus to get to work, to get to the store, or to get to a doctor’s appointment? Have you ever wanted to go to an event outside your neighborhood but knew you couldn’t because you wouldn’t be able to get home because your bus route shuts down at 6:00 pm or, if it’s Sunday, doesn’t run at all?

Shelia Williams has and she is determined to do something about that.

In 2000, Shelia Williams, a working mother who then had four children, started looking at a way to make ends meet. She had a car that was constantly in need of repair and decided to just ride the bus. At the time she lived in the Raleigh-Frayser area and worked at a spa miles and neighborhoods away near Park and Primacy Parkway. Taking the bus meant a 2 ½ hour trip on three buses.

But this is more than one woman’s story.

Shelia found that those who ride the bus become a part of your family. You check in on their health and families, worry about them when they’re not there, and you cry with them because they lose their jobs because of the bus being late one time too many.

In Memphis and Shelby County, 90% of bus riders are African-American. A majority of those on the bus are women, and 60% have incomes of $18,000 or less. Those who depend on bus service include people with disabilities, students, workers and seniors. Cuts to bus service combined with inequitable economic development and residential segregation disproportionately affect low-income residents and communities of color. All these facts mean that the funding, planning and function of mass transit is a civil rights issue.

In late 2011, frustrations including inconsistent schedules, route cuts, safety concerns and customer service issues led Shelia to call the number from a flyer she found on the bus. This took her to an early meeting of what was then the Transportation Task Force. There she met community activist and dynamo Mother Georgia King who is also a Woman of Achievement for Courage 1994.

In February 2012, Shelia, along with Mother King, co-founded the Memphis Bus Riders Union. The grassroots organization fights for better bus service in our city, speaking up about MATA practices and policies with key decision-makers, including the MATA board and administration and city government.

The riders union fights racism and oppression based on socioeconomic status as it is reflected in our city’s grossly inadequate public transportation system – advocating for improved services.

In June 2014, Mayor A C Wharton nominated Shelia to serve on the MATA Board which governs the transit agency. This group votes on MATA’s budget, routes, schedules and fare. Many board members come from big business and Shelia admits that at first she was nervous about her reception, but she has been completely welcomed and her voice is heard.

Now the board is welcoming to members of the public and a change in process means that the public is heard before votes are taken on MATA issues.

Routes are still limited and some buses do still run late, but progress has been made. Customer service and signage have improved.

But there’s still plenty to change – expanded routes, schedules, better safety and nicer relationship between bus riders and employees.

And Shelia’s vision is bigger than that. She wants to do away with the stigma associated with riding the bus in Memphis. She seeks a cultural change that results in everyone riding the bus together, going to work or to play by bus. For this to happen, bus service has to become consistently dependable, with better routes, longer hours and a new image.

Shelia Williams is determined to see this happen and for that we salute her.

Claudia Haltom


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Claudia Haltom

Claudia Haltom grew up in rural East Tennessee where she witnessed the effects of poverty on local families. After graduating from UT-Knoxville, she studied law, following in the footsteps of her mother, Claude Swafford, and father, Howard Swafford. After clerking for a state court judge, Claudia joined the Shelby County Attorney’s Office. There, she handled cases for the county health department and the county schools. She gained insight into the devastating effects of poverty on children and teens, and she saw first-hand the limited reproductive health services available to poor women. She published “The Single Parent Referee Handbook” to assist women who find themselves raising children alone. The book provides practical legal and personal advice.

After 12 years in the Health Department, Claudia became a Magistrate in the Memphis and Shelby County Juvenile Court. Here, too, she saw the impact that unintended pregnancies had on women of limited means. Often the pregnant girls she saw in court were “on the pill,” but taking it faithfully every day was just not happening. With considerable family support, a teen might finish school with one baby. But with two or three, her chances were almost zero, and the unsafe living conditions produced by these circumstances sometimes required Haltom to remove children from their mothers. In addition, she often had to send young men to jail for failure to pay child support.

Young women’s lives, the babies’ lives, and those of their extended families were all impacted by unplanned pregnancies. These women did not have the choices that come with being able to plan for their futures.

Claudia was determined to do something to interrupt this cycle of “children having children.”

Retiring after 17 years in the juvenile court system, she founded A Step Ahead Foundation, a non-profit whose mission is to provide safe, long-term, reversible contraceptives to women without the means to afford them. She sought private and corporate financing. Knowing full well the political, religious, and ethnic mine-field that has characterized discussions of birth control, Claudia consulted with medical professionals, clinic directors, and community activists. She built partnerships with multiple agencies including home nursing programs, the Shelby County Health Department, Porter Leath, the Exchange Club, and more.

A Step Ahead’s philosophy is, “Being abstinent is the best method (of birth control), unless you are not. Then we are here to help.” When she and the educators at the Foundation talk with young women, they advise them to “Plan your career, choose a father for your children who deserves you, and then plan your babies.” The Foundation’s staff and volunteers work through schools, neighborhood groups, word of mouth, and social media.

Claudia’s determination to meet known obstacles clearly paved the way for A Step Ahead’s success. Today the Foundation leases office space on the campus of the Junior League of Memphis at the corner of Central and Highland and maintains a call center 24/7. The Foundation partners with 16 community clinics that provide the long-term birth-control devices and services to women.

In addition, A Step Ahead Foundation now has affiliates in Chattanooga, Knoxville, Nashville, and Jackson-West Tennessee. Thousands of sexually active girls and women have learned to take charge of their reproductive lives and to plan their futures accordingly so that they remain — a step ahead.

This is one determined woman! Claudia Haltom, chief executive officer of A Step Ahead Foundation, is the 2016 Woman of Achievement for Determination.

Ines Negrette


for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Ines Negrette

Ines Negrette immigrated to the United States from Venezuela in 1999 and settled in Memphis in 2000 with her husband and two sons. An attorney with experience in Venezuela as a public defender, in private criminal practice and as legal counsel for a U.S.-based organization, Ines soon began volunteering as a bilingual legal advocate for Spanish-speaking victims of domestic violence in Memphis. She eventually joined the agency’s staff and then became program director.

When Ines’ position as an advocate at that agency suddenly ended, Ines rallied her spirits, support and funding to create a new non-profit dedicated to Latina survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, human trafficking and stalking. Casa Luz opened in May 2016 with the first Spanish crisis line in Memphis. With a staff of two bilingual/bicultural advocates and trauma-informed care, Casa Luz has already served 87 clients, aiding 264 children who are United States citizens.

Immigrant Hispanic women who are victims of domestic or sexual violence face countless barriers to services and to justice. Many are unaware that in the United States, the type of violence their partners have used against them for years is considered criminal. They do not know that they have the right to stop the abuse.

They might have no family in the country, speak no English, fear police and authority figures, know nothing about community resources, fear losing their children or being deported, be unable to work or drive. Leaving the abuser for a safer environment might mean losing not only his financial support and her possessions, but also the extended family who often are unsupportive, obstructive and resistant of her plans to leave or involve police.

Casa Luz provides civil and criminal legal advocacy, immigration legal advocacy, support groups and individual counseling in Spanish, outreach and community education, crisis counseling, case management, safety planning, danger assessment and support through all steps to move forward from violence.

Ines is known as a tireless, fearless and dedicated advocate. An immigration attorney who works with her wrote, “Serving a client population that is largely invisible in our society and that has such complex needs can be demanding and even disheartening, but Ms. Negrette maintained her relentlessly positive attitude; she taught me to celebrate every victory, no matter how small. Her focus always was on empowering each client to rise above her past so that she could be the author of the next chapter in her life.”

In October 2016, Casa Luz was awarded a federal grant of $600,000 to provide comprehensive services to women victims of domestic and sexual violence – strong evidence of the local need for these services and Ines’ determination to provide help to our most severely underserved victims.

Ines says her father Dr. Americo Negrette empowered her. He was a ground-breaking researcher into Huntington’s disease who recognized that his fourth child was different. When she took the unusual step of leaving her parents’ home before she completed law school, he told her, “Well, I will die happy because you fight for your dreams.”

Ines works closely with the Memphis Police Department to build a bridge of trust and open lines of communications with the Hispanic community. She is a founding member of the Voice of the Community, a group formed to assist and advocate on behalf of the entire Spanish speaking community in the greater Memphis area on quality of life issues including safety and education. In 2015 her work was saluted with the Ruby L. Wharton Outstanding Woman Award for race relations.

One of Ines’s mottos is: “We cannot solve every problem, but every day we solve more than one, no matter how tired we are.”

With Casa Luz, Ines is determined alleviate the suffering of women’s experiences, guiding them toward a path of healing and bringing hope to future generations, the future of our Hispanic community and our entire city.

Carolyn Chism Hardy

Women of Achievement

for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Carolyn Chism Hardy

Even before she decided to rescue one of Memphis’s iconic employers, Carolyn Hardy had accomplished a stellar corporate career. She’s been called “a hero to Memphians of both genders.”

The seventh of 16 children, she learned to be smart with money as a little girl, 5 years old, going shopping for her mom in Orange Mound. She made a game out of getting the most, the bets deals for her money.

A confessed introvert and bookworm, Carolyn rarely spoke in class at Melrose High and concentrated on her studies. She read her way through a neighbor’s home library, especially loving the books about places she wanted to see. She graduated a year early and applied to Memphis State. Her family pulled money together to help pay tuition, Carolyn lived at home and served food to patients at Baptist Hospital from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. six days a week.

She was briefly attracted to the study of law – but review of pay scales showed that didn’t make sense. She majored in accounting and graduated at age 20!

Her family has a heritage of entrepreneurship from beauty shops to plumbing companies to grocery stores – 25 major businesses locally and across the country over several generations. Among the best known is Chism Trail supermarkets.

Carolyn started in jams and jellies. She graduated and immediately went to work at the J. M. Smucker Co., managing finance, quality and human resources. She quickly proved to be a natural efficiency expert – quiet, observant and ready to look again and again and to calculate the numbers.

During this time she earned her MBA from Memphis State. Starting in 1994, for five years she led the facility as the first African American female plant manager – a first for any major jam and jelly company. At Smucker’s, her facility boasted the lowest cost, highest quality and great employee satisfaction. In 1999, she became vice president of services, responsible for national software implementations, for Honeywell-POMS Corporation.
In 2001, she made brewing industry history when she joined Coors Brewing Company as its first female general manager/vice president.

When Molson-Coors decided to close the Memphis plant in Hickory Hill in 2005, Carolyn Hardy and a silent partner bought it for $9 million – preserving more than 200 jobs. It was far from easy – the big banks weren’t used to women and minorities borrowing that kind of money, even with her considerable assets. She was directed to contact “hard money lenders” who charge a high interest rate for providing investment funds.

“It was the hardest time in my life,” Carolyn has said. “I was trying to keep jobs in Memphis. The stress of starting a business is tremendous, more than even I expected. . . There were many people who were convinced that I could not pull this off.”

But she was determined. She had watched manufacturing in Memphis go away, leaving warehouse jobs with less pay, no benefits, no health care and no 401k plans. “Somebody’s got to do something,” she said. “I wanted to keep the facility here and use my skills to grow a business that women and minorities could be proud of.”

Carolyn became the first African American female in the nation to own a major brewery. Hardy Bottling Company had the capacity to manufacture more than 100 million cases of both alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages annually. The company began bottling for a couple of clients and worked their way to “a profitable position.”

Then came the tornado.

That evening in February 2008 she was in a meeting at the plant. As darkness descended around 5 p.m. she moved people into her hallway where she could hear her team pounding on a door urging her to get downstairs. As they got to their storm shelter, the funnel hit – taking off the roof and hitting grain silos, but no one was killed.

Faced with $50 million in damages – far higher than insurance limits – Carolyn was advised to cut her losses and relocate.

But she was determined to fight for the jobs of her employees. She rebuilt, persevering past a shifty contractor who liked to call her “little lady” to one who was able to get the facility up and running within 90 days. She kept it going for 115 employees, doing contract packaging for non-alcoholic drinks. She looked for ways to restart it as a brewery – and Carolyn doesn’t even drink beer!

For months she talked with a major beer company – who also called her “little lady” and yelled at her to sign. She refused.

In late January 2011, she visited Wisconsin to talk with City Brewing. She told them how she had been disrespected and that she could not sell her company to anyone who did not respect women and minorities. She negotiated with City Brewing and in May, Carolyn Hardy sold her property, plant and equipment to City Brewing of Memphis for $30 million.

The deal at the plant, now called Blues City Brewing, will create more than 500 jobs by 2016. Carolyn stayed on board as a consultant for a year – until next month. She pitched into press state senators to rewrite an anti-liquor bill to protect the 500 jobs. And she strategized with our mayors, senators and Southwest Community College for a new training program to prepare local workers for manufacturing jobs.

Carolyn continues to run Chism Hardy Enterprises focusing on commercial real estate development and leasing for intermodal business, following the expansion of railroads.

With eight other executive women, Carolyn is a founding member of Philanthropic Black Women whose mission is to support women and girls’ programs targeted at self-sufficiency.

But her proudest work, she says, is the impact her Chism Hardy Company has had on many lives – her three children, her employees. Carolyn Hardy was determination to preserve manufacturing jobs in her native city. Women of Achievement salutes her for the strength, resolve and plain hard work that she has given to our community.

Carol Barnett

Women of Achievement

for a woman who solved a glaring problem despite
widespread inertia, apathy or ignorance around her:

Carol Barnett

Through the perseverance and determination of Carol Barnett, hundreds of the brightest Memphis City Schools students have been given the opportunity to attend summer academic enrichment programs through the Rotary Prep Program. In 1985, Carol began working with the Memphis Rotary Club, bringing the Prep program with her. When she started her work, 15 students from 8 Memphis City High Schools attended 5 different summer programs. At the end of her tenure as program director in 2007, 116 students from 22 Memphis City High Schools attended 30 different summer academic enrichment programs. Additionally, summer scholarships for these students rose from $129,000 in 1998 to over $430,000 in 2007.

Now known as the Memphis PREP Program, the organization Carol led for 17 years has striven to take academically talented students out of their own environments and expose them to new places, people, and academic demands. Students often make statements such as one from a recent attendee, “I believe the most important lesson I learned was that America is definitely not alone in the world…There is a whole world outside of Memphis, Tennessee and Prep School opened my eyes to that world. I now have the confidence to know that I have what it takes to compete.”

Reaching these students has taken extraordinary determination. Working with and educating guidance counselors who often did not know about the program, Carol reached out so all talented students would have opportunities. She developed a core group of volunteers to assist her, and her enthusiasm spread to them, and inspired a similar level of dedication within that group. Additionally, Carol was determined that these talented students would go on to college, and she has counseled and worked with them toward that end, developing a relationship with the Junior League to provide college exam preparation classes and seminars, and most recently to obtain foundation support for a dedicated college counselor.

The results of Carol’s determination are astounding. Every year, multiple students are accepted to Ivy League schools and other top tier colleges and universities. Local alums include Judge Lee Coffee, neurosurgeon Dr. Darel Butler, Schering Plough chemist and Memphis PREP Board member Ed Vaughn, seven current Memphis City Schools principals, a multitude of teachers and assistant principals, and MCS labor attorney Kimkea Harris.