There is a surge these days in Memphis boosterism, but there may be no one else with their pulse more on what is new and exciting and worth celebrating in the city than Rashana Lincoln.
As director of community engagement for the New Memphis Institute (formerly the Leadership Academy), Lincoln is charged with selling her greatest passion: Memphis.
Born and raised in Memphis, the White Station High School graduate went on to Clark Atlanta University, a small, historically black college that shares a campus with Spelman College and Morehouse College. She graduated in 1996 with a degree in business marketing.
Lincoln returned home as the Olympics descended upon Atlanta, and became caught up in the campaign for Harold Ford Jr.’s congressional run. She joined the staff as an advance person moving out in front of the campaign team. Lincoln said the experience was “intense, but phenomenal; it really exposed me to every pocket of the 9th District.”
Lincoln enjoyed working with the big-money donors as well as knocking on doors throughout the district and talking to the residents and those most affected by elections and legislation.
“I love people; that’s just my nature,” she said.
It was during the campaign that the importance of voting was instilled in her and it drove her to the University of Tennessee College of Law in Knoxville. Her father had a background in the law and she’d always seen a juris doctorate as “a great vehicle for any number of careers.”
She graduated law school in 2001, and though she never pursued a career in law she said the experience was invaluable. Her mother was ill when she came back to Memphis so Lincoln took over operations and management for the family business, Mayweather Catering.
She also found a role as accounting clerk for the Craig Brewer film “Hustle & Flow,” working closely with producer John Singleton.
“It kind of tied back to what my father told me that having a JD validates you to do a number of things,” Lincoln said. “I had known Craig beforehand so just to see this happen – I’m a Memphis loyalist so it was great for our city.”
Lincoln has a nomadic spirit and did some traveling after the wrap of production, but she always returns home. In this case, she returned in 2005 as Ford geared up for a run for the U.S. Senate where she became a point person early on.
Does she have her own political aspirations? Well, no.
“That is what puts a smile on my face, having students discover that Memphis is a great place to be.”
Director of community engagement, New Memphis Institute
“I’ve seen enough to know it’s a huge commitment to put yourself out there,” she said.
She joined New Memphis in 2010, saying the job has been “a wonderful blessing in my life ever since.”
No two days are alike, she added, and her primary responsibility includes working with human resource professionals to arm them with the tools they need as they try to recruit talent to Memphis.
Her favorite part of the job is coordinating Memphis: The Summer Experience, a program for college and graduate students in summer internships here where she crafts events over the course of June and July that range from networking receptions with top business professionals to Memphis 101, a crash course on the city; from planting trees at Shelby Farms to coordinating alumni-hosted newcomer receptions to connect those new to town with the community.
“It’s really about exposing these students to our greatest assets, both the physical and the people, and inviting them to launch their careers here,” she said.
“To see her sell the city to these young folks, college students who are thinking about where to start their professional lives, she does that as easily as breathing,” said Nancy Coffee, president and CEO of New Memphis. “Likewise, she can also engage the most senior executive to make the leap from wherever they’re located.”
When she isn’t working with New Memphis, Lincoln might be found in FedExForum cheering on the Memphis Grizzlies or keeping in touch with her city as a member of the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, Shelby Farms Park and MPACT Memphis.
The work she does with New Memphis has brought her into contact with like-minded people looking to celebrate the city and affect positive change here. Her time away from Memphis gave her a better appreciation for what the city has to offer.
“Rashana is magnetic, she is a ray of sunshine,” Coffee said. “She is just such an easy Memphis ambassador because she believes it.”
Says Lincoln: “That is what puts a smile on my face, having students discover that Memphis is a great place to be.”