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.
“Don’t get me wrong; Memphis has its problems, but Memphis is awesome. I fell in love with the place and fell in love with the people and fell in love with the culture. The city just wooed me.”
Carroll had seen Fellowship Memphis through its growth and realized a skill set that facilitated such growth. He separated the residency from the church in 2010 to create City Leadership, a nonprofit consulting firm to help catalyze leaders for the city of Memphis.
“What I started finding was these nonprofits where I could help them manage their transition, serve their leaders, be an adviser for them, research for them, consult with them, help them make the right decisions,” he said.
It has grown over just a few years working with a variety of organizations and employing a staff of 11.
Carroll calls himself a workaholic and says he gets “really excited about seeing pockets of change and making things happen that others didn’t think was possible.” When he moved to Memphis, he said, he encountered people who were down on the city, negative speak that didn’t quite fit with what he was seeing every day.
“Don’t get me wrong; Memphis has its problems, but Memphis is awesome,” he said. “I fell in love with the place and fell in love with the people and fell in love with the culture. The city just wooed me.”
To counteract the negativity, and as a tool to help his client organizations without a budget for national recruitment, recruit and retain leaders in the city, he created the not-for-profit Choose901. It’s a slogan prevalent on social media and T-shirts – 4,000 sold already – since its launch in March 2012, and has quickly become a rallying cry for those citizens who fall within the area code.
He has researched and written on the challenges of recruitment of a specific age and class of leaders, and Choose901 was fostered as “an umbrella where we can create a message to millennials about the opportunity to invest their life and enjoy their life right here in Memphis.”
Carroll and his wife, Ashley, a nurse at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, have four children. Jac, 9, and Charis, 7, are biological, while 6-year-old Abigail, and 5-year-old Jones are adopted. The Carrolls are outspoken advocates for adoptive families, as they are advocates for the city they’ve adopted as their home and strive to make better every day.
“Memphis is the premier city in the country to invest in and enjoy your life, there’s no other city where you can go make a quicker, more significant investment, get on the front lines and make a difference that people are going to recognize,” he said. “There’s all sorts of room for people who want to be passionate about this work.”