3 Women to be Honored at Legends Luncheon

By Michael Waddell

Three women who have made huge contributions to local women and families will be honored at the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis (WFGM) 2017 Annual Tribute Luncheon on Thursday, April 27, at the Memphis Cook Convention Center.

Pat Morgan, left, Edith Kelly-Green and Barbara Holden Nixon are this year’s Legends honorees by the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis.

(Courtesy Monroe Ballard)

This year’s WFGM Legend Award honorees are Pat Morgan, Barbara Holden-Nixon and Edith Kelly-Green.

“It’s not every day that someone’s life and community impact is recognized and essentially immortalized in art and prose,” said Ruby Bright, executive director and chief administrative officer of WFGM. “To be able to uplift these women that have worked tirelessly to change lives is our pleasure and duty.”

Award-winning journalist and philanthropist Tamron Hall will serve as keynote speaker at the tribute luncheon.

The Legends Award Reception was held April 13 at The Columns at One Commerce Square. Both events are expected to draw more than 2,000 people.

Award recipients are nominated by their peers, and the honorees will be recognized through original art and prose created in a collaborative effort between an artist and a writer. The art created will be toured around the Mid-South before going on permanent display at The Hall of Legends inside Baptist Memorial Hospital for Women.

Pat Morgan is being honored with the Catalyst Award for her three decades of work to break the cycle of homelessness locally, statewide and nationally. Her Legends Award artist is Suzy Hendrix, and her writer is Jae Henderson.

“I’m absolutely thrilled,” said Morgan, who started out as a volunteer helping to develop and run the Drop-In Center for Street Ministries out of the basement of Calvary Church. “I got so frustrated with the lack of resources that I decided I needed credentials to go with what I had learned from the street people and the mental health specialists who were helping me.”

She went back to college at age 50, attending Rhodes College and was named one of the 20 outstanding college juniors and “rising stars” in America. During the 1990s, she interned with Al Gore’s office, then worked with President Bill Clinton’s campaign and his presidential transition team.

“That’s when I told them I wanted to work on homelessness,” Morgan said. “I received a presidential appointment to the staff of U.S. Interagency Council on Homelessness, and I was also a special assistant working in the community development area under Andrew Cuomo.”

She returned to Memphis in 1999 and accepted an offer to be the director of Partners for the Homeless, which is now the Community Alliance for the Homeless. After 11 years in that role, she retired and wrote a book entitled “The Concrete Killing Fields: One Woman’s Battle to Break the Cycle of Homelessness,” and it has won five national book awards.

Her church, Calvary, decided to help with the Room in the Inn program to shelter the homeless from Nov. 1 to March 30 during the worst of winter weather. Those in need of shelter gather Downtown and are transported to one of 35 participating churches for shelter for the night, a shower and warm meals.

“I told them I can’t just do radical hospitality. I can’t walk away with the warm fuzzies when I know they’re going back out into the rain and snow,” she said. “The first night I picked out three who were mentally ill and within two months I was up to helping 25 mentally ill people who would’ve been sleeping on the streets except for Room in the Inn.”

During the other months of the year, she volunteers at the Memphis Union Mission.

Barbara Holden-Nixon will receive the Innovation Award for her more than 30 years as a passionate advocate for children and families. Her Legends Award artist is Leandra Urrutia, and her writer is Summer Owens.

“I’m very honored,” said Holden-Nixon, a licensed clinical social worker. “I feel like the work that I’ve done has always been pulling the community together, and there are hundreds of people who could be standing up there with me. So personally, it’s a bit overwhelming, and I appreciate it very much. We’ve been working on this for 20 years, so I am just pleased to see this work being honored as something that’s been important for the community.”

When neuroimaging became more sophisticated in the late 1990s, Holden-Nixon and others began studying what happens in the earliest years of life and the impact that has on brain development.

She subsequently helped start a community initiative focused on the first years of life and then created the First Years Institute.

“We worked on that issue and incorporated Books from Birth into the mission,” she said.

Books from Birth is free for all children, providing an age-appropriate book in the mail every month for children from newborns to age 5.

“Shelby County was considered a high-risk community because we had so many needy children,” Holden-Nixon said. “Now we’re proud to say that Shelby County is the largest Books from Birth ‘Imagination Library’ in the world. It’s been a huge gift to our children.”

Holden-Nixon went on to help form the ACE Foundation, a nonprofit focused on Adverse Childhood Experiences, and the group works today to educate the public and establish universal parenting places around the city to assist families.

Edith Kelly-Green, founding board member of WFGM and the Philanthropic Black Women of Memphis (PBWM), will receive the Philanthropy and Leadership Award. Her Legends Award artist is Tobacco Brown, and her writer is Anna Mullins.

“I’m humbled and elated,” said Kelly-Green. “It’s a different kind of award, particularly when you talk about philanthropy. All of those awards are special when you try to set your life on service and giving back. It’s always great to know that other people are seeing the impact of that.”

Kelly-Green, who grew up in Oxford and attended Ole Miss, is the founding chair of the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy and has established multiple four-year scholarships for women in different fields of study.

“My focus is primarily on education and health. I feel so strongly about how important education is and how much of a difference it made in my life,” said Kelly-Green, an entrepreneur who is co-owner of six area Lenny’s Sub Shops as well as the new Wimpy’s Burgers & Fries in Midtown.

She helped create the PBWM in 2007 with eight other local women, and they offer grants to assist local women’s initiatives.

“A lot of the needs of the community are based on $5,000 or $10,000,” she said. “They don’t require millions of dollars to make an impact on the community. And no one can quarrel with the objectives of WFGM to give back to the community and focus on women and families.

“As the foundation has grown each year, we’ve been able to give out much more money in grants. I’m a big believer that we make a change in our community one person at a time, one family at a time, one community at a time.”

Proceeds from the Tribute Luncheon and Legends Award Reception will benefit the Vision 2020 Strategic Plan at WFGM to reduce poverty by 5 percent in ZIP code 38126 by the year 2020.

WFGM has worked with women for the past 20 years to help break the cycle of poverty through philanthropy, leadership and collaboration.