Last month, Adriane Johnson-Williams became chair of the Girls Inc. of Memphis Board of Directors, the first alum of the program to ever serve in that position.
If that's not "full circle" enough for you, dig this - she takes over as Girls Inc. prepares to expand back into the 38126 zip code, where she grew up and got her first taste of Girls Inc. - at the center at LeMoyne Gardens.
"I'm a Girls Club girl from 38126," she said. "When I moved back to Memphis and realized Girls Inc. was no longer active in 38126, I was like, 'Where are my people?' So I'm thrilled about this."
Thrilled but not surprised. When she decided it was time to come back to Memphis she threw herself into the efforts to reform education and education policy with an emphasis on collaboration. She found her way to Girls Inc. quickly and has been active on the board's program committee. Last year she agreed to assume the board vice-chair position, knowing becoming chair was the logical next step. She was hesitant at first.
"I knew it was going to be a heavy lift," she says. "But it didn't take long for me to say yes to stepping up. If we're going to improve Memphis, Girls Inc. is a critical organization."
The well-being of women and girls, she says, is tied directly to the well-being of children and families and is, therefore, the bedrock of any community, including Memphis. The continued improvement she's been seeing positions Girls Inc. of Memphis to make an even greater impact on that well-being.
She's had a hand in the three-year strategic plan the organization will soon launch and a push to align the organization's mission, including the decision to end the relationship with the TRiO program.
"We made the tough decision to step away," she said. "This was a big move. But it didn't fully provide the Girls Inc. expereince."
All that planning and alignment means Girls Inc. is more outcome-focused than ever, she says, and ready to provide more of that Girls Inc. experience to more girls than ever before. There's a new, big vision for the Youth Farm and hiring is under-way for staff that will work with 50+ girls in a new center to be based at Booker T. Washington in the 38126 zip code.
"This is thrilling to me for a number of reasons," Adriane said. "It's like home to me and the principal at BTW (Alisha Kiner) is a cousin of mine I've looked up to my entire life."
Whether it's at a center or the farm or elsewhere, Girls Inc. is something Memphis needs more of, she says.
"I think Memphis lacks what I call opportunity structures, where children can learn no matter what," she said. "How do we create more and better opportunity structures? How do we add pathways to success, however you define success? How do we offer rich learning experiences in which children are free from violence, fed, clothed and encouraged to express themselves and think?"
One answer, she says, is the Girls Inc. Experience.
"Girls Inc. IS an opportunity structure," Adriane says. "And what's really important is that it's not just an opportunity to hear about something but to engage deeply. It's opening girls eyes and providing those opportunities. At the Farm, it's more than getting out in the field - it's about creating a business plan and learning about profits and losses."
It's also about exposing girls to STEM learning, Adriane says, and all the other ways Girls Inc. inspires all girls to be strong, smart and bold. Not the only answer, but it's definitely one of them.
"It's a model," she says, "of what should be provided to all children in Memphis."