Happy Jones

Happy Jones has been passionate in her support of Girls Inc. of Memphis for enough years that she's unclear on when she started. But for her, that's beside the point.

"Girls Inc. has been around a while, and it keeps on growing," she says. "Now they've got the farm and all that-it's remarkable. And they need to keep going."

Because of supporters like Happy, Girls Inc. of Memphis is going strong, adding a Youth Farm in Frayser and expanding in Memphis, including a brand new presence at Booker T. Washington School.

Happy's life also provides a stellar example of what it means to be strong, smart and bold.

In 1969, the year after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the city's sanitation workers were about to strike again because the city would not recognize their union.

"We got a couple of buses and rode around to see the sanitation workers' houses, and how they lived," Happy said. "It was pathetic."

The next day, the same group of women went to City Hall to address the mayor and city council. They insisted the issue was poverty and racism, not unions or management.

"They folded - right at that meeting," she said. "They recognized the union and we didn't have another strike. THAT'S how powerful the women were who were on that ride."

Happy—whose given name is Dorothy—says that her older sisters came up with her nickname. “They named me Happy before I was born. They said the new baby was going to be called Happy. So that was that.”

She was born in Memphis, attended Lausanne for lower and middle school and went to an all-girl boarding school in Farmington, Connecticut for high school.

“My folks chose it, and I’m delighted I went, because I got another world view,” Happy said. “There were more people up there who were liberal.”

She came back to Memphis to attend Southwestern but didn’t graduate.

“I got married and had three children and began to make trouble.”

She registered to vote on her 21st birthday and soon got involved in politics, helping run local campaigns for Republicans.

In 1968, The Commercial Appeal named her one of the 20 most influential political figures in Shelby County. Her notoriety probably helped in the concerned women vs. City Hall incident, but her activism made friends and family uncomfortable.

“I would go out to something at the Memphis Country Club and somebody would come up to me and say, ‘You used to be my friend.'”

She was eventually forced out of local Republican Party leadership. But she made new friends. And today she’s a Democrat.

For a mother of three grown girls and someone who likes to “make trouble," Girls Inc. seems like a perfect match.

“I support them because I support the mission,” Happy said. “What they’re doing is mentoring girls who might never have the chance to be exposed to the things that Girls Inc. is exposing them to. That’s why I think it’s an excellent organization.”

If you are a Girls Inc. (or Girls Club) of Memphis alum, WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU! Contact Barbara Hayes at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or 901-523-0217 and share your contact information with her so we can keep you invovled.


Nikki mugWhen Nikki Taylor started as a Girls Inc. participant at the South Park Center, she was certain about a few things.

She knew her parents were divorcing. She felt alone. And she knew she could dance. She wasn't sure about much else, including what it would be like to interact with SO many girls.

"It was so new to me," she says. "I was excited but I just wasn't sure--150 girls can be overwhelming at first."
But soon she met her center director, Dora Brown Harris, who took her under her wing--then let her fly.
"I was welcomed with open arms," Nikki said. "I became a leader because they realized what I could do."

Her journey since then took her through dance studies at the University of Southern Mississippi, a stint in Dallas and back to Memphis. Today she's a busy member of the Collage Dance Collective and she's still teaching, still helping.

"I'm one of those people who wants to do what needs to be done for the future," she said, "which is why I want to work with children. I want them to have something I didn't have. I push them to be something they never expected."

Nikki began studying dance at age 3. Within a few months of starting at Girls Inc., she found herself teaching dance to her fellow participants.

"Since I was so young, they were interested in what I was doing," Nikki said. "They wanted to be a part of it. I was like a big sister, I guess."

But even before that, her Girls Inc. experience had uncovered layers of who she was and what she was about.

"I started opening up," she says. "I realized I like to help."

In addition to teaching dance to other participants, she helped counselors with everything from setting up for snack time to organizing camping trips and fashion shows. And she got some extra exposure to girl power when she went with her mom to work at the Girls Inc. administrative office.

“It was all these wonderful, strong women," Nikki said. "They may have issues with their families or in their lives, but they didn't bring that to work. It was amazing to be around them. It was very empowering."

Those Girls Inc. lessons helped drive her from there on, including four years studying dance performance and choreograhy at Southern Mississippi.nikki

"That was a tough four years," she said. "I had academics and dance classes throughout the day then I would practice all night. It was tough but it was good."

After graduation in 2011, she moved to Dallas, where some of her family lives. But after 7 or 8 months she decided Memphis held more opportunity for her. Back home she happend to learn about Collage Dance Collective--and she found her focus.

"I was a student, training up to company level," she said. "Plus I was teaching in a Collage satellite program at Collegiate Middle School. Kids picked dance because classical and ballet wasn't specified. They had no clue. But I have students from there who now are in college conservatory programs."

A typical day for her is to attend a class at 9 a.m., rehearsal from 10:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. then teaching til 7 or 8 p.m. She teaches 35 to 40 kids per/each week. On top of all that, she still makes time to teach ballet for Girls Inc. summer programs.

What drives her? Talent, passion, hard work--and the transforming lessons she learned as a Girls Inc. girl.

"I see now that I became more outgoing. And Girls Inc. brought the leadership side out of me. They gave me all these sisters that I wasn't expecting to get. All of the people at Girls Inc. are like part of my family."




Girls rule!

Michelle obama thumbnail

Tuesday, Oct. 11 was the International Day of the Girl. Check out this clip from WMC-TV5's coverage of Girls Inc. of Memphis girls taking part in First Lady Michelle Obama's live stream event focused on girls education!

And since we're on a roll, you might as well check out THIS clip from WREG News Channel 3!

Michelle GIM WREG


Adriane Johnson WilliamsLast 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."



I was very shy and didn’t speak to anyone or interact with others much. I love to read, have natural hair, have been called weird. I came to Girls Inc. and because I was accepted the way I am, I came out of my shell. I tried new things, I have found my voice. - Rahni

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