Memphis is a place full of seemingly tireless people creatively working to push the city forward—grit and grind doesn't just characterize our basketball. In this series, we introduce you to some of the city's visionary leaders who are facing challenges and innovating for solutions.
Noah Gray first visited Memphis on a service trip and service has defined his role in the city ever since. As the new Executive Director of the Binghampton Development Corp.
, he is dedicated to improving the quality of life for residents of one of Memphis’ under-served communities.
In 2007, he was first introduced to Binghampton on a spring break trip with his University of Missouri classmates to volunteer with Service Over Self
. Gray, who always thought he would be a pastor, was attracted to the faith-based nonprofit’s focus on repairing homes in low-income areas. He returned to work on SOS staff that summer and grew to love Binghampton.
When he graduated two years later, Gray came on board with BDC as a property manager. He said that he hardly knew what the community development industry was at that time, but his degree in finance and real estate proved to be great training for his job in inner-city housing development.
“I didn’t know I could live out my faith by working to restore hope, bring justice, and reduce disparity,” he said. “It was in Memphis, specifically Binghampton, where I first saw this modeled. I saw healthcare providers, lawyers, bankers, engineers, doctors, housing developers and many others working to mitigate long-term issues of systemic poverty.”
How will your work on the property management side of BDC inform your new role as executive director?
Developing and managing property for the past six years showed me the importance of a holistic community development approach. We can develop high-quality affordable housing until we’re blue in the face, but if we’re not working to offer a better education to our children and economic opportunity to our adults, our effort is for naught.
What is something that would surprise us about Binghampton?
Binghampton resident surveys indicate that 92% believe their neighborhood is improving. A couple years ago we finished the renovation of the BDC Office and Outreach Center on Tillman. We had a large blank exterior wall and asked the children from the Carpenter Art Garden to design and paint a mural that represented the characteristics of the Binghampton community to them. They began brainstorming. Then they painted. They didn’t paint a single crime, income or educational attainment statistic. They painted the words Hope, Peace and Love. I agree with these children. This is how I perceive Binghampton.
What are your immediate goals for BDC in your new role?
I aim to continue to work to bring to fruition a grocery-anchored commercial development at the corner of Tillman and Sam Cooper. Many eagerly await the Binghampton Gateway Center and its impact in terms of job and food access as well as the broader hope that the development represents.
What is most rewarding about your work?
Relationships. Binghampton is full of amazing people with incredible stories, skills, passions and dreams.
What change or resource does Memphis need the most of?
MLK Jr. delivered his I’ve Been To The Mountaintop speech in Memphis the day before he was assassinated. Early in that speech he described his desire to exist in that exact point in history. He didn’t wish for a better time or even different one. Rather, he said, “Something is happening in Memphis; something is happening in our world.” Let’s love Memphis by living into this legacy instead of one of negativity. Let’s stop being our own worst enemy.
Who are your role models in the Memphis community?
My role models are those who could do anything with their lives yet choose to commit to making Memphis a better place. Robert Montague is at the top of that list. I spent six years working under his incredible leadership/mentorship. This was absolutely a transforming experience as he shaped me personally and professionally.
What is your favorite thing about Memphis?
G.K. Chesterton once said, “Men did not love Rome because she was great. She was great because they had loved her.” Memphis is my Rome. She is well-loved and also beautiful.