Seven women in Memphis who are changing their communities for the better

In honor of International Women's Day on March 8, High Ground News looks back on stories of intrepid women who take their industries and communities to new heights. 
Women in Memphis broaden the heart and strengthen the soul of the city. In this selection of women leaders, High Ground News considers women from politics to healthcare who labor to uplift their neighborhoods and sectors.

Dr. Beverly Williams-Cleaves
, a pioneer and visionary, is saving lives but not necessarily in a hospital setting. Her work as an endocrinologist extends beyond the hospital and office to the Klondike community in North Memphis and its Friendship Baptist Church where many of the members are Dr. Cleave’s patients or former patients. For the past 25 years, Dr. Cleaves has sponsored a monthly food and clothes drive at the church to serve her native Klondike neighborhood.

Quincey Morris is a tireless advocate for North Memphis. As director of the Klondike/Smokey City Community Development Corp., she has spent the past 20 years facilitating grants and programs that make her community a better place to live. “I’m trying to fill as many young minds. I feel like it’s important that the younger generation learn and know what to do and how to do it,” she said.

Rachel Greer is a pillar in Binghampton. Twenty years ago, she and her husband opened a small flower shop in the neighborhood. The shop grew organically into a sort of afterschool hangout spot where kids could perform odd jobs and seek out tutoring. Greer doubled down on that interest and launched Rachel’s Kids, a nonprofit that over the past ten yeras has helped over 300 young people whether through tutoring or paying summer camp tuition.

Kelli Meade
, a former IT manager, designs wearable fashion earphones for women and proves that success in tech entrepreneurship isn’t one-size-fits-all. Through her Memphis-based business, Gemphones, she hopes she can make male-dominated tech fields more attractive to young women, and in her words, “inspire young girls to believe that tech is dope.”

Ramuesh Akbari
, representative for Memphis’ 91st district which includes most of South Memphis, reaches across the aisle to advocate for criminal justice reform. As a Democratic representative, Akbari faces an uphill battle in a state dominated by Republican lawmakers.

Ibtisam Salih
, a Sudanese refugee, keeps the Binghampton neighborhood well-fed. She spent seven years preparing hearty fare such as her special Sudanese soups for the community kitchen at Caritas Village. She's recently launched her own catering venture through which she hopes to introduce her culture to greater Memphis.  “I see the reaction when people try our food. I’m so proud. I have found we have really good food," Salih said. "The food always takes you to a second step to tell people about our culture.”

Jessica Buffington runs what she believes is the only women-led real estate tech company. Her startup, called Frontdoor, is an online platform that sells homes for a flat fee rather than a commission. On average, that model saves home sellers $9,000. Her work brings a fresh perspective to a sector that has been typically limited to analog forms of marketing such as flyers and yard signs. 

Read more articles by Madeline Faber.

Madeline Faber is an editor and award-winning reporter. Her experience as a development reporter complements High Ground's mission to write about what's next for Memphis.