Memphis Grizzlies spotlight local community leaders

Published: Feb. 14, 2023 at 7:37 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - The Memphis Grizzlies are shining a spotlight on local leaders in the community who have graduated from Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Graduates who are empowering the Memphis and Shelby County community within the areas of education, health and wellness, service, and youth development.

“I am so honored and grateful to be awarded the HBCU award,” said Sunya Payne, Director, Community Engagement for Memphis Shelby County schools.

Payne, a proud graduate of LeMoyne-Owen College is the most recent honoree, receiving the HBCU empowerment award designed to educate the public and fans about the contributions of local midsouth HBCU graduates.

“I’ve taught for nine years, a principal for seven, I was an assistant principal for three,” Payne said. “And now that I’m the director of Family and Community Engagement for Memphis Shelby County Schools I’m a servant leader at heart. I believe in meeting people where they are and serving without judgment.”

On Wednesday, the Grizzlies will honor Branch, the Executive Director at Memphis Leadership Foundation since 2015.

“I’m a proud Howard University Graduate,” Anthony Branch, CEO, of Memphis Leadership Foundation said. “I think Howard shaped me and shaped my future.”

The foundation is recognized for its will to create new initiatives, build leadership capacity, and work with people of faith and goodwill.

“I just want to make sure that we are making a difference for those individuals so that they can feel that they have a voice and understand that there’s somebody on their side,” said Branch.

In the past five years, the Grizzlies have honored 28 graduates from 14 different Historically Black Colleges and Universities, with each receiving a $5,000 gift in their name to their school.

“Seeing other individuals that are in nonprofits, working in the trenches and trying to shape and help those that are marginalized, those crying out for help or those that are in need of help, I think it is phenomenal and seeing so many HBCU grads doing just that is incredible, " Branch said.

Here is a list of additional 2023 recipients of the HBCU Empowerment Award:

  • Ena Esco Cole, Founder of Ivy Multimedia and the Verbally Effective podcast; Graduate of LeMoyne-Owen College
  • Jozelle Luster Booker, President and CEO of the Mid-South Minority Business Council Continuum; Graduate of Jackson State University
  • Sam O’Bryant, III, Executive Director of Literacy Mid-South; Graduate of Alcorn State University
  • Arlinda Fair Cathey, Program Manager for Diversity Equity and Inclusion Programs and Community Engagement for the National Civil Rights Museum; Graduate of Jackson State University
  • Bridget D. Sisney, Creator of Universoul Wellness; Graduate of Dillard University

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