(This is the first in a series of periodic stories that The New Tri-State Defender is featuring about people and organizations that have "Something To Offer" as Memphis journeys toward general recognition as a "Great American City!"
Michael J. Dones, corporate marketing manager with FedEx Sponsorship & Social Media Advertising, is a Memphis man with many rites of passage dotting the history of his life and career.
After high school graduation, the Bay Area native headed to Atlanta, earning an undergraduate degree at Morehouse College and an MBA at Clark Atlanta University. Soon after, he and his new wife accepted jobs with FedEx and made the move to Memphis, where they settled in, had children, and thrived.
Now, Dones is a key executive with a massive global corporation, is an active Memphian and father, and has served on boards for organizations with missions he's believed in, like The New Memphis Institute, whose Fellows program was one of Dones' most influential rites of passage.
As an undergrad, Dones was a forward for the Maroon Tigers, part of the team that went on to the Division 2 Final Four in 1990. He recalls the bus rides to the tournament, swapping stories with Morehouse alumni like Spike Lee, Samuel L. Jackson and Edwin Moses.
"It was great," said Dones. "We played at the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Mass. It was fantastic. I still wear the ring."
He also found time to travel to Africa during college, as part of the Operation Crossroads Africa program.
"It was 1989 and Namibia had just split from South Africa, and the south of the continent was confronting the issue of apartheid," he said. "I was one of seven undergraduates from seven different schools to travel to these countries in the southern part of Africa. It was a fascinating time."
After his whirlwind college experience, his career came calling. He found the path early, locking into a company with a trusted brand and a solid future, where he began making a name for himself.
Then, in 2005, Dones heard of the New Memphis Institute's Fellows program, a 12-month immersive course for emerging leaders that arms them with the tools, experiences and connections needed to become powerful forces for positive change in the city of Memphis. The Fellows program moves beyond simply exposing participants to community challenges, empowering emerging leaders to take action, driving progress around our city's most pressing needs.
Dones credits his journey through the Fellows program with giving him a valuable new perspective on how to be successful in Memphis, and how to share that success with the community.
"I was working at FedEx and heard about the Fellows program," Dones said. "I looked into it and it was amazing! Young professionals, half from other cities, but many from Memphis, too, looking to learn about Memphis history but also to get involved in shaping its future."
Dones believes his enthusiasm for Memphis was initially sparked by his opportunity at FedEx as well as his positive experience as a New Memphis Fellow.
"It worked out well that FedEx was a top brand and that I had the Fellows program to make new friends and connections" said Dones. "We had another offer from another brand but felt that Memphis would be good for us. We thought we'd be here for just a few years, but 18 years later... FedEx is great."
He credits the city, too, saying Memphis' history and potential combine to make it the perfect place to live, work and raise a family.
"It's a great place," he said. "So many parts to Memphis. It's not one homogenous community. It has so many neighborhoods with distinct character. Once you find your area, you find there's a perfect fit for you here. We have some great schools and great communities."
He went on.
"Going through the Fellows program changed my perception of what was possible for Memphis. Being included in this group of young leaders helped me to also feel this level of optimism for our city. Not just professionally but personally. It was inspiring to see other Fellows and think about us all as the leaders of this city. It was encouraging to be around so much talent and potential."
New Memphis' Fellows Information Sessions provide a taste of what emerging leaders of the city are doing to make meaningful change happen in our community. The hour-long sessions give busy professionals a chance to hear from Fellows alumni, who lead the group through conversations about the program. The sessions allow for Q&A and are a great way for interested professionals to learn more about New Memphis and the Fellows program.
"I feel optimistic about the city," Dones said. "New Memphis really contributes to that. I'm still with FedEx, running the sponsorship and social media department, and what I learned through the Fellows program about the richness of diversity has added to my ability to do my job well."
"It reinforced my belief that all of us in the city have something to offer Memphis."