The 35U began with a vision to inspire the leaders of tomorrow by telling them about the leaders of today. With millions of people involved in government, education, business and community service across the country, it sometimes may be hard for the 35U to connect to leaders individually simply due to an age barrier. The 35U to us is any young adult from the ages of 18-35 in this country. These individuals have a voice – they can vote, serve, and most importantly, they can make a difference for future generations.
Today’s Q&A feature is Michalyn Easter-Thomas, City Councilwoman for Memphis, Tennessee. Michalyn is the youngest African American ever to be elected to Memphis City Council. Growing up in North Memphis and attending public schools taught Michalyn at a young age about the impact that city services has on families and youth. She used these experiences to fuel her passion for people and her commitment to service. She attended Christian Brothers University and obtained her BA in History and Political Science in 2013. With a heart and passion for education, she started teaching US History in the Bronx, NY after receiving her Master of Arts in teaching from Columbia University in 2014. Family ties called her, and her husband Darren L. Thomas, II, back to Memphis in 2015, and she began to heavily advocate for those in her community through her newly started nonprofit organization Our Grass Our Roots. This nonprofit gave her the leverage to learn about the people in her community, connect with community leaders, and begin partnerships with elected officials. With this showing of community advocacy, Michalyn launched a successful campaign that included various interest groups, ethnicities, ages, and income levels to win the City Council seat in a runoff election by 75% against the incumbent. She took office January 1, 2020. Councilwoman Easter-Thomas is the current chair over the Committee of youth services and libraries, and she also serves as the co-chair for the Committee of Housing Development. In her spare time, Michalyn likes to support local businesses and museums, and she loves to read historical fiction.
Michalyn is an inspiration to the youth that want to get involved in leadership and public service.
We caught up with Michalyn to find out what leadership means to her and what advice she would give to the next generation of leaders.
Why did you choose this career path?
I am a community organizer as well as an educator. In those two realms I deal first hand with the issues faced by average Memphians. After dealing with issues so long without efficient solutions, I decided to join in the fight politically to address policies and practices negatively impacting the people I work with daily.
Who inspired you to get involved?
My family, my community, and My God. Being around them and knowing that they deserve better, and that they will support me in this journey to do better for them.
How do you define a leader?
A leader is one that considers the true needs of those who they are obliged to help. However, a leader also knows that those obligations transcend beyond that initial target of people. With honesty, transparency, and efficiency, a leader will gain the trust of the people while working in their best interests.
What projects are you currently involved in?
My support is always with the local groups such as Memphis Urban League Young Professionals and Up The Vote 901that are continuously fighting for transparency in the local electoral process as well as providing a platform for millenials to get involved in these processes. I, along with State Representative London Lamar, have started Gen Next PAC to uplift and support the political engagement of Memphians 45 years old and under.
What advice would you give to the next generation of leaders who want to get involved?
“Don’t let nobody turn you around.” Find your why and connect everything you do to fulfilling it. Be afraid to quit, and do not shy away from hard work. Influence your friends, turn that into numbers that can’t be ignored, and then use that platform to wedge your way into the larger conversation. You do not have all the answers, but you can be part of the solution. Keep working!