Now is the Time. Memphis is the Place.

7 Questions with Zylavian Watley of the Mayor’s Young Professionals Council

Zylavian Watley moved to Memphis from her native Jackson, Mississippi in 2016 to join Shelby County’s Division of Planning and Development as the Transportation Planner and Bicycle and Pedestrian Coordinator.

Upon arrival, she immediately sought ways to form connections and make an impact beyond her day job. She’s a graduate of the New Memphis Embark program, a mentor through Streets Ministries, a contributor for the city’s comprehensive planning project, Memphis 3.0, as part of the Complete Streets Working Group, and she volunteers on the Shelby County Mayor’s Young Professionals Council.

The Shelby County MYPC was founded by Mayor Mark Luttrell in 2012 to “connect young professionals to key local leaders and government officials in order to learn about and affect public policy.” Now in her second year with the council, Zylavian is serving as the event chair for the council’s upcoming annual Leadership Summit on Saturday, June 23rd.

She spoke to Choose901 about embracing Memphis, her goals for the Leadership Summit, and her perspective on the pros and cons as Shelby County seeks to retain the great young talent it has and attract more.

Why did you want to join the Mayor’s Young Professionals Council?

When I joined the council in January 2017, I honestly was trying to find a way to make my mark in what I could contribute in Shelby County. I also wanted to meet and be around a well-rounded network of young professionals like myself who are all innovative thinkers and solvers in all different work sectors. The council has introduced me to dynamic people and allowed me to see that the local young professionals community has the spirit of collaboration, cooperation, and drive.

What does it mean to you that the Mayor has sought feedback from young professionals during his tenure?

I believe that Mayor Luttrell’s vision is that young professionals are vital to growth and progression of this area. To me, it means that he knows the importance of allowing professionals to be involved and shape our own future and that he supports that. I have witnessed the Mayor’s willingness to listen and process concerns, and his consideration of where issues need to be addressed, and working toward practical solutions. 

Mayor Luttrell created the council for a reason, and I feel that he knew the importance and need of Young Professionals to be more involved in Shelby County. Of course, there is and has always been room for improvement but overall, I have not met one person within our council who has not been positively impacted by this effort.

Zylavian with her STREETS Ministries mentee Terrika.

How do you feel about the potential of young professionals to shape the future of Shelby County?

We have some amazing young professionals and a considerably bright future within Shelby County. I do hope that leadership and people really see that young professionals bring so much vitality and creativity to Memphis. Whether you are from this area or not, everyone plays a part and we have to recognize that and figure out how to make that work to the benefit of everyone. 

What’s some of the most meaningful work the council has done in your opinion?

Our involvement in career readiness with I-Zone Schools. The members of the council give presentations to high school students that cover topics like dressing for success, pitching an ask, job interviews and resume building, and career pathways. I personally believe this is impactful to students by offering them keys to success in their lives. Relationships are developed as well, and it involves a direct connection with the school system and the community, and I’m proud that our young professionals in Shelby County are leading these efforts. 

Deveney Perry, Zylavian, and Leslie Smith.

Can you share a bit of how your perspective on Memphis has changed since you arrived?  

Memphis has grown on me since I moved here. I was not sure initially of my place and where I could begin to make a difference. The culture, the events, the history, food, developing friendships, mentorships, etc. all seem to come together. I began looking for organizations I can be part of and have met several networks. 

I also wanted to experience the culture here in Memphis and I now have a deep admiration for the arts, music, and find excursions and adventures because Shelby County has some very interesting places to try and enjoy. 

I like going to art exhibits, the river, going to festivals, trying different local eateries, listening to live music and concerts, and history and food tours just to name a few things.

Zylavian and Courtney Payne at Beale Street Music Festival

Thinking about the course your career has taken, was there something you needed in Shelby County that you haven’t found?  

I think simply having more opportunities for growth and lateral moves in my field. I think that opportunities in several areas in Shelby County and Memphis move slowly and lack innovative ideas, which makes it hard to keep the thrill and excitement for young professionals. 

Zylavian giving a Great Streets Project presentation.

More connectivity with development and transportation and livability to help Shelby County and Memphis flourish. I would love to have more opportunities for mentorships within and outside of my field.

What do you hope this year’s Leadership Summit will accomplish?

I hope that the Leadership Summit provides young professionals (YPs) a platform on how impactful they can be in Memphis and Shelby County. Often, we attend summits and conferences not feeling impactful or that our voice was heard, and I do not want that. My sincere hope is that the YP recommendations at our think tank sessions will move forward and be taken into consideration to help Shelby County grow and retain talented, skilled, creative, and amazing young professionals.

You can join Zylavian and the rest of the MYPC at the 2018 Leadership Summit on Saturday, June 23rd from 10:00 a.m. – 2 p.m. at Memphis Bioworks. Contribute your thoughts to discussions about the education to career pipeline, pathways to civic leadership, and quality of life in the county.

The summit is free and includes think tank sessions, a mayoral address, a networking lunch, and more.

>>>Learn more and REGISTER HERE.<<<

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