Born and raised in a small town in southern Oklahoma, Rachel Proby Wright often visited her grandparents in the Memphis area—so when she began the hunt for the right college, Rhodes was the obvious forerunner. Once here, she considered majoring in English but found her passion in the Anthropology/Sociology and the Greek and Roman Studies departments.
While pursuing an honors degree in Anthropology, she searched for a medium that would bridge her two majors. To her surprise, she found the perfect topic right here in Memphis: “I took a model that’s been used to study Homeric portraits and applied it to the Southern blues tradition,” she says. That project provided the foundation for her continuing involvement in the Memphis community.
“Like most seniors, I was tired of studying, and I wanted a different kind of stress,” she says, so she decided to work for a few years after graduation. She first worked briefly for an archaeology firm before taking the position of program assistant at the Stax Music Academy, which is operated by the Soulsville Foundation, the parent company of the Stax Museum of American Soul Music.
“From day one,” she laughs, “my job description went in the trash.” During her first year, she did everything from stuffing envelopes to writing fliers and editing newsletters, but her most challenging project came when she joined a pilot team charged with planning a charter school at Soulsville.
The Soulsville Charter School opened its doors in July 2005 with 60 sixth-graders recruited from inner-city neighborhoods. Since then, the school has grown by one class a year, all the while maintaining its mission of instilling discipline and ambition in at-risk youths through music.
Once the school was up and running, Wright’s job changed yet again. In September 2005, she became the community projects manager for the Soulsville Foundation. When the original Stax studio closed its doors, the community around it went into decline. Working with community data, Wright identified the pitfalls and assets of the neighborhood and helped develop initiatives to meet the specific needs she encountered.
With experience gained from the challenges of her various positions, Wright was more than prepared to return to the classroom. “I was chomping at the bit to get back in school,” she explains, so she enrolled in the graduate program for Anthropology at the University of Memphis in 2005. She continued working at Soulsville full time, completing her graduate studies with a 4.0 GPA.
So what’s next for Wright? Perhaps a professorship. Her love for academics coupled with her experiences working with students and college interns at Soulsville solidified her desire to be involved in education on a regular basis. She is currently a doctoral student at Syracuse University.
By: Christina Cooke ’10