For more than 20 years, Latino Memphis has served as a change agent for Latino Memphians, empowering individuals, families, communities and the 2,400+ Latino-owned businesses throughout the Bluff City. Today, Latino Memphis serves thousands of clients every year as Claudia Towell, Latino Memphis’ Director of Marketing, works to build awareness of the many issues impacting the Latino community. In the coming year, Claudia is spearheading the launch of the organization’s redesigned marketing campaign, which includes a new logo, website, app and videos that will showcase how Latino Memphians work, play and contribute to making Memphis a more vibrant place. We are delighted to introduce you to Claudia Towell, today’s FACE of Memphis.
Tell us where you’re from. Native Memphian?
I am a Memphian, and I absolutely love being one! I was born in Bogota, Colombia, and I came to Memphis as an exchange student in 1992. The place where you are born never leaves your heart, but the place you call home is where you make a difference.
Describe your professional journey.
I am a graphic designer by trade. My first job after college was at a printing company followed by a 15-year career at the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art, where I was the Director of Marketing. I joined the Latino Memphis familia in the summer of 2015.
Tell us about Latino Memphis and the work you do.
Latino Memphis plays an integral role in helping Memphis realize its full potential as a prosperous 21st century city. We know that education holds the key to success, and our Abriendo Puertas program, which means “Opening Doors,” aims to provide to students the necessary tools to achieve educational success. However, we also recognize that each individual starts at a different place in life, and we strive to provide a road map for Latino Memphians as they take the wheel and drive toward their own American dream.
I’d like to invite all Memphians to join any of the 30+ happenings that are unique to Latino Memphis. Probably our most known event is the Latino Memphis Festival. In 2017, we are partnering with Memphis in May to celebrate Colombia. We also have the Latino Memphis Conference, Day of the Dead Fiesta and Turkey Tamales. It is important to me to bring together all the amazing cultural flavors that coexist in Memphis from ballet to salsa dancing.
Do you have a mentor or role model?
I am blessed to be surrounded by amazing people who have directly and indirectly shaped who I am today. My role models have been my grandmother, Lilia, and my father, Edgar. My grandmother was a very strong and gutsy woman, and my dad, who I consider a crazy creative genius, has always encouraged me to think outside the box. Another person who has influenced me in more ways than one is Andrew Clarkson, a wonderful philanthropist who is no longer with us, but whose legacy can be seen across the arts in Memphis. He used to say, “Learn, earn and return,” a saying that will stay with me forever.
Tell us about your family.
I have two very active children — Ethan, 11, and Ellie, 6 — my amazing husband Ernie, and our miniature schnauzer named Heidi. We are a very active family, especially when it comes to soccer and the arts.
What are your hobbies, and how do you unwind?
I love the outdoors and camping. We are so blessed to have such amazing parks in Memphis and in the Tri-state area. You can get away from it all and create wonderful memories with your family without going too far. I also love to work on our family photo albums.
What’s the first place you take an out-of-towner when they visit you in Memphis?
That is a hard question because there are so many places to go! I would definitely take them to Midtown to eat at any of the great restaurants in Overton Square, Broad Avenue or Summer Avenue, like El Sabor Latino or Arepas Deliciosas. The Rec Room and WISEACRE are also great places to hang out and have a drink. The Levitt Shell, depending on the time of the year, is a great place to enjoy an outdoor concert. I actually haven’t taken an out-of-towner on the Greenline yet, but I would love to take someone biking from Overton Park to Shelby Farms. Now that Big River Crossing is open, eating downtown and then crossing the mighty Mississippi River would be a no-brainer.
What’s your favorite Memphis attraction and why?
That is easy, the Memphis Brooks Museum of Art! Besides the fact that I invested a great part of my life there, it is the city’s art museum, with an impressive and revolving permanent collection and great traveling exhibitions. There is always something new to see at the Brooks.
What is your greatest accomplishment?
My two children, and that I have been able to infuse [in them] a deep love for reading, which opens doors to all kinds of new worlds for them.
What inspires you?
I am inspired by witnessing commitment and courage in others. Anyone who is “in spirit” is an inspiration.
Finish this sentence: If I had a superpower, it would be …
To be able to get into a person’s mind and flip the switch off at the second that they are about to commit an act of violence, and flip it to commit an act of kindness.
What are your guilty pleasures?
Dulce de Guava from Colombia. I hardly ever get to eat it anymore, but when I do, I eat enough to make up for the time lost. Pinterest is another guilty pleasure. I can get lost in there for hours!
What would someone be surprised to learn about you?
I still own my last pair of pointe ballet shoes. I was a ballerina for many years. Ballet holds a very special place in my heart.
What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
Not sure about one piece of advice, but rather a collective wisdom that I have been able to absorb throughout the years from family and friends. The collective advice would be to stick to what is important to you, stand by your values, live with integrity and be kind, honest and true to yourself. Be passionate about what you do, and put your heart and soul into everything you do.
What are three lighthearted things you can’t live without?
A good book, a camera and Colombian coffee
Thank you, Claudia! Learn more about her work at Latino Memphis by visiting latinomemphis.org.
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