Photo illustration of Colin Chapman and Marissa Pittman
Colin Chapman (left) and Marissa Pittman. Photo illustration by Andrea Morales for MLK50

In the heart of Memphis lies the Arts District, with its picturesque sights and boutique businesses. This is where Colin Chapman begins his day at 5:45 a.m. He wakes up and has coffee before his daily Pilates class. After a post-workout smoothie, Chapman reviews his work emails before showering and getting ready for his workday.  By 9:30 a.m., he’s grabbing breakfast for himself and his boss, Carmeon Hamilton.

As assistant to the noted interior designer and lifestyle blogger, Chapman reviews Hamilton’s brand deals and works on her interior design projects, among other assignments. It’s what he’s always wanted to do. 

“I had kept up with Carmeon and her work for a while before working with her and had originally wished to work under her as an intern, so when Carmeon announced that she was looking for an assistant, I jumped on the opportunity,” he said.

The Memphis native loves all things fashion and interior design. He hopes to work as a creative director over a brand one day. Chapman is a recent graduate from the University of Memphis, earning a degree in fashion merchandising with a minor in marketing. He’s also a social media manager for luxury retail shop Joseph, creating Instagram content by modeling or styling pieces from its catalog. 

And when Chapman’s not working, he’s still being creative. He might be directing a photoshoot, creating content for his social accounts, or planning his next interior design project.

Marissa Pittman standing at a podium
Marissa Pittman. Courtesy photo

Some 395 miles south, Marissa Pittman starts her day in New Orleans a little later, at 7 a.m. It begins with prayer and reflective journaling. A student at Dillard University, she works a virtual internship from 8 a.m. to noon, then has lunch before classes start. 

Pittman is pursuing a degree in urban studies and public policy with a minor in mass communications. Yet she thinks of herself as an organizer at heart, a woman interested in creating tangible change.

“I plan to walk across the stage in 2024 with a joint degree and a platform for public policy and community service,” she said. 

On campus, she serves as the 87th president of the Student Government Association while also working as a diversity, equity and inclusion communications intern for the Page Society and the Diversity Action Alliance, which works to diversify the field of communication. She’s also worked with several nonprofit organizations across the country, such as Civic Nation, Higher Heights for America and the UNCF. 

Her ease in political leadership comes, in part, from the support she’s gotten as the mentee of state Sen. London Lamar (D-Memphis). She says she can always pick up the phone and call Lamar for advice. Pittman met the senator through the Let’s Innovate Through Education program. Lamar was Marissa’s mentor throughout the program and has remained her mentor ever since. Lamar, too, served in student leadership, at Saint Mary’s College. 

Chapman and Pittman represent the distinctive excellence that is Memphis. This February, MLK50: Justice Through Journalism wanted to recognize not just the history that made Memphis but the people moving it forward. So we’re celebrating Black Futures Month. These two young Black professionals, born in the Bluff City, represent what can be, what’s next. 

MLK50: How did you find your pathway?

Chapman: I still don’t think I’ve found my “pathway.” As a recent graduate with multiple fields of interest, things are still a little blurry for me. Although, I can say that I’ve made it to where I am today by networking, listening and asking questions. Whenever I had the opportunity to watch a guest speaker with similar interests, I took full advantage and networked to learn more about their field. This often led to new opportunities for me!

Pittman: I don’t think I have found my pathway. I am committed to advancing equity in my community through policy and communications, but I am unsure what the future holds.  

MLK50: It is not lost on me how you both are heavily influenced by successful Black women native to Memphis. What does it mean to you to draw your inspiration from an empowered Black woman?

Chapman: This can certainly be biased, but I truly have the best boss ever! Carmeon is one of the strongest, smartest and most creative people I know. It feels amazing to be led by a Black woman who is making strides on a national level. Over the last two years, I’ve witnessed Carmeon share her story across the country, most recently on the TEDx stage, film two shows and continue to cultivate a supportive community online and off. The lessons I’ve learned and skills I’ve acquired from working with Carmeon are incalculable.

Pittman: The mentorship relationship that I have with Sen. Lamar has propelled me to commit to the community. Additionally, it has provided me with an opportunity to be in a community with other women in leadership. I am grateful for the lessons I have learned with Sen. Lamar. Drawing inspiration from empowered Black women has encouraged me to continue advocating for the community.

MLK50: What do you think when you hear the term “Black Future”? 

Candid photo of Colin Chapman
Colin Chapman. Courtesy photo

Chapman: When I hear “Black Future,” I think of my fellow peers and I making strides by continuing to gain visibility for our community. In the media, there is often a narrow viewpoint on what “Blackness” looks like, but in reality, there are so many subcultures and perspectives that need to be viewed and appreciated.

Pittman: When I hear of Black Future, I think of the possibilities for young Black people. I think of the ways we can develop our communities with a resilient and sustainable approach.

MLK50: How are you contributing to your idea of the Black Future?

Chapman: I’m contributing to my idea of the Black Future by unequivocally being myself and sharing that across public platforms. Growing up, I saw very few Black men who openly expressed their love for design and fashion and did well in it! André Leon Talley and Jason Bolden are two men that I take a lot of inspiration from, so I’ve committed myself to do the same in whatever field I occupy. Fashion and design are still primarily white-dominated spaces, so when given the opportunity to have a seat at the table, I plan to make noise and bring my people along with me. 

Pittman: I am contributing to my ideas of the Black Future by supporting young people. I utilize my position as a school and community leader to influence and equip younger generations with the tools and resources they need to be agents of change. 

Jazmyne Wright is a junior at the University of Memphis studying to be a novelist.