A local member of the Jewish community has her sights set on public service. Meggan Wurzburg Kiel is proudly running as a candidate for Memphis City Council, District 5.
After graduating from Duke University with degrees in Political Science and French, Meggan started her career in Boston at the international headquarters of Facing History and Ourselves. She then earned her master’s in education from UMass-Boston, as a member of the first cohort of the Boston Teacher Residency.
“But my goal was always to return home to Memphis, where I wanted to raise my children and make a deep impact on the city I love,” she said. “My husband, Daniel, and I moved back in 2005, right before our first child, Sadie, was born.”
Over the next 10 years, Meggan worked in education throughout Memphis: Facing History and Ourselves, Rhodes College, Memphis PREP Program (now REACH Memphis), and The Soulsville Charter School.
“These experiences helped me build a vision for the city,” she explained, “as I designed and implemented exceptional opportunities for Memphians.”
That Soulsville accomplishment, in particular, is quite impactful. Hired in 2010, Meggan was tasked with building a world-class college and career counseling program, in the heart of one of the poorest ZIP codes in the U.S. She had to act fast, considering the school’s first graduating class would be in 2012. She succeeded, creating and then growing a department that ensured every graduate had been accepted to college and also connecting students to summer growth experiences while in high school and continuing to support them as alumni.
“The way I went about building that department,” Meggan noted, “is how I confront all leadership challenges I face: listen to stakeholders, research best practices nationally, build consensus, and move forward with transparency and accountability.”
Eventually, Meggan joined the Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope (MICAH), a new org her lifelong congregation, Temple Israel, was involved with. MICAH connects people from faith communities to decision-makers in local policy.
“Through MICAH, I began to attend City Council, County Commission, and School Board meetings; I learned about the budgets and watched how our local government functioned (or dysfunctioned),” Meggan said. “In a volunteer role as the first chair of partnership, I brought a wide range of 40 religious congregations and nonprofits together and learned even more about the issues facing the city I love.”
After three years on MICAH’s founding board, she was hired as an organizer. In that role, she trained members of MICAH’s congregations how to advocate for important issues – whether for their family, congregation, neighborhood, or the city more broadly. “MICAH leaders coming together with environmental leaders, bus riders, and the business community to advocate for investment in public transit showed me what it could look like for everyday residents to be at the table advocating for what is important to them,” she explained. “This advocacy led to a first-time public transit investment from the County and increased investment from the City.”
All of Meggan’s work led her to run for City Council, using her skills as a leader to advocate for District 5, which covers most of the Poplar-Walnut Grove corridor from I-240 on the eastern border to Crosstown on the western border.
She’s also relying on her faith as guidance.
“There is a midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 39:1) that shares the story of Abraham coming across a burning palace,” Meggan shared. “Abraham asks G-d, ‘Where are you? Can you not do something?’ And G-d replies, ‘I am here, where are you?’
I feel those words deeply in this moment. Our world is certainly on fire; Memphis is on fire. … I feel called to serve my City in this moment.”
Something Memphians might not be aware of is that the City Council is a nonpartisan body, confronting different issues than national partisan ones.
“We must address our community’s safety, infrastructure, and economic development. These are not partisan issues,” she explained. “They are human issues that affect all of us, each and every day, and require leaders who will listen closely to residents, bring together the stakeholders, and then work diligently to move Memphis forward.”
Meggan believes she can usher in positive change with accessible, communicative, and thoughtful leadership, noting several complex problems Memphis faces, including community safety and economic opportunity.
“Communities that have begun to make progress in these areas are showing that partnerships between multiple agencies – including the police, other government entities, and community organizations of multiple sizes – are critical to partnering intervention and prevention,” she said. “We must both respond to current levels of crime and also address prevention efforts for Memphis to become a city where we can all live, work, and raise our children in safety.”
She adds that improving literacy, public transit to jobs, and affordable housing can help alleviate long-term poverty and reduce violence. Those efforts, along with hospital- and school-based interventions and robust re-entry supports, can reduce violent crime, as is the case in other cities that have adopted those comprehensive strategies. Investments in areas that impact safety also build up Memphis’ ability to attract and maintain major employers and prepare workers for the jobs our city needs to grow and thrive.
“As a former educator,” she said, “I have seen that intentional pipelines to workforce development programs for high school students and opportunity youth (those 25 and under disconnected from school and work) are a good investment both for safety and economic development.”
Meggan has lots of love for the Bluff City, believing that with proper leadership, listening, partnerships, and collaboration, the City can be transformed.
“While some may choose to focus on people’s differences or how dire the situation is, I have and will focus on what we share in common and a vision for a thriving Memphis so that we can move our community forward, as partners,” she explained. “Memphis’ challenges and opportunities, while complex, are not unique. In every role I have ever held, I have analyzed what’s working, what’s not working, and done the homework required to identify solutions from other places. I then apply them to my specific context and put in the hard work of reconciling multiple perspectives and competing needs. Leadership requires constant communication with other stakeholders and building collaboratively, because it takes broad buy-in for any policy to work, or even get passed. This is the type of vision I bring to Memphis – not lofty dreams but the clarity needed to execute real change.”
For more information about Meggan Kiel’s campaign for City Council District 5: megganformemphis.com
The City Council election is Oct. 5, 2023.