Cory Christmas Gives Access to Opportunities
THE TIPPING POINT
ANNA TRAVERSE, Special to the Daily News
Memphis stands at the threshold of incredible possibility. In this series, we introduce innovative Memphians who are driving our city forward and forging its future success.
Cory Christmas describes himself as risk-averse. But while he was growing up on the Gulf Coast, in Mobile, AL, he dreamed of being the sort of news reporter who broadcasts live during a hurricane.
Christmas has traded hurricanes for the law offices of Baker Donelson, where since 2013 he’s served as the training manager in charge of coordinating workplace learning for the firm’s 23 locations across the Southeast.
As a boy, Christmas watched his father, who owned a plumbing business in Mobile, working smart – but also working hard, physically. Early on, Christmas realized that he didn’t want physical labor “to be my lot in life. It was incredibly laborious, and not my talent,” he says.
Risk-aversion aside, a few years later he relocated from Auburn, AL (where he was in college on a journalism scholarship) to the San Francisco Bay Area – because he fell for the city on a spring-break trip. He’d never been outside the Southeast before the trip – but “I knew on that trip that I was going to move back [to San Francisco].”
After the academic year, he did just that, and wound up staying in northern California for the next eight years. It was there that he launched his career in workplace education. A ServiceMaster position eventually led him, in 2006, to Memphis, a place he could put down roots, closer to family.
And put down roots he has. Christmas coordinates a team of eight at Baker Donelson who ensure that firm employees (attorneys, paralegals, legal secretaries, and administrative staff) across those 23 locations stay up-to-date on the latest technology, advance in professional development, and grow as leaders.
There may not be any actual hurricanes involved, but there’s constant, fast-paced professional movement to track in keeping employees “up to date on the practice of law as the industry evolves.”
When he’s not coordinating training at Baker Donelson, Christmas can be found volunteering with Indie Memphis – he’s helped launch a program for local youth, grades 7-12, giving them the tools to conceptualize and create films of their own. And he teaches evening classes in technology at Arkansas State University Mid-South, where many of his students are adult learners.
The rope connecting all these endeavors, Christmas muses, is a passion for “providing access to opportunities.” This theme holds it all together: the evening classes he teaches, where he helps students navigate technology that will “vastly expand their opportunities in terms of employment”; connecting students in the youth film mentoring program to “a vertical network of opportunities and talent”; and shepherding legal staff to new skills and tools they can implement each day at Baker Donelson.
Christmas’s skill in the field of ongoing education – much like his drive to teach computer fundamentals in the evening, or to arrange mentoring for young filmmakers – depends on his openness to meeting people where they are. He speaks in the same excited tone when describing an adult computer learner who needed coaching on how to operate a mouse as he does when recounting his excitement upon seeing “activity in a learning management system that shows people at the firm are enrolling in or completing training.”
“I find gratification in very small wins that are also very big wins. From attorneys to students, helping them see how one application builds on another, helping them get more comfortable – that little part of it changes lives.”
Cory Christmas is a graduate of the New Memphis Fellows program.