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  • Writer's pictureAllison Russom

Small Business Highlight: Headliners Memphis

Updated: Aug 17, 2022

Headliners Memphis is an organization that began in 2015 to help people, specifically people of color, have access to HIV testing and other healthcare needs. The goal of Headliners is to positively rid the world of stigma surrounding HIV. I talked to Daniel Thompson and DeMarcus Jones about why they started Headliners. Daniel and DeMarcus are friends, and created Headliners after Daniel had been diagnosed with HIV. Daniel began researching more about HIV and how to take care of his body and realized that there was a need for more awareness and access to HIV-related healthcare. DeMarcus works at St. Jude as Protocol Outreach Coordinator and Daniel works at Cherokee Health Systems as PrEP Navigator/Outreach Specialist. This helped build the community connections Headliners needed to be able to start helping people in their community.

Daniel and DeMarcus are the Co-Chairs of Headliners Memphis, but they have many community partners, like St. Jude, The Haven 901, and Cherokee Health Systems. These community partners help Headliners organize events, but they also love to include their community members in their organization. They frequently hold Community Advisory Board meetings to get their community involved with the planning of future events, such as Trans Girls Rock Awards, iMatter Extravaganza, Whole YOUniversity, and Just Kickin’ It Field Day. Daniel said, “The thing that makes us very unique, unlike a lot of other organizations, is that we didn’t go to researchers, we didn’t go to physicians, we didn’t go to city council people to figure out what we needed to do. We simply asked the community to be a part of our meetings. And that is how we have been able to sustain as well as all of our events are stemmed from our community advisory board.” At Headliners Memphis, a big goal is to “party with a purpose”: have fun while also making connections to healthcare outlets or giving opportunities for further education.

Daniel and DeMarcus started Whole YOUniversity, a program that started in 2019 which arose from the need to bridge the gap when it came to mental health, finance, and other aspects of a college student’s life. Headliners had the health part down, but they wanted to provide other services to make their assistance more well-rounded. Headliners teamed up with the Tennessee Department of Health and The University of Memphis to provide classes in financial literacy, which was taught by a Certified Personal Account, and a self-care/self confidence workshop, and mental health workshop, taught by two therapists in the Memphis area. When the classes were in person, Headliners and their partners provided food and notebooks to everyone to help them be successful. At the end of the “semester”, they hold a graduation ceremony and they give all the participants t-shirts. This program was very successful on its first go around, but was unable to happen in 2020 because of the pandemic. They were able to hold the event in 2021 but it was held over Zoom. Even though it was virtual, the event was still successful and Daniel and DeMarcus have hopes for doing classes again in 2023.

I asked Daniel what are some things that he has learned from running Headliners. He said, “I am a huge procrastinator and, of course, when you run your own organization, you can not really allow that to inflict, and so I have definitely gotten better with having a calendar, having a schedule, always having some type of journal or something to take notes with.” He went on to tell me that he has become more detail oriented especially because Headliners is a non-profit and they are funded by federal money, so it’s important to dot your I’s and cross your T’s. He also learned a lot about social media and how much of a job that it is. Daniel's degree is in Journalism with a concentration in Advertising, so he knew how to use social media, but now he understands why people get paid what they do to be on social media. So, the biggest lesson that Daniel has learned from co-running Headliners Memphis is to stay organized.

I asked Daniel and DeMarcus what is an obstacle they have had to overcome since the inception of Headliners Memphis. Daniel said, “I think something that has been a struggle for us is one, getting our Board of Director situated and two, getting our 501-C3 situated and writing some grants, getting some money…But I think it was just time. We have done all the events, we’ve made a name for ourselves, and we have a following. So the next step was for us to go ahead and really put some feet on the ground and get things situated.” DeMarcus agreed and added that it was a journey to “finding our lane, of sorts, because we’ve all come from different organizations, but really finding our own niche that caters to us and serves our own community as well. It definitely was a struggle initially, we’ve definitely done a great job of still navigating those spaces, connecting with the people that need to be there, and just moving forward.” Headliners Memphis has done a great job of utilizing the community around them and including them in decisions that affect them, which makes Headliners even more effective in outreach and education.

Education surrounding HIV/AIDS is lacking around the country, but especially in our school systems because of the abstinence teaching method used in schools in the Memphis area and many other school systems. The conversations surrounding STIs or other diseases like HIV/AIDS, is one that is not had often enough. I asked Daniel and DeMarcus if a goal of theirs is to be able to tackle school education lower than college age. Daniel said, “That is something that we would both love to do.” They were able to go to a high school and teach sex eduation classes in the past, but they wish that they could do more. Daniel told me he is working on getting into three high schools right now to be able to have sex education classes. DeMarcus told me that this is a space they have explored and want to explore more within Memphis City Schools to educate them on the ever-expanding testing and prevention options.

Finally, I asked what they love about running Headliners in their hometown of Memphis. Daniel said, “I love Memphis. I think there is no place on earth like it.” DeMarcus added, “I definitely love being a native Memphis. One of the things that definitely helps me be here is really being able to do this [run Headliners] with my friends, my peers in a city that I truly love and makes the work worthwhile.”

If you want to connect with Headliners Memphis, you can email them here: or if you would like to keep up with their lineup of events, you can visit their Instagram and Facebook pages.

If you are a small business or local organization in the Memphis area and would like to be featured on our Small Business Highlight Blog Series, please contact us here: Here are all of our social media links if you would like to keep up with our posts: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, TikTok, and Twitter.

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