Leadership Chattanooga: Chronicling a 10-month Journey

Charlie McDaniel

Since its inception in 1984, the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s Leadership Chattanooga program has claimed some of the most influential, creative and impactful members of our community as graduates. Every day, Leadership Chattanooga alumni work to ensure that Chattanooga remains prosperous, safe and vibrant. As a member of the class of 2017, I’m honored to share my experiences with you.

First, a short introduction. After graduating law school in 2009, my wife and I re-located to Chattanooga and began to work within our community to impact positive change. I serve as Director of Operations for Legal Aid of East Tennessee, a non-profit law firm providing free civil legal assistance to our elderly, abused and low-income neighbors. I’m especially proud of my work with the Erlanger Health-Law Partnership and the City of Chattanooga-Hamilton County Family Justice Center…

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Understanding poverty in our city

September 2016

Early in September, our Leadership Chattanooga class of 2017 gathered for its first full-day session. Our work started before the first official meeting of the day, when we were challenged to arrive by bus, so that we would gain first-hand experience of the many transportation challenges facing those who rely on public transportation. Our topic for the day? Poverty.

Our leader gave the 40 members of our class a bus schedule and told us to take the 4 bus to MLK Boulevard and Peeples…

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Leadership and local government

October 2016

The October session of Leadership Chattanooga addressed opportunities for meaningful leadership in the community, including within local government. Julie Baumgardner, President and CEO of First Things First, started by presenting a largely overlooked story from 9/11: after the attacks on the World Trade Center, as bridges, tunnels and train tracks were closed, the only way off of Manhattan was by boat. This was the largest maritime evacuation in history. Who was responsible for such a herculean effort?…

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Leadership Chattanooga focuses on transportation

November 2016

Leadership Chattanooga’s November session convened at the Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce’s INCubator, the largest business incubator in Tennessee. “Economic Development and Transportation” was the day’s theme. There is evidence of the river being used for trade as early as the year 900. Much later, in the 1800’s, Chattanooga became the “Gateway to the South” due to its central location and famous railroads…

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Students provide glimpse of what works in schools

December 2016

“Work together, compromise and give everyone a chance to explain their idea.” That was the advice given by a third-grade student at Bess T. Shepherd Elementary School when asked for tips on how to be a good leader. This student was one of many impressive third-, fourth- and fifth-graders taking part in the school’s Leadership Academy. The Leadership Academy seeks to empower students by equipping them with strong leadership skills early in life…

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Waiter or surgeon: Leadership Chattanooga learns qualities for success the same

January 2017

Leadership Chattanooga’s first meeting of 2017 began at Erlanger Hospital. We were introduced to our first speaker, Lisa Smith, MD, a pediatric surgeon with University Surgical Associates. A unique theme of Smith’s presentation involved highlighting the similarities between pediatric trauma surgery and waiting tables at a restaurant, noting both jobs require extreme focus and the ability to constantly re-assess the needs of your patient (or diner). The qualities that make a good surgeon, says Smith, are the same that make a good waiter: the ability to thrive under pressure, being a good team player and knowing the value of saying please and thank you.

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Arts enhance the city's quality of life

February 2017

The class of Leadership Chattanooga got in touch with their creative side this February as we took a look at art and quality of life in our city.

Our day began at ArtsBuild, a non-profit organization with almost 50 years of experience in funding arts organizations and arts programming for students, teachers and underserved populations. To date, its donors have invested more than $70 million in our community. Dan Bowers, President, explained that ArtsBuild was “designed to be for arts what the United Way is for social services.”…

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Leadership Chattanooga class gets closer look at state government

March 2017

Leadership Chattanooga hit the road this month to travel to Nashville to explore the inner workings of state government. This was a particularly historic time to be at the capitol, as Senator Douglas Henry, who had passed away the previous week at the age of 90, was lying in state at the legislative library in the Capitol building. Henry was the first person to be granted this rare honor since Gov. Austin Peay in 1927. Lawmakers, friends and other officials had pinned irises, the state flower of Tennessee, to their lapels. Henry’s former desk in the Senate, now used by Senator Todd Gardenhire, was draped in black and had been adorned with irises…

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The final two installments of this column will be published online at and

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