The Golden Rule encourages you to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” For Jim Wilkirson, the Golden Rule is part of his development – and the development of the neighborhood organization he’s charged with leading.
Wilkirson is the executive director of Fondren Renaissance, the organization behind Fondren’s Zippity Doo Dah® Weekend and a group whose mission is to be a catalyst for growth. He came into the role having had experience at one time as a Fondren business owner, FRF board member and event planner. Born and raised in Jackson, Wilkirson attended St. Andrews Episcopal School before graduating from Jackson Preparatory Academy. He is a 1985 graduate of Vanderbilt University with a degree in art history and studio art.
The last three years have put Fondren at the forefront of his duties. But he was no stranger to the neighborhood when its board of directors came calling for his help. “I co-chaired the first-ever Symphony at Sunset with David Dinkins in 2001 and had a business here (Top It Off Events, co-owned with Pat Cauthren),” he explains. “Fondren Renaissance came to me in an interim period and said, ‘We need direction’ and asked me to take them under my wing as their consultant and revamp the organization.”
While Wilkirson still takes on design and event projects, Fondren has become more than full time. And that has lead to a modern revitalization of the neighborhood. When I ask how he feels about this accomplishment, he’s quick to brush aside credit. “It’s not one person, it’s a team,” he explains. “One person can be a motivator or a catalyst, but someone else has to capture the vision and move it forward. It’s a huge team.”
One of the biggest roles Fondren is playing is that of grand marshal. “Right now, our part is the revitalization of this area and then showing others how to accomplish the same thing,” he says. “Someone has to help.” The bottom line, he tells me, is to lead by example. “It’s not right to say, ‘Go fix it’ if you can’t say ‘I’m going to help you fix it; let’s go do it together.’ It’s the most important thing. That’s what gets people excited and gives them a renewed passion.”
In his job as executive director, Wilkirson has become the unofficial mayor of Fondren, fielding calls for all sorts of issues and playing another part: peacemaker and mediator. He says it’s all about the community. “I grew up here and I’ve seen the good, the bad and the in-between,” he tells me. “We’re all here to try and make a difference. My difference is to give back to the people that got me where I am today.”
It’s a lesson Wilkirson learned from his late mother, Jean Sain. “That’s probably been my biggest inspiration,” he says. “My drive comes in wanting to be that community builder and leader that she was. Truly, there’s not a group who calls on me that I don’t try and help in some way because when they grow, I grow. It’s the only way you learn.”