Mary Gill is DeafConnect’s full-time interpreter, interpreting from spoken or written English into ASL and reverse-interpreting ASL into spoken English. She has extensive experience as a professional interpreter, having worked for the University of Mississippi, the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, Northwest Community College and the North Mississippi Regional Center. She has earned an Associate of Arts degree, an Associate of Applied Science degree in interpreter training and a Bachelor of Science in interpreter training. She is pursuing a Master of Science in general ASL and English interpreting. She has completed the Compass professional interpreter program and has earned the highest level of certification, Level III, in the Mississippi Quality Assessment Screening program. She holds a Mississippi Interpreter Registration and is a member of the Mississippi Association of the Deaf.
Special Events Coordinator
Rita Santi Grivich retired as a teacher from White Station High School’s Deaf and Hard of Hearing Department. With teaching credentials in deaf education and English, she taught for 48 years, some at the Shelby County Penal Farm. Her interest in and love for bringing out the theatrical skills of her high school students prompted her to found the Deaf Drama Club, nationally recognized as the first of its kind. She now works part time at DeafConnect where she assists in coordinating special events, in particular the annual Deaf Family Reunion. She is a member of the East Memphis Quota Club.
President of the Board of Directors
Billy Leavell is president of the board for DeafConnect. He was born deaf in Montgomery, Alabama, and was educated at hearing schools in Montgomery and Birmingham. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from David Lipscomb University and established Light for the Deaf, a publication for the D/deaf. He was a full-time minister in Nashville before moving to Memphis to minister to the D/deaf at East Frayser Church of Christ. In 1998 he and the D/deaf group relocated to White Station Church of Christ. His wife, Marilyn Allgood, is an interpreter for the deaf.
Scheduling Coordinator and Professional Interpreter
Madison Manley graduated with honors from Troy University’s Interpreting Training Program. She spent five years immersed in D/deaf culture, learning to be an effective ally and working under the standards of the Code of Professional Conduct developed by the National Association of the D/deaf and the Registry of Interpreters for the D/deaf. She joined DeafConnect as scheduling coordinator and interpreter in the summer of 2019 and continues to serve the D/deaf and hard of hearing community through interpreting, advocating and allyship.
Natasha Parks is mom to two beautiful daughters, an eighth grader and a ninth grader who has autism. As of July 1, 2020, Parks is also CEO for DeafConnect. As Parks was helping her daughter learn to read, she devised a system to help her young student better understand what she was reading. The system Parks developed landed her a yearlong fellowship and a grant with 4.0 Schools to create a reading program using visual images and representations of stories for children with different abilities. She has a heart for empowering different abilities and sees non-verbal communication as an important tool. She is learning American Sign Language, teaching ASL to her family and developing an understanding of D/deaf culture. Parks is a business and accounting professional with extensive experience in nonprofit organizational structures. She earned her Bachelor’s of Business Administration from the University of Memphis.
DeafConnect’s newest director, Steve Pike, is an accomplished not-for-profit and public sector executive. His desire to serve the D/deaf community comes from seeing the effects of his father's hearing loss late in life and his own partial loss of hearing the last few years. For 17 years he led the Pink Palace Family of Museums, one of the largest groups of cultural attractions in the Southeastern U.S., including natural and cultural history museums, temporary exhibits, three historic houses, an education complex, a planetarium, a giant-screen theater, a nature center and a paleo research site. Previously he was executive director of the Virginia State Museum of Natural History. He has also served in leadership roles with the Smithsonian Institution, the American Alliance of Museums, the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the American Association for the Advancement of Science. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Marian University and pursued graduate studies at Temple University.
Vice President and Secretary of the Board of Directors
Dawn Wilson is vice president and secretary of the board for DeafConnect. She has more than 35 years of experience in transportation operations, customer service and employee support. She is chief executive officer of Big Ass Freight and also served as CEO of Alan and Sons LLC. During her time as director of finance and office manager for DeafConnect, she conceived and improved the systems for accounting, filing and scheduling for professional interpreters. She earned her Associate of Applied Science Degree in business studies with an administrative office management concentration from Jackson State Community College.
DR. BEN COX, AU. D.
Dr. Ben Cox, Au. D., a licensed and certified audiologist, founded Memphis Hearing Aid and Audiological Services in 1984. Ben received his B.A. in psychology and his M.A. in audiology from the University of Memphis. He received his doctorate in audiology from the Arizona School of Health Sciences. He is the son of deaf parents (Ben and Evelyn Cox), and this has given him a
unique perspective in understanding the effects of hearing loss in everyday life. ASL is his first language, and he has used this language to interpret for deaf people in a variety of situations over the years. He has also taught ASL in local communities as well universities. Ben has also been able to study D/deaf culture in other countries on mission trips to the Dominican Republic, Costa Rica, the
Gaza Strip and Ecuador. Ben has been recognized by the Mid-South Council for the Hearing Impaired, the University of Memphis, and Lion’s Club International for his work with the hearing impaired. He is very active in the deaf/hearing-impaired ministry at Kirby Woods Baptist Church, where he serves as a deacon and teacher. Ben retired in April 2021 and joined the DeafConnect board in 2022.
MICHAEL O. HARRIS
Michael O. Harris is a U.S. Navy veteran and visionary community leader committed to creating equitable access to resources and opportunity for the betterment of our community. He is executive director for the Blight Authority of Memphis, a Tennessee Local Land Bank, that works to reduce blight and its symptoms that threaten the security, stability and growth of Memphis neighborhoods. Michael brings a wide range of experience and expertise to the DeafConnect board, including two decades of cross-functional experience in crisis and fundraising management and financial compliance, entertainment, management and nonprofit consulting. He was previously executive director of the Greater Whitehaven Economic Redevelopment Corp., where he increased the organization’s revenue by 1700%. Harris is involved with multiple organizations, including MBJ Top 40 Under 40, 100 Black Men of Memphis, BLDG Memphis, Community Informed Economic Development Policy Group Co-Chair, Greater Memphis Chamber Government Affairs Committee member, UpSkill901 Adult Champion, Rotary International - District 6800 Former Assistant Governor and the Academy for Youth Empowerment board. Harris is committed to his slogan, “Together, we will make a better Memphis,” by transforming blighted properties into economic opportunities. Harris is a native Memphian, and he and his family worship at St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church in Whitehaven.