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Kandace Thomas

Kandace Thomas

Kandace Thomas, MPP, PhD, is the inaugural Executive Director of First 8 Memphis, Memphis and Shelby County, Tennessee’s early childhood systems building organization.

Contributions to the Field

Kandace Thomas is a change maker and leader in infant and early childhood mental health, diversity-informed practice and mindfulness. Kandace has been committed to systems change for her entire career, knowing that the system is comprised of all of us individuals and we change by learning, doing and being.

Currently, Kandace is the Executive Director of First 8 Memphis, working to build Memphis and Shelby County Tennessee’s high-quality, equitable early care and education system. As the inaugural Executive Director, Kandace is building a $17 million start-up to implement the community’s early childhood plan ensuring quality, access and alignment across early childhood programs and systems that serves more than 100,000 children. Prior to her work at First 8 Memphis, Kandace was a Senior Program Officer at the Irving Harris Foundation where she worked with organizations integrating infant and early childhood mental health, trauma-informed and early childhood development best practices into systems serving young children and their families. Kandace led the creation of the Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work With Infants, Children and Families, a framework and approach to help organizations and systems integrate a diversity, equity and inclusion principles into their work. Kandace is a known speaker, facilitator and trainer.

Kandace has research, policy and practice interests in contemplative self-care, intergenerational trauma and healing, building power to influence public policy and diversity-informed practice. Kandace received her doctorate from Erikson Institute/Loyola University Chicago, Master of Public Policy at the Harris School of Public Policy Studies at The University of Chicago and her bachelor’s degree from Wesleyan University.

Kandace crochets, meditates and is a Brazilian jiu jitsu white belt.


  • Diversity-Informed Tenets for Work with Infants, Children and Families, Advisory Council member and Immediate Past Chair
  • Early Success Coalition Core Leadership, Member

Recent Recognitions/Awards

  • Mosaic Changemakers Fellowship South, 2023 – 2024
  • Strive Network Accelerating Outcomes Cohort, 2023
  • Leadership Memphis, 2022