Growing up in Clarksville, TN, an ex-urb of Nashville all I ever really heard about Memphis growing up was that it was dirty, poor, crime-ridden, and filled with "them" (i.e. black people). There's a running "joke" that Tennessee should sell Memphis to Arkansas or Mississippi (a ludicrous idea which if feasable would actually remove a huge chunk of TN's economy, history, and culture). I'm not bashing middle Tennessee here, I was born and raised in middle Tennessee and I love it.
The negativity Memphis drew was strange to me because my family has strong connections to Memphis, my dad's siblings and his aunt live here, and my experiences in Memphis had been overwhelmingly positive. When I was younger I would often spend a week or two in Memphis during the summertime, staying with my Aunt Karen and taking swimming lessons from my Aunt Michele. I loved Memphis. Memphis was a great place to be a kid; there was the pink palace, the zoo, big parks and great food (all stuff Clarksville lacked).
Then in high school I spent a month at the University of Memphis for the Tennessee Governor's School for International Studies. We visited the National Civil Rights Museum, the South Main Arts District, Beale Street, and of course the Zoo (they had just received two pandas from China). I even met one of Ghandi's grandsons who was in town for the annual Ghandi-King Conference on Peacemaking. That summer I really fell in love with Memphis.
When it came time apply for college I applied to both Rhodes College and the University of Memphis. Although I ended up attending Pepperdine, when it came time for me to apply to law school the U. of M. was honestly my first choice.
So yes, I love Memphis, and the Forbes post hit home. So when IloveMemphis mentioned Mayor Wharton's letter for Forbes today, I was estatic.
I encourage you to read it. But here's the heart of the letter:
Memphis is not a miserable city, not by any definition, not by any metric....
Memphis is a city of joy. You can hear it coming up from our high school gymnasiums and football fields every Friday evening. You can hear it rocking on Beale Street late every Saturday night. You can hear it in our churches every Sunday morning....
Memphis is a city of resilience. Floods, fire, pestilence, and poverty may have tested us, but they have never broken us. We are a city built on a bluff, positioned to withstand storms that other cities cannot. If the rates of unemployment, high school drop outs, and crime are to be our new battlegrounds, then we will join those fights, and we will prevail. For all of the problems you might show me, I can point to a legion of government agencies, non-profit organizations, churches, volunteer groups, and grassroots activists working together as one Memphis to find the solutions.
Maybe it’s something in our water. Maybe it’s something in our soil. I think it’s something in our souls that makes us Memphians. We know who we are – and miserable is not part of the definition.
We know too that our city’s song is not complete. It is being written every day, and it is sung by a chorus of hopeful, energetic voices that will resonate for generations.