I was recently asked by a popular Memphis blogger to answer this question for a list-y kind of post with answers from lots of different people: "What Memphis/Shelby County change has meant the most to you in the last few years?"
Hmmm. I had to think really hard, which I hate doing because I am old and already suffering from information overload because social media, smart phones, iPads, and the internet have driven me to the brink of insanity — not that it was too far of a drive.
"What Memphis/Shelby County change has meant the most to you in the last few years?"
Well, my answer was the renaming of Jefferson Davis Park, Confederate Park, and Nathan Bedford Forrest Park. Yes, I was as elated when that happened, if for no other reason than I knew how much it would piss off those who were against it. I'm so sick of people celebrating the Civil War. I hope I never hear another word about it again.
But there are a lot of other things that have changed in the last few years in Memphis that are worth noting and that mean a lot to me. One is this whole new culture of young Memphians doing all sorts of things to make the city a better place. It's hard to define, but there is this entire new sort of subculture of passionate and smart young people in all sorts of new organizations trying to make life better here for everyone, both in the for-profit and nonprofit sectors. And I don't think the general public, especially those who live in the suburbs, knows much about it.
Recently, I've had the pleasure of working with some of these people who've been nice enough to allow ol' grandpa here to participate. One is an organization called the Bridge, which publishes a newspaper written by and about and sold by homeless individuals in Memphis with the goal of their making enough income to get into permanent housing. Members of the group volunteer their time recruiting homeless "vendors" and training them to sell the papers at various locations. And who is doing this? A group of Rhodes College students. On top of their school workload.
They have a remarkable business plan and they are seeing success. It is currently outselling the largest of such papers, The Contributor in Nashville. You can check out thememphisbridge.com and see what it's all about. And if you see someone selling it, buy a copy. It's only a buck per issue unless you want to pay more to help support the homeless in this project.
I've also been working with the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team on a project called MEMFix. It entails taking a city block in Memphis that needs an infusion of life and transforming it for a day to show what it could be if new businesses were to locate there. They've done MEMFix projects on Cleveland Street, Broad Avenue, and some other locations and we are now working on SOUTH MEMFix, which will take place at the corner of Mississippi Boulevard and Walker Street, home to the famous Fourway Restaurant.
You wouldn't believe how much work these young people are putting into this. They firmly believe that the very important but seen-better-days corner can come back to life and be a destination for more than just the incredible soul food at the Fourway. It's amazing to me how much they really do care. Come out on Saturday, October 12th, from noon to 6 p.m. and see for yourselves.
Have you heard of the New Memphis Institute? I'm just finding out more about this relatively new organization that promotes Memphis like crazy and teaches others how to promote the city. They have a massive network of organizations with whom they work to help attract and retain talented people in Memphis, and they teach people how to talk about all the great things in Memphis. So check out newmemphis.org. There's also an organization called Choose 901. They do similar work in promoting the city by helping people find jobs, get registered to vote, find pet-friendly places, find locally grown food, get utilities turned on, navigate public transportation, and more. As their website states, "We want to show you what makes Memphis awesome." So check out choose901.com and see what it's all about.
There are lots and lots more, way too many to go into here. And most of the groups are going far and beyond just pie-in-the-sky, do-good kinds of things. All of this involves budgets, city development, analysis, unending amounts of meetings, debating what can be sustained for the long run, what areas of the city need the most help based on real data, and more.
I hate to sound like a cheerleader, but all of these efforts are making noticeable changes in Memphis, and it's enough to make us old folks really proud.