First of all, thanks to all of those who came out for the SOUTH MEMFix event this past Saturday at the corner of Mississippi Boulevard and Walker Street. Despite the midday rain, which later gave way to beautiful blue skies, the event proved that people could come together and make things work. Black, white, young, old, gay, straight — it didn't matter. People from all walks of life came out to see the vision of what that iconic intersection could once again become — alive with retail businesses, pedestrian traffic, artists, live music, and other new life.
It was downright utopian. Even some of the police officers were dancing. There was a hot tamale wagon with the Delta delicacies steaming away in crock pots. There was an art gallery. There was the Green Machine, a bus that services food-desert neighborhoods with fresh produce. There was jazz, hip-hop, hard rock, and soul music. There were neighborhood folks, politicians, community activists, and leaders. There were actors and actresses. There were street banners and fire trucks and barbecue and catfish and on and on and on. But mainly it was the people who made it so much fun and so successful — people with no agenda other than to try to make Memphis better.
Now juxtapose that with the petty, partisan civil war going on in Washington, D.C., between those for universal health care and the Tea Party diehards who, in the "name of God," care more about their perverse personal agendas than they care about whether people are able to eat and educate their children.
I have purposely tried to pay as little attention to that as possible, even though the shutdown and now the looming default pose threats of whatever kind of potential chaos might happen if Ted Cruz and his ilk don't pull their heads out of their butts and work things out with those across the aisle. It's just too much and too frustrating.
But leaving the SOUTH MEMFix event Saturday and watching a couple of minutes of news about Washington gave me mixed feelings — kind of like I wanted to laugh, cry, throw up, and keep my head high (no, not that kind of high!) because if one small community and some hard-working volunteers could make something really wonderful happen, why can't these religious zealots stop hating Barack Obama long enough to get something done?
Oh, I know it sounds very naive and the comparison is a real stretch, and maybe the tamales had gone to my head, but it really did strike me as odd and ironic and reminded me that sometimes it takes real grass roots to make anything meaningful happen. That's one of the reasons I love Newark mayor and Senate hopeful Cory Booker so much. He gets that. And I hope he is president one day.
But back to MEMFix. This is a program of the Mayor's Innovation Delivery Team, which is funded by the Bloomberg Foundation. There have been a couple of previous such events but I missed them. I won't miss another one. It is now a model that other communities and organizations in Memphis can use to do their own things. And I hope others in Memphis take advantage of it. I know it's meant to be more of an economic growth tool than a festival or block party, but SOUTH MEMFix definitely had the feel of all of the above. If that could happen every Saturday at different locations around the city and start attracting huge crowds, it would be such a success story for Memphis. And every community in Memphis has a story, some history that is worth noting and celebrating. Similar events have taken place on Cleveland Street in the Crosstown neighborhood and on Broad Avenue in the Binghampton neighborhood. Both had great success and resulted in new, permanent improvements to the streets and well as new businesses moving in to stay. Truth be told, it is much like what the Cooper-Young Festival did for the Cooper-Young neighborhood.
I'm thinking now about blocks on Danny Thomas Boulevard in North Memphis leading from downtown and Uptown into Frayser, where my family lived when I was born and where my grandparents lived for decades. I'm thinking about areas in Whitehaven, where my family lived when I was in elementary school. About Bellevue between Soulsville, USA, and farther south toward Graceland, where there is so much potential and so much character. The goal isn't to take away that character and replace it with big-box stores; it's to celebrate that history and character for what it is and breathe some new life into it. Drive down Madison in Midtown, take a look at the blocks where it intersects with Cleveland, and tell me that area couldn't be the next cool place to be.
In Memphis, it's all about authenticity. No, we are not Atlanta or Nashville or Dallas and thank goodness for that. People from all over the world come to Memphis because it has soul and feeling and guts and we don't need any glitzy skyscrapers to make us better. We just need to take what we have and be proud of it.