Sunday, May 10, 2015

Rebranding the City: Why Memphis is Home

I've written a couple of posts about Memphis and growing up in Memphis. There was an entire phase of my life when I was oblivious to Memphis' reputation. I was too young, but I was - and always have been - a byproduct of a Memphis upbringing. I was too busy Adventure Rivering and selling 25 cent lemonade at the Country Wood Garage Sale. I was busy having an awesome childhood.

So imagine my reaction when I started to hear the knocks on my city - whether it was too poor, too dangerous, too Black, too segregated, too under-educated - you name it. The more I chipped away at it, I found that the commentary came mostly from people who stood on the outside and dare not come in. There's nothing wrong with living in the suburbs. My family did it, but I had an extremely healthy exposure to the world west of East Parkway. It felt like, for so long, I kept hearing the negative aspects of Memphis. 


Then came a rebranding. You take the best qualities about the city and blast it on social media. You get blogs like Choose901 and I Love Memphis. You get lines out the door to buy gear with "Memphis', "901" or "Grizzlies" on it. The instinct now is to make a shirt about any little slogan that is so Memphis. ("Whoop that Trick", "Grindfather", "We Don't Bluff", "Wigsnatch", "Grizz v Errbody", etc.) What you don't see is any apologizing for the gritty character simply because you might not understand. As you can tell, a huge catalyst for the pro-Memphis movement is our beloved NBA team, the Memphis Grizzlies. Their success has created a huge platform and marketplace for the city. The shirts are a badge of honor. The team is a source of pride. And while the glories of a basketball team do not mask the realities of income gaps or a broken education system, it fosters a togetherness and sense of community that transcends those boundaries. That's important because the supposed differences start to seem silly and the togetherness seems to accomplish a lot more.

Lucas and I have made friends with our neighbors at the Grizz games. We have a high-five ritual that ripples down the rows, forwards and backwards. We tolerate each other's yelling. They also ask me how the wedding planning is going and what's new with work. After last night's win, our neighbor in the row in front of us gave us his BBQ Fest tent number and told us to stop by and say hello. On the surface, maybe it's just basketball. But look around! Whether it is at the Forum, a watch party, a friend's house, or the floor of the Tennessee Brewery, the Memphis community has united for a common mission - winning on the court and controlling the narrative about our city.

It's not a perfect town. There are real, deep issues we deal with here. But racial diversity is the solution, not the problem. There are commonalities beyond skin color, beyond neighborhood that make Memphis unique. We may do some infighting, but we will work it out. If someone from the outside dares to judge, you'll look at a city that is fiercely loyal to each other. 

I chose to stay in Memphis for a couple of reasons - roots, family, familiarity - sure. But I noticed quickly that running from the issues to different counties just made the problems worse. Stick around. Look at what pops up - a new Binghampton neighborhood, a purpose for the Pyramid, a giant Hotel Chisca, a giant Crosstown project, a movie theatre and grocery store on South Main, a repurposed building for a brewery that was doomed to fail and succeeded. Continue to complain if you wish. That's your right. I am choosing to be a part of the winning team. I'm not sure if I chose 901 or 901 chose me, but at this point, I am not so sure it matters.

Go Grizz! 

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