VOL. 126 | NO. 220 | Thursday, November 10, 2011
City’s Story Recounted in ‘Memphis 101’
By Aisling Maki
A cross-section of native Memphians and Memphians by choice spent the afternoon of Tuesday, Nov. 9, exploring the stories that shaped the city during “Memphis 101,” a free, public event held biannually at the Benjamin L. Hooks Central Library.
It was hosted by Leadership Academy, a nonprofit organization that works to recruit, cultivate and engage diverse talent for the betterment of the Memphis community.
The makeup of Tuesday’s audience reflected that of participants – 50 percent native Memphians and 50 percent transplants – in the organization’s fellows program, which provides emerging leaders with the tools, experiences and connections needed to become agents of change and champions for Memphis.
Developed by Memphis-based advertising and marketing firm archer-malmo and licensed exclusively to The Leadership Academy, Memphis 101 shares the stories of the people and movements that transformed Memphis from its 1818 establishment by James Winchester, John Overton and Andrew Jackson.
The presentation has been delivered to employees at a number of companies and academic institutions, including Southern College of Optometry, The ServiceMaster Co. and Regions Bank.
“They want to make sure their managers have a really good feeling about Memphis; that’s the point – to instill pride and appreciation for our city,” said Rashanna Lincoln, director of community engagement at Leadership Academy.
Memphis native and real estate agent Lee Pfund said he attended Tuesday’s event because he “wants to get engaged more in the Memphis community and learn more about the city. Working at Keller Williams Realty, we need to know more about our city and promote how awesome and diverse it is and what we’ve got to look forward to.”
The presentation, which included interactive discussions, slideshows and videos, is designed to impart a fresh perspective on the city’s personality, whether audience members are new in town or have lived here all of their lives.
“Memphis is just like anywhere else, except that it’s completely different,” presenter James Armfield, former Leadership Academy training director and current president of nonprofit Memphis Athletic Ministries, told the audience before delving into the rich complexities that make the city unique.
Over the course of two hours, a lively and engaging Armfield covered everything from the 1878 yellow fever epidemic to the age of political powerhouse E.H. “Boss” Crump to the birth of rock ‘n’ roll and the civil rights movement.
The presentation also covered the city’s place as a hub of vision and innovation, including the establishment of the first full-service grocery at 79 Jefferson Ave. with Clarence Saunders’ Piggly Wiggly to Danny Thomas’ promise that no sick child from anywhere in the world be turned away because of inability to pay at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.
Memphis 101 touched on a cast of characters – everyone from first black Southern millionaire Robert Church and river rescuer Tom Lee to Memphis wrestling icon Jerry Lawler, from the self-professed alien Prince Mongo to first black city and county mayors Willie Herenton and A C Wharton Jr.
A short film focused on Memphis music featured interviews with the likes of as Al Green, B.B. King, Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, Sam Phillips, Steve Cropper, George Klein and Jerry Lee Lewis.
It delved into the rich musical country, blues and gospel heritage that emerged from the experiences of poor rural black and whites who left their small towns in search of new opportunity in the big city – bringing with them the spark of rock ‘n’ roll and the inspiration for the sound of Elvis Presley.
Another short film focused on the 1968 sanitation workers strike that brought Martin Luther King Jr. to town, where he was shot on April 4 – his assassination told in uniquely moving detail by civil rights leader the Rev. Billy Kyles.
The whirlwind journey left the audience to focus on the city’s present and future.
From its reputation as a growing biotechnology hub and leader in medical devices, to the heartbeat of its bustling Downtown and global future as an aerotroplis, Memphis, Armfield said, is shedding its inferiority complex in favor of a reputation as a multi-cultural, funky, authentic river city, steeped in a rich heritage and focused on a bright future.