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VOL. 10 | NO. 35 | Saturday, August 26, 2017

9/01 in the 901

Lining up for the good of Memphis

By Patrick Lantrip

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What started as an esoteric online conversation five years ago has grown into a massive citywide event to celebrate all the best parts of the Bluff City.

Though only in its second official year, attendance is expected to be high for Exposure at 901 Day, a free event that will be held at AutoZone Park from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. on, you guessed it – Sept. 1.

“We welcome the entire city to come out and join us to celebrate all things Memphis,” Anna Mullins, New Memphis Institute’s vice president of communications and strategic initiatives, said. “We invite more than 150 organizations in Memphis to come out, so you’re going to find folks from the arts and culture community, to outdoor recreation organizations, to social and civic groups – all set up in one shop, so that people who come to Exposure can find various was to connect to life in Memphis.”

Mullins’ organization is spearheading the event along with title sponsor Independent Bank. Patrons will be able to access information and learn about everything from local opera, ballet, and symphony companies to roller derby and running groups.

“I Love Memphis” blogger and Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau new media content strategist Holly Whitfield said the concept of 901 Day first began surfacing about five years ago.

“While I'm sure people have long noticed that Sept.1, aka 9/01, coincides with our area code, locals Kerry Crawford and Jen Clarke started talking it up online around 2012,” Whitfield said. “901 Day was and is a simple, fantastic idea to help fight the negative perceptions of Memphis and increase civic pride.”

Just as the 901 area code isn’t limited to Downtown, Whitfield said she fully expect other groups and individuals to mark the day in their own way, like Choose 901’s all-day 901 Celebration at Railgarten in Midtown.

“In my work, I interact with people who have lived in Memphis all their lives, but are unaware of the amazing people, places and things to do here,” she said. “That's the value in an event like Exposure and also why we're calling it that – it exposes Memphians to our city's arts, culture, business, activities, entertainment, and more.”

Mullins said the format of the event stems from New Memphis Institute’s mission, which is to engage people who are new to the city and help get them acclimated in the hopes that they might eventually plant roots down here in the fertile Delta.

One way to do this was to create a one-stop-shop event where a recent transplant to Memphis could recreate their interests from back home with local organizations, whether it be volunteering for a dog rescue, joining a cycling group, or taking cooking classes.

“What we were starting to see as we hosted those events was that while half the people were new to the city, there were a lot of people coming who weren’t new to Memphis and were just looking for fresh ways to engage in Memphis life,” Mullins said.

So last year, New Memphis decided to open it up to the public, expand it, and put it in a bigger space. To keep the event free to the public, Independent Bank was bought on as the title sponsor.

“We’re happy to be a corporate sponsor in order to make sure the event is accessible to everyone in our community,” Independent co-founder Susan Stephenson said. “The opportunity to do anything that advances our collective prosperity is what our company is really all about.”

She said sponsoring an event like this is important because Memphis has such a great story to tell, not only to the rest of the world, but to each other.

“Sept. 1 is the perfect day and perfect time to put together an event that lets everyone in the city celebrate the good things that are going on in our community and create opportunities for people to connect to them,” Stephenson said. “That’s a good fit for what we do as a company at Independent Bank, because we believe that for all of us to thrive, our community has to come together.”

She believes it’s a great privilege to be part of the community she chose to start her company in nearly two decades ago.

“One of the best things about Memphis is that whatever you throw at us we find a way to meet the challenges we are faced with,” she said. “We’re resilient and we hope to reflect all of those good qualities in our community.”


One of the permeating themes of 901 Day, according to Mullins, is finding ways to actually act on your love for Memphis.

“It’s one thing to say ‘I love Memphis,’ but we want people to be active members of their communities and really engage in city life,” Mullins said. “Because that’s what makes for a healthy city and that’s what keeps people here.”

Which is why it’s important to have groups like Memphis 3.0, BLGD Memphis and others there to collect feedback and get a sense about what is important to people and what kind of Memphis they want to build, she said.

Since volunteerism is another big tenant of 901 Day, United Way of the Mid-South, whose mission is to be something of an aggregate for other nonprofit organizations, partnered with the event.

“We give funding to more than 93 other smaller to medium nonprofits,” United Way of the Mid-South’s chief communications and engagement officer Lori Spicer Robertson said. “And instead of us doing our own expo to showcase our United Way partners, we thought it was a good chance invite them to 901 Day to let the community know about all the services they offer and for people to sign up.”

Because a lot of the nonprofits United Way funds are smaller, Robertson said this event is chance to expose the work of their agency partners to a much larger audience.

“Last year, we thought it was such a great event with a good turnout and good footprint of people from all over the community, that we thought we should expand this and allow our agency partners to be there as well,” she said.

Robertson said the event is also a way for United Way to sign people up for their largest community service project of the year – Days of Caring, which is Sept. 11-15. In the past, that event was just for connecting United Way’s corporate partners to the work that United Way agencies do, and it only lasted a single day.

Exposure at 901 Day will also give Robertson’s organization an opportunity to expand its volunteer database, as many people attending will be looking for volunteer opportunities.

“The (database) system is driven through people’s interests and passions,” she said. “So anytime an opportunity comes up for you to be a part of one of your interests, it will send it directly to you.”

In addition to connecting and learning, there will be plenty of Memphis-centric entertainment going on as well, including the main event – the celebrity kickball game.

“Last year was a blast – it was a very silly, playful game,” Mullins said. “You’ll see everyone from Mayor (Jim) Strickland to (chef) Kelly English to (rapper) Al Kapone out on the field playing against one another.”

English, who owns Restaurant Iris, one of the premier upscale eateries in the city, described the kickball game as “fun chaos.”

“I participated last year and it was such a good time to get on the field at AutoZone Park and to be on a team with Jerry Lawyer,” English said. “It doesn’t get much better than that.

“When we were at bat one time, they tried to throw someone out, and I jumped in front of the pass, stole the ball and ran around the outfield until we scored,” he said. “So it’s a good, irreverent version of kickball.”

English said it was an honor to be included in such a diverse group of people who have prominent or important cultural roles in Memphis. Even if his team lost on the last play of the game.

“One of the good things about Memphis, in general, is that we don’t take ourselves too seriously, and that’s a giant plus to our community,” he said. “But I’m ready to win this year.”

When it comes right down to it, the event is ultimately about showcasing what Memphis is all about and where the city is going.

“I’m just really empowered by the partnerships that have come together to pull something like this off,” Mullins said. “Whether it’s somebody donating ad space, AutoZone Park lending us their incredible park, Independent Bank coming in as our title sponsor, or the kickball players coming in and giving up their afternoon – it really is a beautiful representation of how Memphis can come together to do something great.”

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