This morning on our way back from Alabama, we stopped in at the little church I went to as a child. There were only about 50 people in attendance, although I remember it being a congregation of 200 or so when we lived in the community. I didn’t recognize anyone, but people who had known our family when I was 5 to 10 years old greeted us so kindly. Truth is, they were just as kind before we introduced ourselves and made the connection. After the service and before we left, an older man went to his truck and brought a small item back in his hand. “I always like to give something to visitors,” he said, holding it out to me. “I make things out of cans and golf balls, but all I have with me today is this little dog. You may not want it…” Oh, my. How could I not receive it with joy? His gesture was one of the sweetest, most beautiful things I’ve experienced in a while. He offered this simple gift from his hands and his heart, making two strangers he may never see again feel very welcomed indeed.

Sam I Am


I’ve been pretty busy with Connecting Memphis and with little Sam :-)


What an honor that LeBonheur Children’s Hospital reposted (on their FB page) the interview with Brendan from Connecting Memphis!


Lift Every Voice


Monday was the MLK Jr. holiday, and I went downtown to the Civil Rights Museum. It was a beautiful day, warmish, sunny, and lots of people were out. I ran across two students I had in class last year and was able to do a number of interviews with people of all ages. All in all, a good day. I haven’t been inside the Museum since the recent renovations, but I plan to before long. Next month, February, the theme for our Words3 Reading at Holy Communion will be “Lift Every Voice.” I’m not sure how I’ll approach that one, but I may do some interviews of people who have been around for a while, recall the days before the Civil Rights Movement, and can speak about the changes that brought about. The older people in Memphis, like older people everywhere, are living libraries.

Christmas Eve

It’s Christmas Eve in Memphis. Cold, wet, and bleak.

But there is hope. The following piece was written by my friend Terry Sanford Smith and posted on his FB page today:

The littlest child
Hidden in a manger still
I sing “Silent Night”

The light of the world
Coming down to bring real joy
Unending love given all
Who will believe it
Historically certain
It is verifiable

Please consider this story
Don’t take others’ word for it
Religious or atheist
You can decide this

Consider all things
Get all the information
Respect your judgment
Listen to your broken heart
Listen to the heart of God

I’m given a mind
A heart, soul and a body
Time to consider
What is true – what is not true
I have chosen to believe

The littlest child
Hidden in a manger
Was the Son of God
I am alive to live it
I am free to share the joy

Death has no power
I have chosen where to stand
A resurrection
Has taken place in my soul
Both now and forever more

Marco Pave

Although I posted this piece on the Connecting Memphis website and FB page, I’m posting it again here. Marco and I spent some time in conversation yesterday, and he really helped me understand some things in a way I hadn’t before.


“People hear the lyrics in rap music and automatically get turned off, but systemic racism and inequality are more vulgar than any language in my songs. As an artist, I’m responding to what I’ve seen growing up in north Memphis; the lyrics reflect what’s actually happening. If we’re not aware of the vulgarity out here, we can’t address it. Yeah, I could do Kumbaya songs about blacks and whites all together and make people feel good, but that’s not the reality. Those kinds of lyrics shelter people and lie to them. They make people feel like there is no racism in the world. If you’re offended by what you hear in rap songs, then work to change things.

“You say you care about the city? Then get out in the neighborhoods and talk to people. Don’t just go in and pick up trash or paint a mural. That doesn’t change what’s underneath. Don’t just take field trips and go back feeling like you’ve really done something. Listen to people, ask them what they need, get their input. Partner with them and help them get connected to resources. Empower them. Ask them: ‘What do you want and how can we accomplish it together?’

“When those with power and resources talk about helping the city, they don’t ask community members for input, so they’re not invested in what’s being done. They buy up buildings and open coffee shops and boutiques, but those are not for the neighborhood. The people who live here don’t even know about them. They’re here so white people can feel comfortable coming to this area, but white people can’t float these newly gentrified businesses forever. They can’t sustain them. The neighborhood needs to have input into what’s being done.

“People living here don’t have the resources or the ability to get the resources to make their dreams come true. A kid in Silicon Valley has an idea for an app and has access to all the funding and help he needs, but a kid here with the same idea has no way to make it happen. That’s why kids give up, get angry, and then take it on other people. We need to connect people with resources and figure out ways to work together.

“I want to encourage kids to hold onto their dreams. That’s why I’m mentoring at East High School where I graduated. And that’s why I created the ‘Books on Beale’ benefit concert: we donated 500 books to a community library and raised $20,000 for literacy the first year we did it. I want to give back to my neighborhood. Yes, my career is coming along well, but volunteering and helping out my community are more important to me than a paycheck.”


Website for Marco Pave, Hip-Hop/Rap Artist: http://marcopave.com
FB: http://www.facebook.com/Kingofmarco
SoundCloud: https://soundcloud.com/marcopaveosp
Tumblr: http://kingofmarco.tumblr.com
YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/channel/UCI2IkSCYkjTusPmX9oUjtsw
There’s an interesting interview with Marco on the ilovememphis blog.
Excellent interview with Duke University students: http://readcontra.com/2014/11/rap-as-a-community-tool-marco-pave-speaks/



I spent a couple of hours earlier this week walking the neighborhood around Foote Homes (near Vance & Lauderdale, up the street from Booker T. Washington High School). I met a number of people and did several interviews for Connecting Memphis, but the man whose words impacted me most was not willing to have his photo made, so we just talked. He identified himself as an O.G.  ‘What is an O.G.?’ I asked him.  ‘Original Gangster,’ was his reply.

He’s lived in Foote Homes since the 70’s, and he talked at length about the cycle of despair: poverty, inadequate education, kids not having anywhere to go, gang activity, drug-dealing, not having enough to take care of one’s family, unemployment, petty crimes, incarceration, pay-offs within the legal system, single parent homes, the entwinement of wealth and political leadership, having no future. There was so much pain in his eyes. He wasn’t looking for a handout. He was desperate for hope. Not only for himself, but for the young kids in his neighborhood who are coming along behind him.

An older woman, Vickie, joined us after a few minutes, and O.G. left to get something from the corner store. While he was gone, she told me that O.G. had “grown up nice”, but that he hadn’t done so well since his mother passed away a couple of years ago, that he was just lost. She offered to walk me to my car, and I accepted.  A few moments later, O.G. came back across the street and walked through the housing project with us.  When we got to my car, the three of us talked for another minute or two.  I hugged Vickie and said to O.G.: “You know, you’re lucky to have someone in your life who cares so much about you. I can tell she really does.” O.G. held out his arms and I hugged him too. Vickie told me to ask around for her the next time I was there. I will.

God must cry himself to sleep every night.


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