Loving Memphis: An Open Letter

by Stephen M. Hackett

I have the coordinates to Memphis tattooed on my left forearm. I get asked about it almost everyday, and usually the response I get is goes something like this:

Why would you get that tattooed on your arm?

My answer is simple — I love Memphis. It’s a great city.

I’m not talking about the postcard platitudes that include sweet tea, BBQ and Elvis. Those type of niceties keep us distracted from the real issues.

I’m talking about the Memphis that I’ve come to know over the last few years that is excited about change. The Memphis that St. Jude, the Memphis Zoo, the Pink Palace and FedEx are proud to call home. The Memphis that gets together to help build skateparks, bike paths and community gardens. The Memphis that cheers when a corrupt mayor steps down. The Memphis that looks at our children’s futures with hope instead of despair. The Memphis that treasures Shelby Farms and wants to clean up playgrounds in Orange Mound.

Loving Memphis doesn’t mean ignoring its problems. Crime is high and our schools are bad. There’s corruption in both city and county governments that keeps them from doing any real work most days. We have an extremely high infant mortality rate and poverty is plaguing thousands. We have gangs who threaten our youths’ futures. Memphis is a malnourished, sick city.

Organizations like the Salvation Army (the people behind the Kroc Center), Memphis Union Missions, BRIDGES, the Greater Memphis Greenline, the Hope and Healing Center, the Children’s Museum of Memphis, Christ Community Health Services and countless others are already tackling issues and fixing problems.

But things won’t change — no matter how many great organizations we have — until citizens get mad and get things done. We need to be willing to get over our pride and our anger and go do something. We need to tell our leaders in City Hall what we want and fire them when they don’t deliver. We need to feed the homeless and stop fearing people who don’t look like us.

Most importantly, we need to get over the notion that Memphis’s problems are unique. Memphis’ problems aren’t that unlike problems other cities face, no matter how many people want Memphis to be different — and thus, hopeless.

So Memphians, I challenge you to find something in this city you can love and get behind. Make this city yours. If you can’t do that, if you can’t get past hating this city and the people in it, then step aside. We don’t need you or the negativity you spread. Memphis can’t take it anymore.

And those of us who love it here won’t take it anymore, either.