Thursday, November 10, 2011

Because I Said So: Big, beautiful Memphis has vibrant past, bright future

When was it we all stopped taking Memphis for granted and started appreciating what and who we are? (I'm saying "we all" and ignoring those who don't share this view because I don't have the time or inclination to try and change their minds.) Was it while driving along Riverside Drive with the Mississippi River to the left and the iconic M in the distance? Was the change of mind backed by Booker T. & the M.G.'s? Did it come with the rapid idea sharing via social networks? Maybe it was served with a side of barbecue.

Whatever the impetus for this change of heart and broader view, it had to have happened on a Fall day, perhaps while in Overton Park or staring into the rushing water and rushing color of the Wolf River like in the photo above.

Memphis is known for a lot of things - blues, soul and rock-n-roll; medicine, shipping, markets and motels. Are we known for the Fall reds, oranges and yellows? Or the greens of Spring? We should be. Is that greedy? Do we have to have all the good music, all the innovators of business, and more than our share of authors and philanthropists?

It does seem greedy, but so be it. They're ours and we should be proud of them.

Most of these folks are in a book, too, for easy reference and with fascinating bits of information about each. The book is called Memphians (Nautilus Publishing) and it is being launched into the world today. I wrote a few of the bios for the book and filled an entire "Because I Said So" column in today's The Commercial Appeal with glowing praise for the book and Memphis itself.

Please pardon the gratuitous marketing, but I am a Memphian and showing off is what we should be doing.

Big, beautiful Memphis has vibrant past, bright future

I am a Memphian. I was born here and raised with the identity crisis and low self-esteem that have mired our city for so long. Adults I looked up to put down the city and seemed to ache to live someplace else, anyplace else. It's been a difficult mental cycle to break, but I have for my kids and because, despite what Forbes Magazine and some other national publications print, we are a city moving forward with a past vastly more interesting than most cities.
This is the pride I want my children to grow up knowing.

To that end, I'll be at Burke's Book Store with my kids this evening for the launch of "Memphians" (Nautilus Publishing), a coffee-table book that highlights the well-known, and lesser-known, great personalities of our city. Along with several other local writers and editors, I am a contributor to the book, and was asked to research and write bios of authors, surgeons, attorneys, peddlers, musicians and entrepreneurs.
Characters all of them.

The new book contradicts the negative asides and outright diatribes I heard as a child. At 250-pages, it's a big, beautiful book in full color because Memphis is a big, beautiful city with some of the most colorful personalities the world has ever known. Our little hamlet on the Mississippi has been called home by forward thinkers past -- Kemmons Wilson, Ida B. Wells, Estelle Axton, Lucius Burch; and present -- Charles McVean, Jackie Nichols, Gayle Rose and Micah Greenstein.

These are all people my kids need to know about, whether they choose to stay here in Memphis for college and career, or move away to become ambassadors for the city. They'll need to know about Stax and the Memphis sound, the role of Memphis in shipping and transportation, great strides made in medicine, the arts, business and sports. They'll need to know the good and the bad, the ugly and the truth.

A handful of our local innovators and visionaries, icons, musicians or actors would be bragging rights for any single city.

We have them all and in droves.

The history of our city and people that will be told by our kids is rooted in tales of commerce and conflict, philanthropy and film, and with the best soundtrack in the world. The characters will have names as iconic as Shelby Foote, E.H. Crump, William Eggleston and Jim Dickinson.

Perhaps one day our generation's children will be side by side with the likes of Sam Phillips or Danny Thomas in a similar book. Childhood cancer could be eradicated here, the next great technical advance might happen down the street, the legions of philanthropic organizations could become the benchmark for other cities or the latest sound may pour forth from Beale. And it may be our kids at the microscope, the piano, the helm.

These are heady, progressive days for Memphis, unlike any I was aware of as a child. This is not a bad place to raise children, it's not even a tolerable place; it's a good place for kids and becoming better all the time. There are leaders, activists and everyday people seeing to this. They're the kind of people who make a city great, the kind of people who could one day fill a book.

Richard J. Alley is the father of two boys and two girls. Read more from him at Become a fan of "Because I Said So" on Facebook:

© 2011 Memphis Commercial Appeal. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Join us for the launch of Memphians!

Thursday, Nov. 10
5:30 p.m.
Burke's Book Store
936 So. Cooper Street
(in the heart of Cooper-Young)