Wed04162014

Opinion

Falling in love with Memphis: A flood, a team and a school

A flood, a basketball team’s improbable journey through the NBA playoffs and an inner-city school’s gritty determination to create a new view of itself is fueling a move by Memphians to fall in love with their city.
 
 Brian Clay

In 1937, the city of Memphis flooded.

In 2001, the Grizzlies National Basketball Association franchise checked out of Vancouver and checked into Memphis.

In the spring of 2011, Barack Obama – the President of the United States and the unofficial “Leader of the Free World” – decided to deliver the commencement address at the first public high school to educate African Americans in Memphis.

Maybe some great mathematician is able to look at these dates and come up with some reason why these timelines have intersected in Memphis in May 2011. All I know is that a flood, a basketball team’s improbable journey through the NBA playoffs and an inner-city school’s gritty determination to create a new view of itself (and perform at that level) is fueling a move by Memphians to fall in love with their city.

For some it’s a first-time romance, and for others it’s more like a renewal of vows.

The flood of 1937 remains the worst recorded in this region. During that time, people all over the Mid-South were forced from their homes. Partly due to the influence of “Boss” E. H. Crump, the federal government allocated $9 million for flood control at Memphis. My grandparents relocated from Eastern Arkansas to the Hyde Park community after the floodwaters engulfed their home.

Ironically during the great flood of 2011, that same area right off Chelsea was forced to close floodgates erected in 1937 because that area was in danger of flooding. And in the Harbor Town and Mud Island communities, people have had to evacuate to higher ground. In surrounding areas of Arkansas, the White River, a tributary of the Mississippi River, has forced the highway going toward Brinkley to be shutdown. In Mississippi, the famed Tunica casinos have been silenced.

However, in each of these areas and beyond, we are seeing the spirit of strength rise up in people, whether affected directly or indirectly. A fitting caption for the evolving picture is “Love Lives.”

Because “Love Lives,” people in communities such as Frayser and Raleigh are heroically braving an abundance of water, hoping the floods do not over take their precious valuables.

With the knowledge that “Love Lives,” people all over the Mid-South are volunteering and providing assistance to those impacted by the horrific floods. The faith-based community is providing needed shelter. Politicians are working together on plans to provide relief.

As people respond lovingly to this monumental act of nature, the Memphis Grizzlies have been playing NBA playoff basketball like naturals, capturing community imagination and triggering strangers to share their love for players, the team and the city’s embrace.

Born in the face of skeptism, opposition and division, the Memphis franchise has morphed into a symbol of unity.

And now comes news that President Obama, the 21st century’s symbol of hope, will step foot into South Memphis, delivering the commencement at BTW on Monday (May 16).

Long before BTW emerged as a possible presidential site visit, a renewed sense of love and can-do spirit had taken root in an institution filled with history and legacy. Academic success there speaks to this truth. U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said of BTW and education in Memphis, “Memphis is poised to go the next level…I am just so hopeful that change can happen here.”

So, whoop, there it is – a set of circumstances on the surface seemingly unrelated, yet in reality a set of magnets drawing us together.

Love Lives in Memphis.

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