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On Holding Sorrow and Joy

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

A Reflection from a Memphis Outsider BY ARI WARMFLASH

I started writing this six different ways. What could I possibly say about Memphis amidst the national

conversation right now? But I thought that maybe I could contribute in the same way I invite people to all over the country to contribute - not to speak to the entire story, but just as I see it from my perspective, in whatever way it comes out.

I wrote another post as a Memphis update. It’s about the incredible day we had at the National Civil Rights Museum at the Lorraine Motel on MLK Day. It really was a special day, and in a lot of ways it helps inform this post… this second post. But it’s not what I wanted to share first. You can still read it here if you are interested in a feel-good account of a special day surrounded by some spectacular people of Memphis. That was a really rewarding day. But the thing about rewarding days is that they always have context. We celebrated a momentous life in the shadow of a memorial to a civil rights hero and also an atrocious murder.

And that’s really where this second blog post comes in. To hold space for the other feelings that surround the violence of the civil rights movement. The ways it continues to be enacted in the streets of America - specifically in the streets of Memphis. On the corner of Bear Creek & Castlegate, where a young man named Tyre Nicols was murdered for a fake traffic violation and the anger of a nation built on anti-Black racism. And while there is fierce and justifiable anger in response to the media that surrounds this piece of news, there is also deep and mournful sorrow.

Tyre Nichols was an artist. Looking at his photography I was struck by the chance I had to see the world through his lens. And his world, the one he built for himself and chose to share with us - was beautiful. Full of color and light and an appreciation for the beauty that existed around him, in his own backyard. And that is the image I’m choosing to attach to this moment.

photo taken by Tyre Nichols

I have met more than a few Memphians who worry that when an outsider thinks of their city all they see is violence, crime and poverty. There is a collective fear about the way Memphis will be perceived, when it is a place that is so near and dear to so many. No one wants their hometown to be misunderstood. With the eyes of the world on the city even more now, it feels as though Memphis is under a microscope.

So what can I do? As an outsider who has been granted temporary insider access through my work, I can tell the world what I see in Memphis, and add it to the narrative.

In Memphis I see a place that has been knocked down relentlessly but refuses to stay down.

I see talent bursting from the seams in venues around the city.

I see a camaraderie in a community that feels like family, and a legacy of birthing royalty.

I see a place that knows how to hold sorrow and joy, from a history that required it to learn. How else could Memphis have been the birthplace of soul?

Memphis is a beacon for the people who live there. An enduring testament to what a tight knit group of people taking care of each other can achieve - through music, or sports, or healthcare, or education, or rock climbing walls. I see no limit to the capacity of what Memphis can achieve through its own determination, even with limited resources and lack of national recognition. I feel lucky to have a relationship with this city and to learn from her, the delicate art of holding sorrow and joy.

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