You’ve heard the reasons to avoid Memphis: the crime, the violence, the oppressive summer heat. Yep. I’m not going to lie; this place can be tough. But many of us choose to be here (even though we do schedule our vacations in July).
Why am I here? Here are ten reasons.
- Memphis is a city with a mission. That’s why Andrea and I are here. We believe our lives are about joining God’s mission in the world. Yes, we’ve seen the views from other places: gorgeous La Jolla and frenzied SoHo. I’m sure they’re great, and that people can minister there. But Memphis is different and the need here is obvious. Nobody moves here for their retirement; they come to make it better. It’s not Scottsdale or Asheville. Let’s get to work.
- Memphis is a place of faith. Marc Cohn visited and said “You’ve got a prayer in Memphis.” Some days you need it. We came to Memphis so I could go to seminary. There are others just like me. We love being in a place that tackles the problems facing the city and addresses them with the heart of Jesus. Studies have shown that Memphis has one of the strongest cultures of giving, philanthropy (like St. Jude), and taking care of others. This place makes a person reevaluate what matters.
- Memphis is historic. A walk around town tells the story of America’s past 150 years. From slavery to Jim Crow, trolleys to FedEx planes, Tom Lee’s heroics on the Mississippi River to sanitation worker protests in the streets, the city’s tales could fill chapters of the history books. In fact, they do. Just ask the locals like Ida B. Wells, Shelby Foote, Hampton Sides, and John Grisham, who have documented that story so well.
- Memphis is real.You can’t be aloof. Super rich, super poor. Black, White, Latino, Asian. Urbanites who came here for work; rural folks who watched the city grow up around them. Liberal. Conservative. Really Conservative. Memphis is packed with ordinary people who go to work, love their families, save up to go to the beach, and get home in time to watch The Voice. It’s not Beverly Hills or the hills. Many places can be pretentious. The zip codes 38_ _ _ are not among them.
- Memphis is the largest small town in the country. Seriously. People cannot go to a show at the Orpheum or a concert at the Forum and not see someone they know. Low cost of living, relatively light traffic, and being a few years behind the coastal cities distinguish Memphis. Atlanta is crowded. Dallas is huge. Nashville is a place. Memphis is different.
- Memphis is delicious. Everyone knows about the dry rub barbecue, but don’t sleep on the birria tacos, spicy fried chicken, styrofoam General Tso’s in Parkway Village, honey gold wings, and the best Chinese restaurant where everybody orders the submarine sandwiches. And I challenge any city on any continent to match Gibson’s Donuts (fritter, anyone?).
- Memphis is Ja. If there is one NBA player in 2023 who is worth ponying up for courtside seats, it’s #12.
- Memphis is terribly imperfect. Yep, there is high crime, violence, and injustice. Our schools struggle and our health outcomes are terrible. Division has plagued local government and many neighborhoods feel forgotten. Autumn has about four days of Fall. Then there is the inexplicable train that runs through East Memphis and the lack of direct flights. And why is it Mendenhall, then Mt. Moriah, then Mendenhall, and then two different streets? The power goes out a lot. And can we get a waterpark?
- Memphis is opportunity. People are staying and coming to make a difference. While they’re here, we need more local ice cream, pizza, healthy food, and locally-roasted coffee shops. More bike lanes and parks, too. Let’s improve the public transit and art museum while we’re at it.
- Memphis is people. Stay here and you get to know everyone. People are genuinely kind, sensitive, and proud. They hurt when their city is on the national news and grieve when bad things happen across town. We’ve made our best friends here. You might, too.