I learned how to ask why. I never stopped.
A prominent local businessman told me that it would be virtually impossible for me to find a job here. I was overqualified. My credentials were too shiny. My resume would end up in trash cans or the back of file cabinets.
He was right…it seems.
As I look back over the list of jobs I applied for and the people who currently fill them, I can see how I must have seemed like someone who would drop in for a moment and leave. I choose that interpretation of how things went over the more cynical, “They don’t want you here.” But I have a sense that was part of it too.
I chose to come back to Memphis, knowing you can never really go home again, because I was tired of being the only black person in almost all aspects of my life. I needed more color in my life. I also needed to do work that mattered in the lives of kids like me. I wanted to make sure more children from Cummings Elementary could end up with degrees from the best institutions in the country. I wanted to make sure spending your afternoons running around in 38126 didn’t translate into any of the horrible things that came to mind just now when you read 38126.
When I left Memphis and the single family home my parents bought in 38109, it was where many black folks aspired to live. Hickory Hill was even more aspirational. The Hickory Ridge Mall was upscale in my mind. Walking into it in early 2015 made me ill. Driving to it was so disturbing I had to sit in my car to compose myself before going inside for a meeting.
It was at that point that I realized I had fallen back in love with my hometown. It was the moment all of the statistics about how we’re cannibalizing our young met with the physical realities of how our neighborhoods have been decimated. It was when I gained a bit of clarity about what we’d find in the neighborhoods we thought were so special when we fled the center of the city—our history—for better.
So here is where you can learn a few things about the work I do and my perspectives on the work I used to do.