I spent spring break this year in Memphis, Tennessee. A group of ten students and staff from my university made the trip south to volunteer with organizations in the city. It was my first time in Memphis, and really my first time being in Tennessee. In the weeks leading up to spring break, the readings I was assigned for my composition pedagogy class had a lot of really interesting intersects with the topics our group was thinking about in preparation for the trip. One line I keep coming back to is a quotation from Susan Bordo:
becoming more conscious is a tremendous achievement.
Traveling to new places and learning about ways and realities of life in other parts of the country and the world is important to me. Becoming conscious of the fact that the life I live is not the only life is a tremendous and vital achievement. With that in mind, here are four things I loved about my time in Memphis.
1. Civil rights history: On our first full day in Memphis, we spent the afternoon at the National Civil Rights Museum. Near the entrance to the exhibits was a theater with a short film. This film claims the museum as a sacred space. I carried that notion in my mind as I walked through the exhibits, and I think it’s true. Throughout the civil rights movement, people debated if they were fighting a moral or political battle. I think it was and is both and that it is also a spiritual battle. Having the opportunity to stand near the place where Martin Luther King Jr. was killed and being able to learn and think about the enormity of the civil rights movement was emotional, to say the least. I have so much more to learn about the history of civil rights in our country.
2. Landmark Urban Farms: One of the organizations we volunteered with was this urban farm in the Orange Mound neighborhood, the oldest black neighborhood in the country. The owner, Mike Minnis, is one of the wisest, kindest people I have ever met. We spent two short afternoons with him; in that time he told us story after story, let us plant a few rows of okra and beans and tomatoes and sunflowers, and made us all feel seen and cared for. Time on his plots of land left me feeling more rejuvenated and hopeful than I have in a long time. Mike is a gem of Memphis.
3. Seeing Mary: I’ll admit that one of the biggest reasons this trip caught my eye was because my college friend Mary moved to Memphis after graduation, and I wanted to see her and her new city. It was wonderful to catch up with her and talk teaching and experience Memphis through her perspective for a few hours.
4. My team: Another big reason that I signed up for this trip was to make friends. I’ve been at Michigan Tech for nearly a year and a half now and am still struggling to find people who I feel comfortable being my full self around. I hoped this trip would connect me with people on campus who share some of my passions. By the end of our first full day in Memphis, I wrote in my journal that our group was starting to feel like a group and not like ten individuals. Throughout the week we had deep conversations and shared lots of laughter. Hopefully these friendships will continue throughout the semester and beyond.
I left Memphis feeling so full and like there was so much left to see and learn and do. It’s a city worth returning to.
Here’s a short video I made of one of our afternoons at Landmark.