As a native Memphian, I came into the TI Fellowship program at what might seem like an advantage. I grew up in Memphis, attended school, synagogue, etc. in Memphis, and have spent years trying to learn my way around the city despite my undeniably terrible sense of direction. This seeming familiarity with the city, however, has continuously proven to be an ironic disadvantage because unlike the non-Memphian members of the fellowship program, I began this summer with subconscious negative views on my own hometown.
I’ve always heard people complain that “Memphis is boring” and that “there’s nothing to do in Memphis,” so after a while I came to believe those things were true. Yes, I stubbornly defend Memphis to anyone who tries to insult my city in any way, especially when it comes to BBQ, and no one can doubt the exceptional strength of the Jewish community here, but I’ve always had my doubts about whether or not Memphis is necessarily a “fun” place to be. I spent my childhood going to shows at the Orpheum and was thrilled when we finally adopted our own NBA team, but theaters and sports teams are normal, if not expected, characteristics of any respectable city.
What I didn’t understand was that unlike other cities, Memphis has a history and culture that is extremely distinctive from those other respectable cities. I grew up going to the Civil Rights Museum, Stax Museum, and Graceland so after the fifth time of seeing Isaac Hayes’ fur-lined car and Elvis’s jungle room, the novelty tends to wear off. Being a part of the fellowship program has forced me to look at Memphis from an outsider’s perspective and truly appreciate the uniqueness this city has to offer in more subtle ways.
During week five alone I danced the night away at Paula & Raiford’s Disco, toured the Brooks Museum’s Caroll Cloar art exhibition on growing up in the Delta, experienced the raw talent of the Stax Music Academy at the Levitt Shell, feasted on an unofficial TI Fellow potluck dinner, and road tripped with another fellow to New Orleans for a last minute Fourth of July vacation, AND, on top of all of that, I went to work every day! We’re officially half way through the fellowship program, and it’s safe to say that for the first time ever I’m overwhelmed with all the possibilities Memphis has to offer. The other fellows and I have been scheming up all kinds of Memphis activities to do during the rest of our time here this summer and I can’t wait exhaust ourselves in an attempt to do them all!
– Shayna Giles