A friend and I were talking this week about his unintentional forgetfulness with names, a thorn in the side to which I could relate: my area of amnesia has always been birthdays. But although my wishes will be belated just about every year I have to credit my Dad for instilling in me, by example, the practice of remembering names. He believed that knowing a person’s name and addressing them by such, as opposed to a generic pronoun, was simply the right thing to do. It is a lesson that especially carried its weight this past weekend when I attended the grand opening of Crosstown Concourse and found myself reflecting on the importance of those whose names I had learned.
“The Old Sears Building”, as Memphians I knew called it, was one of the first buildings to grab my attention when I moved to Memphis. It was both interesting and perplexing, as I tried to understand how such a behemoth of a structure had stood empty for almost twenty years yet had not been demolished. “So it’s just going to stand there empty, forever?” I often asked others when conversation allowed for me to inquire about this piece of Memphis history. That question was answered this past Saturday with a resounding “no” as the doors to what was once a 650,000 square foot space operated by Sears & Roebuck opened to a “mixed-use vertical urban village” named Crosstown Concourse.
There is power in that name…
As I walked down the hallway from the central to the west atrium I saw Carni, whom I’d met the week before as she greeted those who entered the massive yet warmly welcoming entrance of Church Health. She didn’t think I’d remember her name but I promised her I would. Because she’s the kind of person you want to encounter as first point of contact when you visit a place such as Church Health- someone who genuinely wishes you well in the face of all not being well or you wouldn’t be there in the first place.
When he strolled by me I recognized him immediately. “I know you from somewhere…You’re Myles!” I shrieked, after making the connection. He smiled and shared his real name with me while we spoke briefly before his scheduled performance. His name is actually Lawrence Matthews, known to most in Memphis (and beyond) as the gifted vocal and visual artist Don Lifted, but until now known only to me by his lead character’s name in the short film of the same name. Myles, by local filmmaker and Sundance fellow Kevin Brooks, is a seven-minute film with a plot and performers so powerful you need see it just once and won’t forget anything- or anyone- in it you’ve seen. Which is why I instantly recognized “Myles”.
April is the month that fully ushers in spring, a season sharing its name with “ideas of rebirth, rejuvenation, renewal, resurrection and regrowth.” April is also the name of a young lady I met while touring Teach for America’s new offices at Crosstown Concourse, who believes in the mission of implementing these very ideas throughout Memphis’ public schools. She is a native Memphian who has stayed in her hometown by choice, working with the organization to make a difference in the lives of those who need it, and her, most. Actually, April has already made a difference and I want to say to her: thank you.
While I stood in line at MEMPops praying that they would not run out of the Watermelon Basil or Strawberry pops, I struck up a conversation with the gentleman behind me who just so happened to be well-known photographer Jay Adkins. And while he struck up a conversation with one of Crosstown’s lead architects I talked with the daughter of Me & Leah’s Leah, who was also in line waiting for a coveted MEMPop. Before we parted ways Adkins would share with me that his two-year old daughter may not yet be a fluent reader but she sure can read the sign for MEMPops. Oh the names we encounter in a single day!
So what’s in a name?
Everything you can imagine and much of what you couldn’t see until it came to be. All that we wish and work for, meticulously rebuilding what was once at risk of being torn down. In it is a sovereignty and presence only possible through the shunning of stereotypes and the embracing of those who may not look like us or speak like us but share the same dreams as us and want the same chance at life aspirations as us. There is incomparable strength in a name that has survived near defeat, only to rise up and become more powerful than it ever was.
Crosstown Concourse. Remember that name.
Learn more here: http://crosstownconcourse.com/