Memphis Is A City Balancing Its Past And Present (via Forbes)
Some think being nostalgic is a bad thing, yet Memphis, Tennessee thrives on it. It might be true that people, not things, are nostalgic, so perhaps it is the cultural architects who construct the story of Memphis with the bricks of the past and the mortar of the present.
Driving the nostalgia train is Memphis’ musical history. Memphis calls itself the birthplace of Rock ‘n Roll, and one look at the maternity ward will explain. Names like Elvis Presely, B.B. King, Al Green, Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, Johnny Cash, Isaac Hayes, Otis Redding and even Justin Timberlake have all been associated with Memphis. At the center of this musical universe is Sun Studios.
Sun Studios is open for hour-long tours every day of the week. The tour includes a look at recording studio artifacts, tales about Elvis’ first trip into the studio, memories of the historic collaborations, authentic recordings, and the chance to personally step up to the mic for photo ops. The gift shop offers a wide range of products from t-shirts to guitar picks, but it is the slice of history that has the longest shelf life of all.
Not all history can be deemed nostalgic because it is not remembered with affection, but with a sense of civic responsibility. Memphis is one of the most worthy cities to house a Civil Rights museum because it was here on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Hotel, where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Within its transformed and renovated walls, the hotel is now the site of the National Civil Rights Museum. The immersive and interactive exhibits give the guest a personal view of the struggles, tragedies and triumphs of African Americans throughout their continuous journey towards equality in America. A visit to the museum is not a listing on a travel itinerary, but a civic responsibility.
One storybook site listed in any Memphis guidebook is Graceland, the home of Elvis Presely from 1957 to 1977. The tour of the home, which was originally purchased for $102,500, takes the guests from room to room, a museum walk that profiles American pop culture royalty through glitz and furnishings fitting for the locale and time period. Besides the Presley home, the grounds offer a gift shop, museum, eateries and more.
As FedEx ships its record number of packages from its Memphis home turf, and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital nurtures its record number of young people with hope in their eyes, pleasure-seekers stroll along Beale Street, the hippest stretch of road in Memphis. Along Beale Street, live music stretches its bluesy notes across the street where unique gift shops like A. Schwab sell novelties from a generation ago as well as timeless items from clothes to musical instruments to Hoodoo root bags and incense.
However, Memphis is very much in the here and now. The newly modernized Renasant Convention Center is up and running, though adhering to city ordinances concerning Covid-19. Included in the 200 million dollar renovation are safety measures that gave the center its GBAC STAR accreditation, which demonstrates the facility has the work practices, procedures and protocols to prepare, respond and recover from outbreaks and pandemics. A talented team of planners and construction crews has now placed Memphis at the forefront of meeting and events venues.
The pulse of Memphis is not just about the clanging of the construction crews or the echoes from the legendary musicians of the past. It is about the many boots on the ground which walk with purpose and pride on the Memphis streets. One such person is Jeremy C. Park, the CEO of cityCURRENT, a philanthropist, columnist, and Forbes contributor, and a producer and host of television and radio shows, as well as a podcast. One of his specialties is transforming organizations and individuals into catalysts for their communities, and in the process of creating more change agents, Park also is using his gifts to help transform Memphis.
Park’s monthly TV show is called The SPARK, and his annual televised awards show is called The SPARK Awards. His shows and media efforts overall focus on generating support for nonprofits and community initiatives, and spotlighting those who are making a difference, along with the lessons learned. His most recent book entitled Giving for Growth shares how to find your purpose and achieve success in a way that benefits others and the community. Proceeds benefit youth literacy programs. Whether it is through his corporate leadership, his media or his community service and volunteerism, Park represents the spirit of Memphis, one in which the history of the city is never forgotten, yet the path of progress is always forward facing.
The famous names of the past, like Elvis and Martin Luther King Jr., will always be revered; but they also continue to inspire and power the current efforts of those who undoubtedly will be added to the city’s list of changemakers, who are using their passion and gifts to create progress and write the next chapter for Memphis.