Grit and Grind has become a part of our language here in Memphis. This phrase, that began with a player describing his and his team’s performance after a game during the playoffs in 2011, has become the motto for an entire city. Over the years, one of the things that has become common knowledge here in Memphis, for those who follow our sports teams, is that no matter who is playing, whether the Grizzlies or the Tigers, the game will not be an easy victory, and if they lose they will not lay down and let it happen. It will have been a hard fought battle to the end. As my dad says, the team will have “played with a lot of heart.” Tony Allen described his team that night as playing with a lot of heart, grit, and grind, but this idea of playing with heart, grit, and grind is not new here in the Bluff City. Heart, grit, and grind has always been a way of life here in Memphis, we just did not have a way to express it. Growing up here, I have always noticed a certain resiliency we Memphians, and further us Southerners, have that is not shared by other people in other cities. Things in life are not given to us here. We must pull ourselves up by our boot straps and make our own way.
In class we talked about how after the Civil War we decided, whether it was our decision our made for us does not matter, that we did not want to be like the North. Everything the North did was bad and we wanted to be the opposite. This might have been fine in a displeased post-war South, but the lack of change and upgrading set us up for a substandard way of life in the present. This unfortunate truth has still not changed. Our schools, housing, politics, infrastructure, every aspect of our lives, is not up to the standard set forth by the government. In a lot of cases we must teach ourselves growing up because the teachers did not do an adequate job. The beauty of our situation though is that we do not give up and accept our life as it is. We wake up every morning and strive for something better. We are told as children that if we dream it we can attain it, and I think this is true for Memphis. We always expect to hear terrible things about our city when we turn on the news, and dread telling people where we live because we would have to convince them that it is truly a great place to live. The truth is, though, that we do live in a great city. We are a city that never says die. We accept our inadequacies and learn to move past them. Our identity as a person, as a team, as a city, is the same. Hard work. Determination. Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Never say die. Grit and Grind. That is Memphis.
Recently in my Sociology of Gender class we watched a documentary entitled “Babyland.” It was an ABC 20/20 documentary highlighting the problems of infant mortality here in the Mid-south, but more particularly how bad it is here in Memphis. In Shelby County, the mortality rate of infants is the same as in some third world countries, and it shows no signs of slowing down. Before I watched this video I thought I had a pretty good idea of how bad the situation was here in Memphis, but I was wrong. The amount of premature babies being born everyday is staggering, I think it said the number was around one every 45 minutes. If a baby is born premature it has a significantly less chance of survival than that of a baby carried to term. In the video it stated that the biggest problem is that the mothers are not taking the necessary steps to ensure their baby’s survival. A lot of this irresponsibility is of no fault of the mother’s though, I am sure if given the chance, and the means to do it, she would take care of herself while pregnant, but the fact is the majority of these mothers are impoverished living in the lower class parts of town. They are also black.
One of the people the video spotlighted was a young black girl. At the time the video was shot she was far along in her pregnancy but she recounted how uncertain she was in the beginning of the pregnancy. It took a more or less rich white woman to come in and “save” the teenage black girl because she did not know what she needed to do nor had access to the proper facilities on her own. The white woman had become like a mentor for this black girl and had made sure she received the proper care to ensure the survival of her baby. This situation is not the case the majority of the time. Many of the mothers do not have the financial means to pay for medical services and others still do not have the means to get themselves to a clinic even if they could afford the services. There are some even still whom do not fall under any of the above categories and can not get treatment because the clinics made available to them are closed, often after only being open for a short time during the day, due to lack of funding. How are we supposed to ask mothers to take the necessary precautions to be sure their babies survive if we as a city are not providing the services needed by these lower class mothers? The doctor from the clinic made a good point, she said that “nothing will change until the people in charge begin to acknowledge the problem and start funding places like this.” When asked by the reporter why they were not acknowledging how serious the problem was she said “Children don’t vote, babies can’t vote, poor people don’t vote.” This is true. Basically what she is saying is that we as a community are not recognizing this need and are not making this problem a priority. Like I said above, I did not know how bad it actually was until watching this video. People need to be educated on this so we can raise awareness, increase funding to these clinics, and ultimately bring an end to the infant mortality rate here in the Bluff City.
High Infant Mortality Program Babyland Tennessee
The above is a link to the 20/20 promo on YouTube. I was unble to find the entire video online.
Growing up in Memphis, I always heard my classmates and friends say they could not wait until they were old enough to get out of Memphis. They saw, and a lot of them still do see, Memphis as a dead-end city that people get stuck in and can never leave. To them, Memphis was likened to going to jail, doing your time, and finally being released. That after high school graduation they were released from their bonds and able to leave this city in search of something bigger or better. I guess they just didn’t see the all the great things that have happened and are happening in this city. They chose to focus on the bad that is constantly finding its way into the news instead of looking past this grim facade to see the good that we Memphians can claim. If I could address all of my friends from years past that I have known and seen leave this city I would have a few things to tell them.
We were at one time the center of music here in the South. Beale Street was the epicenter of black culture during the early 20th century. In class we were told it was described at the time as the Harlem of the South. Though it was a majority of blacks that frequented Beale, whites found their way down their too. Stax Records and Sun Studios, some of the biggest and most famous recording labels in music history were founded and based out of Memphis. People like Elvis, Johnny Cash, Jerry Lee Lewis, Sam and Dave, and Booker T. & the M.G’s all got their starts here in Memphis. In our present, Memphis is the home of many major companies and hospitals. The Med is located here as well as St. Jude. The Regional Medical Center at Memphis is one of the best trauma centers in this area, and also has a great neonatal care ward. St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is also located here in Memphis. It is the leading research facility in the fight against childhood cancer and also provides a place for children to come to get treatment for free. Memphis is also home to Federal Express. This is arguably the biggest logistics company in America and its base of operations is located here in Memphis. FedEx also just so happens to be created and founded by a Memphian, Fred Smith.
Above I went into a few of the things that have shaped and continue to shape Memphis today. In addition to these things we also have many other companies, museums, and landmarks that have put Memphis on the map. Like we discussed in class, Memphis will never be an Atlanta, Los Angeles, or New York but we shouldn’t aspire to be like those cities either. We are Memphis and that should be good enough for all of us. Instead of trying to play catch-up with these other cities and trying to be and emulate what they already are, we should focus on perfecting what we already have and focus on getting our great history as this underdog city out there. Their are a lot of great things going on here in Memphis in the present and I feel like if people were able to see the great things they wouldn’t be so prone to leave and settle in other cities like Atlanta. We need to work on retaining native Memphians so that we can shed our under-dog label and become a city with the same prestige as those afore mentioned cities.