On two separate occasions shortly before the worst public health crisis in the U.S. in a generation, I was reminded of the role that Robert R. Church Sr. played in there even being a city of Memphis to worry about during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During a taping of the ‘Where Do I Go From Here?” podcast, which I now host on TSDMemphis.com, Church, widely recognized as the first African-American millionaire in the South, was presented freshly to me by the Rev. Dr. L. LaSimba M. Gray Jr., author of “Metamorphosis: Memphis, Beale Street and the Blues (1819-2019).”
Dr. Gray spoke of Church as a person who routinely stepped up to help and meet challenges, including buying the first $1,000 municipal bond to help the Bluff City bounce back from bankruptcy after being reduced to a taxing district in the midst of the yellow fever epidemic.
Days later, Raymond Neal, who has worked 35-plus years as a waiter, approached me at Mahogany Memphis Restaurant. He’d recently secured the Memphis City Council’s embrace of a resolution naming the late “Mr. Church” as the “Father of Modern-day Memphis” for Church’s move(s) to save the city.
Dr. Gray and Neal painted a mental picture of a person who essentially was saying, “I am here for you – and with you.”
Then came the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 and a frightening set of numbers that now serve to project the deaths of 100,000 U.S. citizens, if mitigating measures – read as stay at home, social distancing and wash your hands – are adhered to religiously.
Memphis’ world now is upside down as the numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases rise, with three Shelby County deaths reported at the time I put these thoughts together. The chilling prediction of many, many, many more deaths and thousands in need of acute hospital care, along with virus-response measures that have the economy on lockdown, fill our lives with sorrow and uncertainty.
Whatever happens, whenever it happens, The New Tri-State Defender will be there for you. We’ll be there to let you know how our community is managing through this crisis – from business to government to the health care system and schools to the drastic impact on individuals and families, particularly the most vulnerable among us.
Already, we’ve told you about a 56-year-old caregiver (with two preexisting health conditions) holding steady with the care of her 82-year-old mother, who is in a nursing home. We will continue to bring you accounts of other good and extraordinary things happening in the midst of this crisis, along with basic information to help you survive, stay safe, grow and develop.
“We need every Tennessean on board to beat this pandemic,” Gov. Bill Lee has said. “Success starts with swift, accurate information and we support the efforts of the press to keep every Tennessean informed.”
Our commitment to that includes fact-based, reliable reporting and a commitment to keep an eye on state and local leadership relative to the needs expressed by local communities.
We will be here for you – and with you!