by Anasa Troutman —
Phase 2 of the restoration of Historic Clayborn Temple is underway and we are all excited as this part of our collective visioning comes into being.
Yet, it is so much more than the restoration of a building. It is a reclaiming of this building, this sacred place and of this neighborhood.
Once thriving and bustling with daily life at the turn of the 20th century, this neighborhood was blooming with the promise of being the model of economic restoration for Black Americans after the Civil War.
The South’s first Black millionaire, Robert Reed Church, Sr., born into slavery in 1839, became a wealthy businessman and real estate developer in Memphis.
The bank he founded with his partners provided loans to Black Memphians to buy homes and start their own businesses.
I remember when I learned that the neighborhoods surrounding Historic Clayborn Temple were home to both Black and White residents, small businesses and churches.
I remember when I learned that these properties, then held by Robert Church, Jr., were seized by the city under the direction of Mayor E. H. “Boss” Crump. And Church had no recourse.
This act didn’t just strip one Black man of his wealth and influence, it led to an entire 46-acre neighborhood being stripped of their community.
Properties were seized by the city using federal funds from the New Deal for “slum clearance.” But this neighborhood was far from a slum. This neighborhood was full of middle- class-single-family homes, including the family home of influential Black Memphians such as Dr. Benjamin L. Hooks and Reverend T.O. Fuller, who lost his home, the school he was principal of, one of the only schools Black children could attend past grammar school, and his church.
The homes of 16 White and 428 Black families were seized by the Memphis Housing Authority to build public housing. This was an intentional destruction of an economically diverse Black community and a burgeoning racially mixed neighborhood.
The loss of homes, jobs, educational opportunities and community led directly to the living and working conditions that the Memphis sanitation workers were organizing to fight against at Historic Clayborn Temple in 1968.
I choose to see 1968 as the start of a 100- year social change movement. The Memphis sanitation workers were light-bearers. They shone lights on the intolerable and inhumane conditions they were subjected to.
Their fight didn’t end, it continues to this day and the light shining on how inequality wounds individuals, families, communities, entire cities such as Memphis, the nation, and our world is more clearly seen than ever before.
What do we have to do for the next 50 years to make sure that light transforms us?
How do we become more caring, open hearted, and just humans?
How do we restore our communities?
Restoration means to restore something to its former condition. It also means to mend. We cannot measure the amount of harm done since the very first Black person came to Memphis. Everyone in Memphis has wounds from the inhumane, cruel and unjust treatment of Black and brown people on our soil. It is time to tend to and mend our wounds.
How do we mend these wounds?
Our first step is to recognize and acknowledge that there are wounds. Historic Clayborn Temple is calling people in as a safe space for hard conversations. These conversations must be open-hearted truth-telling so that we may tend our wounds together.
We must all make a shared commitment to become a society that loves each other in action.
How does loving each other in action mend these wounds?
Our second step is to have expectations that love is expressed by providing every human more than the bare minimum of resources for survival.
We must provide an opportunity for everyone to experience wellness, to thrive and lead joyful lives.
We must ensure everyone’s participation in our community and benefit from our shared resources.
We must no longer exclude anyone, regardless of race, class, ethnicity, gender and gender identity, sexual orientation, or any characteristic that allows us to see another human as “other.”
We are interconnected and for Memphis to win, everyone must be included, especially those who have been intentionally and catastrophically excluded.
How does expanding our expectations of what a society committed to loving each other heal our wounds?
Our expectations create accountability. At this moment, too many Memphians feel powerless to heal the wounds that we see every day in our city.
This powerlessness allows for no accountability for the few that hold the power to continue and implement inequitable practices, policies and systems that wound many of us.
For all of us to be well, to thrive, and to be joyful, we must heal the wounds that injustice leaves on us, both the direct impact on Black and brown Memphians, ad on all Memphians’ souls.
The mending of the cultural and societal wounds of Memphis is needed and important. However, waiting for this healing to occur is no longer an option. Black Memphians have been crying out for equality and justice for too long. The time has come for transformation by new means, what Angela Glover Blackwell, founder of PolicyLink, calls radical imagination.
For Black Memphians to be well, to thrive, and be joyful, we must look to the past and gather knowledge we once had to transform our communities.
Looking back, we see that even when locked out of participating in the American dream, we used our radical imaginations and cooperation to build co-ops that allowed us to gather resources and benefit our communities.
Looking forward, we see the model of Restorative Economics, healing our own communities by sharing resources, ideas, and radically reimagining prosperity that benefits all.
Black Memphians’ radical imagination built a well, thriving, and joyful community with economic promise more than 100 years ago, and it is time to do it again.
We look to transform the future of the Historic Clayborn Temple and other disinvested Memphis neighborhoods by launching the Community Leadership Council.
This community led council will learn about and engage in creating cooperatives based on the principles of restorative economics, an economic model that does not take from labor and resources from communities without giving anything back, to one that is led by and for the betterment of the community as decided by those living there.
In This Place There Is Restoration.
Together we learn, share, laugh, play, and build our community so that everyone thrives.
(For more information on In This Place, to nominate someone, or to apply to participate in the Community Leadership Council by visiting In This Place at Historic Clayborn Temple.)
AT A GLANCE:
Part I: In This Place, There Is Wellness – Why cultural wellness is the cornerstone of the vision and foundation from which Historic Clayborn Temple works to restore the city.
Part II: In This Place, There Is Cooperation – Cooperatives as a business model. Past examples, the resiliency of present-day co-ops and the future.
Part III: In This Place, There is Restoration – Restorative Economics as a model to build a society that works for all of us.
(Anasa Troutman is executive director of Historic Clayborn Temple.)