An organizing location for AFSCME Local 1733 in 1968, Historic Clayborn Temple is where Memphis sanitation workers declared their humanity with the “I am a man” signs captured in this image shown at an event at the site. (Courtesy photo)

by Anasa Troutman —

Anasa Troutman, executive director, Historic Clayborn Temple. (Courtesy photo)

As the Historic Clayborn Temple board and team work together to reimagine our sacred building we spend a lot of time thinking about how our work inside of the building can be reflected outside the building. Inevitably, these conversations bring us back to three things; restoration, cooperation, and wellness.  

Restoration and cooperation are words that are easy to connect to Clayborn’s legacy. Obvious connections can be made there. Wellness, on the other hand, might seem like a bit of a stretch, but in reality, wellness is the cornerstone of our vision and the foundation from which we work to  restore our city and make each other whole. 

When we speak of wellness, we are not focused on individual wellness. We understand that there are brilliant practitioners here in the city who are far better equipped for that than we are. When we speak of wellness, we are focused on the wellness of the city as a whole. Our collective wellness, the wellness of our shared culture, is the most powerful pathway to a free and prosperous Memphis for all of us.

Cultural wellness sounds like a complex ideal to achieve, but it only requires that we adopt a simple ethic of love. When I say love, I do not use love as a noun, a feeling or emotion of affinity. Rather I use love as a verb, as a commitment to one another,  expressed through actions. This ethic of love catalyzes a change in culture, away from a mindset of scarcity, of hoarding and squabbling over resources, to a belief that  abundance means abundance for all of us.

An ethic of love requires an expectation of humane treatment for every human being, without exception. An ethic of love requires accountability of just actions that allows every human being to experience the world as a place of safety, freedom, and opportunity, a place where joy and sustainability is possible.

The conversation about cultural wellness and systemic love always makes me think of my grandmother. My Grandma Edna was an amazing woman. She raised my father and his two brothers alone, worked a full-time job, and served diligently in the church that her parents helped build from the ground up. My grandma was a brilliant, adventurous woman who taught us how to enjoy life. 

As rich as her life was, as much of herself as she gave, there was a time when my grandmother lived in abject poverty.  Growing up, I heard many stories of her suffering. At night when my granny or one of her boys had to go to the bathroom, they would throw a shoe down the hall to scare the rats away, then rush down the hall and back before the rats felt safe enough to come back out. A true ethic of love would transform us into a community that would never allow a mother and her children to live in such horrendous, dangerous conditions. 

We see these conditions persist today in poverty wages and substandard housing. The US is suffering with a wound in our cultural DNA caused by a lack of ethics that align with our stated values of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As we continue to fight for justice in the most basic areas of life, for food, clothing, housing, jobs, and safety, too many of us are barred from life and liberty, much less the pursuit of happiness.

When we embrace  an ethic of love, we stop fighting for basic survival and embrace love, belonging, and purpose. A society of love, belonging, and purpose is a society committed to everyone. Cultural wellness, built on love leads to positive practices, policies, and systems in our society.

Individual wellness is centered in the self but cultural wellness permeates through our communities and reverberates out to systems of government, education, finance, and public safety with the acknowledgement, transparency, accountability, and care of love. Historic Clayborn Temple’s role in creating individual, community, and cultural wellness is to see this sacred place reborn as a hub of personal healing, relational restoration, artistic production, social innovation, economic justice, and community transformation.

We have a long way to go, but when I close my eyes, I see our collective wellness coming to life in this place, one conversation, one transformation, one step at a time. 

We invite you to join this conversation about love. On April 5th, we will host THRIVE, a virtual gathering to talk about economic restoration and the promise of collective action. All are welcome. We are also building the In This Place Community Leadership Council. The Council will convene learning circles focused on implementing restorative economic models in Memphis’ historically Black neighborhoods.  These circles are designed to share information, connections, and access to resources Black Memphians need to reimagine and restore their neighborhoods. 

In This Place There Is Wellness. Join us. We learn, share, grow, laugh, play and build together. 

To register for the April 5th THRIVE event or to nominate yourself or someone else, or apply to participate in the Community Leadership Council visit

(Email Anasa Troutman at [email protected].)