1. WHAT WE LEARNED IN JANUARY:
WE LEARNED: How deadly serious Memphis’ homeless problem is.
Shelly Thompson had no place to sleep on a frigid Jan. 16 night, so she curled up on a park bench near Memphis City Hall. By morning, she’d frozen to death, and the plight of Memphis’ homeless was the focus of a demonstration in Thompson’s memory.
WE LEARNED: What a “food desert” is – after grocery giant Kroger announced it would be closing two Memphis locations – on S. Third and Lamar.
WE LEARNED: Students want to be heard. More than 200 Hamilton High students walked out of school in support of beloved principal Moneka Smith, who was suspended as part of a grade changing scandal.
2. WHAT WE LEARNED IN FEBRUARY:
WE LEARNED: That 50 years after the Memphis Sanitation Workers strike, blue collar Memphians are still fighting for a livable wage.
In February 1968, two sanitation workers were tragically killed on the back of a truck. Fifty years later, working class Memphians took to the streets – to commemorate those deaths and to honor the surviving sanitation workers whose plight brought Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to Memphis. But they were there also demanding higher wages and better working conditions.
WE LEARNED: African-American women DO bobsled! Sable Otey joined the U.S. Women’s Bobsled Team for the 2018 Winter Olympics in PyongChang, Korea.
• We learned that famed photojournalist Dr. Ernest C. Withers would finally get a historic marker.
• We learned that despite protests, the sale of two city parks to facilitate the removal of controversial Confederate statues in late 2017 did not violate any open meetings laws.
3. WHAT WE LEARNED IN MARCH:
WE LEARNED: How valuable a Penny is.
By most measures, former Tigers basketball coach Tubby Smith had performed well enough to keep his job. But facing sparse crowds and the accompanying fiscal realities, the University of Memphis fired Smith one week and hired UofM alum and former NBA superstar Penny Hardaway the next. And just like that, the fervor around Tiger basketball was back.
WE LEARNED: That you can be from Orange Mound and Wakanda at the same time. Like much of the nation, Memphis reveled in the cinematic magic of “Black Panther,” and the gripping story of a fictional African nation and its superhero/ruler. Even a month after its February release, the film was still a hit in Memphis.
4. WHAT WE LEARNED IN APRIL:
For years, Memphis had been preparing for MLK50 – a citywide commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Dr. King’s death on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968. In a city still deeply divided along racial and economic lines, the occasion provided a measuring stick for how far Memphis has come as well as where there’s work to be done.
As part of an extended look at life inside one of Memphis’ poorest ZIP codes, The New Tri-State Defender published a special tabloid: “MLK50: The View from 38126,” telling stories of hope and heartache.
WE LEARNED: At 77, former Memphis mayor Dr. Willie W. Herenton is considering another run for his old job.
5. WHAT WE LEARNED IN MAY:
TSD freelancer Kelvin Cowans released his book “The Whispering Woods of Sherra Wright,” an account of his relationship with the widow of slain NBA star Lorenzen Wright. Cowans was also interviewed for CBS newsmagazine “48 Hours.”
WE LEARNED: How important it is to take care of our hearts. In the TSD’s Health & Wellness Edition, we hear from two women who unexpectedly lost their mates to heart disease: Towanda Peete-Smith, widow of the former TSD publisher Bernal E. Smith II, talks about her loss and using her pain to sound an alarm. And Maleka Williams McCray tells the story of losing Michael J. Mason, former NFL player.
WE LEARNED: About “The 800 Initiative.”
In June, Memphis Mayor Jim Strickland announced a new initiative designed to identify and nurture 800 African American businesses.“Our goal is to increase the annual revenue of these 800 companies by $50 million by the year 2023,” Strickland said.
WE LEARNED: J.T. likes coming home. Homegrown pop star Justin Timberlake brought his “Man of the Woods” tour to FedExForum. Another show is set for 2019.
6. WHAT WE LEARNED IN JUNE:
WE LEARNED: Kim Kardashian can make things happen.
The reality superstar learned of the case of Memphian Alice Marie Johnson, serving 22 years for a nonviolent drug charge. She pleaded Johnson’s case in a meeting with President Donald Trump – who pardoned Johnson in August.
WE LEARNED: Who the Grizzlies would take with the No. 4 pick. Michigan State standout Jaren Jacksonn Jr. wowed Grizz brass with his defensive acumen, athleticism and work ethic.
WE LEARNED: Ain’t no party like a Yo Gotti party. The popular hip-hop artist hosted his annual birthday bash at FedExForum once again.
7. WHAT WE LEARNED IN JULY:
(Photo: Karanja A. Ajanaku)
WE LEARNED: Memphis was ready for “The Big Payback!”
WE LEARNED: About “The Memphis I Love” through the lens of Adarryll Jackson, a self-taught photographer who pushes past his fears to create amazing images.
WE LEARNED: Gladys Knight still has it! TSD freelance photojournalist Warren Roseborough caught Knight at the Memphis Botanical Garden
8. WHAT WE LEARNED IN AUGUST:
WE LEARNED: There’s only one Queen of Soul.
Though Aretha Franklin made her name at Motown Records in her adopted hometown of Detroit, when she succumbed to death after a long illness, Memphians paid tribute to hometown royalty.
WE LEARNED: For the first time, Shelby County would have both an African American Mayor and Sheriff. Lee Harris defeated David Lenoir for Shelby County Mayor, while Floyd Bonner became the first African American elected Shelby County Sheriff. Harris made more history later, naming Patrice Williamson-Thomas his Chief Administrative Officer, the first African American woman to hold the position.
WE LEARNED: Marc Gasol’s idea of fun is saving refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Gasol boarded a rescue vessel to go out to sea to assist workers scouring the oceans for Syrian refugees.
9. WHAT WE LEARNED IN SEPTEMBER:
WE LEARNED: Police body cams only work when they’re on.
Martavious Banks was shot in an encounter with Memphis Police. But outrage exploded in the city when it was learned that three MPD officers had disabled their body cams before the incident. Demonstrators protested the shooting at MPD stations, police union headquarters and even in the streets. Among them: Banks’ mother (pictured)
WE LEARNED: People will walk all over Kirk Whalum’s name on Beale St. The homegrown jazz star was presented with a note on Beale St. to honor his contributions to the Memphis music scene. Whalum then did a quick set just outside the Halloran Centre for the Performing Arts.
We learned no matter what you call the building at 201 Poplar Ave., the official name is now the Walter L. Bailey Criminal Justice Center. The building was renamed in honor of Bailey, a Memphis icon for his work as an attorney and civil rights activist.
10. WHAT WE LEARNED IN OCTOBER:
WE LEARNED: What African-American Trump supporters are thinking.
With a hotly-contested Senate seat at stake in Mississippi, President Donald Trump came to Southaven to campaign for Republican Cindy Hyde Smith. The TSD took the opportunity to talk with African Americans who support Trump.
We learned that the show would go on. The Best in Black Awards were held at Clayborn Temple. Loved ones released balloons in honor of former TSD publisher Bernal E. Smith II, who founded the awards presentation. He died in October 2017.
11. WHAT WE LEARNED IN NOVEMBER:
WE LEARNED: COGIC is coming back to Memphis! Well, eventually.
The Church of God in Christ announced that after convening in St. Louis for its annual convocation, the event will return to Memphis in 2021. COGIC left Memphis in 2009, saying the church had outgrown Memphis. Several city and civic leaders lobbied to bring the convocation back, but it was a $300,000 incentive package from Memphis Tourism that did the trick.
We learned where America’s top college prospect James Wiseman would play basketball. The East High School star announced he would wear Tiger blue next fall, reuniting him with his former high school coach, Penny Hardaway.
We learned midterm elections matter. After an endless stream of political ads and numerous debates, voters turned out in record numbers, electing Republican Bill Lee to succeed outgoing Gov. Bill Haslam, while Marsha Blackburn replaces retiring U.S. Senator Bob Corker. We also learned that voters want to give Instant Runoff Voting a chance.
We learned – or maybe the better word is remembered – how thrilling FedExForum can be when it’s full of roaring Memphis Tiger fans. After months of hype, Hardaway won his first game as a head coach, defeating Tennessee Tech, 76-61.
12. WHAT WE LEARNED IN DECEMBER:
WE LEARNED: Nothing can prepare you for the loss of a child’s life.
Kameron Johnson, a third-grader at Aspire Coleman Elementary School, was the lone fatality in a terrifying bus accident that injured many others. The bus flipped over in Arkansas as Johnson’s Orange Mound-based youth football team was returning from an event in Texas.
We learned about Africa from two different points of view: Local24 Anchor Katina Rankin shared her divine inspiration to donate a library to a school in Ghana; Meanwhile Rev. Noel Hutchinson recounted his adventures in Rwanda.