President Barack Obama gives the commencement address to Booker T. Washington High School graduates, on May 16, 2011.
"Yes, you're from South Memphis. Yes, you’ve always been underdogs. No one has handed you a thing. But that also means that whatever you accomplish in your lives, you’ll have earned it. Whatever rewards and joys you reap, you’ll appreciate them that much more because they will have come through your sweat and tears; the product of your efforts and talents. You’ve shown more grit and determination in your childhoods than a lot of adults ever will."
With these words, Barack Obama rocked the crowd last month at the Cook Convention Center, where several thousand Memphians gathered to witness his Booker T. Washington High School 2011 commencement address, and where 155 BTW seniors were lucky enough to get a hearty handshake from the President of the United States along with their diplomas.
The Presidential visit served as something of the perfect capstone for the most unusual May the city of Memphis has seen in many a year, a month that brought us no end of national publicity. The Flood on the Mississippi, the Grizzlies in the NBA playoffs and the President’s right here on Main Street all drew us together, in very real ways. And all this time in the limelight certainly gave each and every one of us an opportunity to stop and think about ourselves as a city, and about what kind of city Memphis, Tennessee, really is.
The timing, then, with publishing a “Culture Issue” of Memphis magazine this month – something we hope to make an annual tradition every June – proved to be very fortuitous. We hope to make this our once-a-year celebration of all the threads that get woven together to form the cultural tapestry of the city we all call home.
We have something else to celebrate as well. This month, Memphis the magazine added another feather to its cap, so to speak, winning the 2010 Gold Medal for General Excellence in the under 30,000-circulation category from the City and Regional Magazine Association. A perennial finalist in this thirty-year competition, Memphis is the only city magazine in the country ever to have “won the gold” three years out of four (in our case, 2007, 2008 and 2010). It may not quite be a three-peat, but it’s pretty darn close!
This success is a remarkable achievement for our staff, both present and past (and special kudos to our former art director, Hannah Johnson, and former editor, Mary Helen Randall, whose efforts were critical to our 2010 success). But we all like to think that this editorial recognition for Memphis magazine is part and parcel of “who we are” as a city. Because ours is such a weird, funky, and supremely unusual place, we have a huge advantage over just about every other city magazine in America. No wonder we keep winning these awards; no one else has our kind of raw material to work with!
Don Poier, the radio Voice of the Memphis Grizzlies until his untimely death in 2005 (and wouldn’t he have enjoyed this year’s terrific season!) had a special phrase he called upon whenever one was needed to describe something spectacular on the court. “Only in Memphis and the movies,” Poier would exclaim. “Only in Memphis and the movies!”
Don had it almost right. As all of us who’ve been here long enough to be considered half-way native, the truth isn’t at all that complicated. In this city at least, Memphis is the movie.
Kenneth Neill is the Publisher/Editor of Memphis magazine.