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Our Complete Vote Smart Guide Is Ready for You!

September 19, 2015

The complete and final version of Back in River City’s 2015 Vote Smart Guide to Memphis Elections is ready for you to view. When you send your friends to Back in River City, tell them to  click on the tab marked 2015 Voter Guide. For those of you reading this, just click here. (If I believe you are not reading this, I must be having a senior moment and need to get a grip.)

Hundreds of you have already viewed the mayoral portion of the Vote Smart guide posted Friday. We have added the City Council races (all 60 candidates) and the race for City Court Clerk.

You don’t have to agree with our recommendations, but we hope you will take the time to review the candidates, issues, and the questions that will help you to make your own best choices. Back in River City‘s Vote Smart Guides are the most comprehensive, candid, and insightful voter guides available in the Memphis metropolitan area.  You have asked us to produce these guides and we are happy to oblige.

Let us know what you think and what you want to see next from Back in River City.

Thank you! We love our followers who want to join us in building a better Memphis.


Vote Smart, Memphis!

September 18, 2015

Just-in-time“Just in time” is our motto here at Back in River City. Some people call this “waiting until the last minute.” But those people   don’t have houses in the midst of a remodel, and a hubby who needs his shirts pressed so he can shine as Bow Tie Guy and  lots of other stuff to do.  All excuses aside, however, we just published the first section of our 2015 Vote Smart Guide to Memphis Elections as a new page on Back in River City. Click here to learn everything you need to know about the mayoral candidates. Tomorrow we’ll post our thoughts and recommendations about the City Council and City Court Clerk candidates.  Tell your friends to come to and click on the tab marked 2015 Voters Guide. 


Early voting begins tomorrow, Friday, September 18 for you early birds. The Guide will tell you when and where to go and what to take with you.

Thank you for your gracious and enthusiastic support of Back in River City’s Vote Smart Guides. We prepare these guides because we love our city.  If we all vote smarter, with more information about the candidates and who might be best for the job, together we will make a better Memphis.


Are You Ready to Vote Smart?

September 12, 2015

Big decisions are looming for Memphis – decisions that will affect your health, safety, quality of life and pursuit of happiness. And you, my friend, are key to what decisions will be made.

Are you certain who would be the best Mayor of Memphis for the next four years? Do you know who would come closest to representing your own views, values and priorities on the City Council? Are you clear about what the City Court Clerk does, and why your vote matters in choosing who fills that office?

how to be an informed voter

From Friday, September 18 to October 8, 2015, you have the opportunity – and the responsibility – to have your say in who will lead our city. To elect the folks who will decide how much of your household income will be diverted to pay local taxes, and how those dollars are spent. To elect a Council member you can depend on to be responsive when city problems become “up close and personal” with your family.

Over 10,000 Memphians voted smarter in local 2014 Elections by reading our Back in River City voting guides.  Back in River City’s 2015 Vote Smart Guide to Memphis Elections will be published next week, just in time for early voting. We’ve been working on your behalf for months, researching candidate positions and attending forums,  gathering facts and insights, sifting through political promises and puffery so that you can enter the voting booth with confidence. Follow us today to receive your Guide, and share the news with your friends: together, we can  Make a Better Memphis.


Feed Your Soul and Get Your Motown Fix July 10-12

July 1, 2015


If you can’t afford tickets to Motown the Musical coming to the Orpheum July 14-19 (or you’re not an Orpheum season ticket holder and, like me,  refuse to sit in an upper balcony for a road show), this deal is for you. Just days before Motown the Musical’s opening night, you can enjoy your Motown favorites sung by an extraordinary Memphis cast and feed your soul to boot. The summertime music-and-more spectacular The Gospel According to Soul will be back with three performances July 10-12 after a three-year hiatus. This theatrical gem, produced by Pastor Dwayne Hunt of Many Thousand Gone fame, will move you, body and soul, and feed you with the bread of life.

Not Just Another Church Musical

jesus-gospel-of-soulIf you haven’t seen one of Dwayne Hunt’s productions, you will be amazed and moved by the professional quality of this first-class show.   Pastor Hunt is one of Memphis’ under-publicized theatrical treasures. Before he became a minister, he studied and excelled in musical theatre in college. His unique skill set enables him to write, direct, and stage productions that deliver audience impact equal to any Orpheum road show. Each cast includes a sprinkling of professional actors. Some are members of the Abundant Grace Fellowship congregation, others  leap at the chance to be involved in a Dwayne Hunt production. Both Many Thousand Gone and The Gospel According to Soul have been staged for multiple years, and  several key cast members have been involved since the shows’ beginnings. That rarely found experience infuses their performances with more depth, nuance, and authenticity every year.

There’s a Reason It’s Called Soul Music

The Gospel According to Soul is akin to Jesus Christ Superstar, substituting the joy, rhythm and passion of vintage Motown music for the rock-opera-meets-Broadway strains of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s biblically-inspired masterpiece. The music of the 1960’s and 1970’s that Baby Boomers dubbed “Soul Music” retells the story of Jesus of Nazareth in a way that even non-believers find compelling.  This soul-stirring night of theatre will inspire and entertain you in ways you may never have felt before. Like Many Thousand Gone, I found The Gospel According to Soul to be unforgettable. Both shows will be don’t-miss events on the Settles’ annual calendars as long as they are performed.

You can also expand the horizons of at-risk Memphis youth by making a contribution via GoFundMe. Fifteen dollars will treat one student to this professional quality theatrical production. Many of these children have never  seen a live stage performance of this caliber. The campaign hopes to treat 200 young people who participate in programs sponsored by Grace Center for the Performing Arts Heal the Hood Foundation of Memphis, The Husband Institute ( a ministry of The Pursuit of God Church in Frayser), and Bloomfield Full Gospel Baptist Church in South Memphis. Multiple studies have shown that exposure to the arts can redirect and improve the lives of underprivileged youth. Students with high levels of involvement in the arts tend to have better academic outcomes, higher career goals, and more civic involvement. Most of us have heard or witnessed stories of lives transformed by a visit to the ballet or a magical night in a dark theatre. Reality TV shows like So You Think You Can Dance have revealed numerous inspirational, real-life journeys of young people whose passion to engage in the performing arts has enabled them to overcome adversity, suffering,  and onerous challenges.

Russell Ferguson, Season 6 discovery, So You Think You Can Dance

Russell Ferguson, Season 6 discovery, So You Think You Can Dance

Join Eddie and me at The Gospel According to Soul. The show sold out in 2012, and was last seen in 2013, so don’t wait to get your tickets. Tickets for the three performances, gospel dancersall at 7:00 p.m. at Abundant Grace Fellowship (1574 Shelby Drive at Millbranch in Whitehaven) are available online at Eventbrite for $18.93. Trust us, this is biggest entertainment bargain in Memphis. Take your children (or grandchildren, if you are MOCA’s* like us), your Boomer parents, your church group, or a bunch of friends. Group discounts are available.

* (Memphians of a Certain Age)



Saturday, April 18: Walk in Her Shoes to Help Victims of Domestic Violence

April 15, 2015

dv child drawingChances are, a family you know has been wounded by domestic violence.  DV is equal opportunity and non-discriminatory. It rips through families across all demographic groups: the old and young, rich and poor, the nameless and famous; and is present in just about every ethnic group. In 1996, the FBI reported that 30% of all female murder victims were killed by a husband or boyfriend. Although the majority of DV victims are women, men are also victimized by abusive spouses and lovers, both heterosexual and homosexual.

Domestic violence is the crime no one wants to talk about. Its victims – the abused along with family members who witness abuse –  are filled with both fear and humiliation. Victims typically feel that they somehow deserved the emotional, psychological or physical battering they received. They are bound to their abusers – wife, husband, parent, chlld, lover – by loyalty, love, law, and/or economic dependency. Their abusers routinely keep them silenced by threats of more violence against themselves and their children, parents, or other loved ones.

A 1991 survey sponsored by the Commonwealth Fund estimated that one in every three women in the U.S. experiences physical or sexual abuse by a husband or boyfriend at least once in her life. The American Psychological Association reported in 1996 that 40-60% of men who abuse women also abuse children.

DV is the crime that keeps on giving. Children who grow up witnessing and experiencing violence in the home are more likely to engage in aggression and violence themselves. Battered children often become batterers when they grow up.

child i see the violence

Shelby County has the highest incidence of domestic violence in the state. Domestic assaults comprise roughly 10 percent of all incident reports filed with the Memphis Police Department. MPD’s most recent data (2012) show over 850 DV reports monthly; children were present in the home in 80% of those cases. Domestic violence complaints may include threatening, harassing and obscene phone calls; stalking; simple and aggravated assault; attempted assault; intimidation; verbal abuse; elder abuse; child abuse; theft and malicious damage to personal property of an abused person; violation of protective orders; kidnapping; and homicide. Tennessee’s 1997 law defining domestic violence is broad based. It applies not only to intimate partners or former partners, but also to roommates, dating partners, and relatives. Assault cases involving siblings also fall under domestic violence statutes. When the 1997 law was enacted, reported DV incidents increased by 24 percent in the following year.

There is no quick cure for domestic violence. Like other cultural evils of the 21st century, it is complex and multi-Domestic-Abusedimensional. We are, however, learning more about how to break the silence that prevents victims from coming forward. Organizations in every state  provide safe havens, counseling, encouragement and other resources to help victims and their families.

The more that women captive in DV relationships know

  • that they are not alone,
  • about the resources available to them,
  • that they can extricate themselves from what seems to be an unescapable situation,

the more DV crimes will be reported, litigated, and the perpetrators incarcerated.

Gregory M. Jones is the founder of Walking In Her Shoes, a national organization dedicated to ending the cycle of domestic violence, child abuse and sexual abuse.  Walking In Her Shoes  encourages national dialogue about DV and connects victims of DV to resources in their states.  Gregory founded  Walking In Her Shoes in May 2011, one month after his cousin Tasha Veney was murdered at a day care center by the father of her children. The organization sponsors awareness events in cities across the country. Donations go to help DV victims and their families, often including burial expenses.

Walking in Her Shoes event.

Walking in Her Shoes event.

This Saturday,  April 18, 2015, Gregory Jones and Walking in Her Shoes come to Memphis. Sponsored by Tammy Gaitor Miller of Butterfly Evolution, the free three-hour event (10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m.) includes a mini-conference and awareness walk. The four speakers have known DV first hand and now work to support other DV victims, prevent DV, and educate the public.

  • LaShanta Rudd is an author, speaker, founder of Serving In Christ Outreach Ministry, whose programs include Hope and Glory Women’s Shelter.
  • Gregory Williamson is a barber, entrepreneur, ordained minister, speaker, and co-founder of Circle of Life Transformation Center. The Center works to help DV ex-felons re-enter society as responsible, productive citizens,  and mentors young men at risk for violent crimes.
  • Ginger E. Lay of Atlanta is an entrepreneur, speaker and advocate against domestic violence.
  • DeSanta Page of Memphis is a speaker and advocate against domestic violence.

The event will be held at Caritas Village, 2509 Harvard St. (near Sam Cooper Blvd. and Hollywood). Join us in speaking out for those who fear to raise their voices against domestic violence.

walking in her shoes flyer

Confronting America’s Original Sin, Celebrating Our Redemption

April 12, 2015

appomattos-court-houseOne hundred fifty years ago last Thursday, April 9, 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee faced the hard truth that it was over. He said he would “rather die a thousand deaths” than surrender to Gen. Grant. But it was over, and he knew it: his Northern Virginia Army in tatters; shoeless, starving, less than half its earlier number, beaten beyond recovery. And so the two great soldiers met at Appomattox Courthouse. Lee surrendered, and the U.S. Civil War was all over, as they say, except the shoutin’. Six hundred thousand men dead. Families and farms and livelihoods destroyed. A would-be nation humiliated into submission.

The cemetery at Shiloh battlefield.

The cemetery at Shiloh battlefield.

For four million Americans who had been enslaved by whips, chains and threats of death, something new and wondrous entered their lives: Liberty. They would continue to suffer and struggle and sometimes die to secure the rights due them, but their world was forever changed.

railroad_depot destroyed cwar

The abomination of human slavery is a chapter in our country’s history that we cannot excise. After the war, it took an entire century and the rule of law for black and white people to live and work and sup together in the South. Even now, under our country’s first President of color, one can argue that some are more equal than others in the daily scramble of American life. Revisiting our forefathers’ inhumanity to Man is uncomfortable for 21st century white Americans. We don’t understand it, and it stirs up messy emotions from remorse to mortification. But confront it we must. Ignoring it is cheap grace.

cotton_plantWhen I was a young girl, I remember my father telling me,

Everything you have or ever will have, you owe to cotton.

In the play Many Thousand Gone (final performance tonight at 7:00 p.m.),  conflicted planter Parker Long is confronted with the evil he has done to his fellow human beings, brothers and sisters in his Christian faith.  After his moment of epiphany, he ruefully acknowledges to his wife, Cornelia,

Everything we possess, those Negroes have made it from their sweat.

Image source: 12 Years a Slave.

Image source: 12 Years a Slave.

I didn’t fully understand how incomplete my father’s insight was until I first saw Many Thousand Gone at Abundant Grace Fellowship two years ago. The play, written and directed by the church’s divinely talented Pastor Dwayne Hunt, is the history lesson missing from our textbooks. From the words and songs, prayers and laughter and tears of slaves, we learn what daily life was like in the ante bellum South. It is at once achingly difficult to watch, inspiring and uplifting.  Many Thousand Gone is ultimately a celebration of the human spirit. We see “first hand” the courage and character and faith it took for the enslaved to endure; and yes, not only to endure, but to prevail.

I will never see a cotton field or boll again without a vision of the African Americans whose toil and sweat made it grow, slave's scarred backand with it, the Southland. Slavery is the thorn in America’s side that will ever continue to prick. It is our Holocaust.  It is inextricably woven into the fabric of our history. To ignore slavery,  to avoid a full and complete understanding of how a country founded on equality allowed it to happen, deprives us of seeing Truth. And without Truth and clarity, we cannot begin to learn and heal from our transgressions.

It would have been easy to create a much darker play retelling the story of Southland slavery, one infused with anger and whites-shaming. Instead, Pastor Hunt created Many Thousand Gone to “educate, inspire, and promote reconciliation.” In the end, there is shared joy among slaves and white abolitionists that the blood of 600,000 soldiers  was not shed in vain. White Americans institutionalized slavery and allowed it to stain our new country for 246 years. It is also true, however,  that white people caused slavery to end, both its trading in England and the Americas and the legality of human bondage.

Growing up in Memphis in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I knew only what I was told and what I read about the Old South and the rationale for segregation. My historical knowledge of the Civil War was Technicolored by the romance and tragedy of Gone With the Wind. I didn’t have any black friends until long after Rhodes College (nee Southwestern at Memphis). It was a long time before I understood the truth of ante bellum days – or thought I did.  Until I first saw Many Thousand Gone in 2013, I did not know many facts I lacked. That additional knowledge helped Eddie and me to commit ourselves and our resources to furthering reconciliation in Memphis by any means God revealed to us.


God’s plans for his children are often surprising, taking twists and turns you never see coming.  Eddie and I could not have imagined in February 2013 that two years later we would be playing Parker and Cornelia Long in Many Thousand Gone at Pastor Dwayne Hunt’s request. We are not actors. We are utterly overwhelmed to be in the same company as the extraordinarily gifted performers in Many Thousand Gone. But we have learned to live into the roles of sinners who were changed, roles we live out every day. Playing Parker and Cornelia before  Memphis audiences – confronting our history and honoring those who lived through it – has been a great blessing to us.

This year’s run of Many Thousand Gone ends tonight, Sunday April 12. Come out if you can (purchase tickets online at If you can’t make it this year, watch this preview on YouTube of a previous year’s performance. Back in River City will remind you next February when Many Thousand Gone repeats its annual run. Pastor Hunt, members of his talented congregation, the actors he recruits (and Eddie and me, if he will allow us) will keep this faith-infused history lesson of our country’s redemption alive as long as it takes for every American to embrace one another in reconciliation and brotherly love.

If we can make it happen in Memphis,  it can happen everywhere.

lorraine motel protestor

This post has been updated from its original version.

We’re Not Slackers – We Just Blog that Way: Or, What We Did on Our Winter Vacation

April 5, 2015
hello my name is slacker

Never mind that we have been on sabbatical from blogging on Back in River City since the November election. As those of you who follow us on Facebook know (Don’t be left out; go there now to Like and Follow us), Eddie has been faithfully and frequently covering Memphis public policy issues while I have been held captive by Other Stuff I Just Gotta Do.

lucy and ethel candy gif

While I’ve been generally AWOL for the past few months, my partner in all things Memphis has become a familiar face wherever local public policy is held up to public scrutiny. After three-plus years of frequent attendance at council, commission, school board and MATA meetings, the overheard comment has changed from, “Who IS that guy?”

Butch and  Sundancewho are those guys

to, “Where’s Eddie?”

waldo i'm hereI’m thinking about creating a Where’s Waldo spin-off. Instead of a tall, nerdy guy wearing a striped shirt and beret, Where’s Eddie? would feature a white-haired, retired-lawyer type with glasses and a bionic ear, looking spiffy in his bow tie, formulating a tough question or pondering where truth is. The problem is, no one has to look hard for Eddie. He is always easy to spot  – on the front row, or as close to the speaker as allowed. (Being hard of hearing has its occasional advantages.)

cohen townhall jan 2015

Congressman Steve Cohen’s January 2015 Town Hall meeting. Image source: Commercial Appeal

In February, Eddie’s investment banking experience enabled him to offer insight and ammunition to Council members who objected to Mayor A C Wharton’s debt restructuring proposal as presented by Finance Director Brian Collins. The Council eventually approved the plan (8-4) on March 17, but this scoop-and-toss shenanigan is certain to hurt Memphis in the long run. (For details, see Eddie’s March 4, 2015 comments on our Back in River City Facebook page.) Eddie continues to meet with members of the Council, advocating for their facing the hard facts of the City’s outstanding financial obligations.

Jim Strickland at March 17 City Council meeting during debt restructure proposal. Note white-haired man with bionic ear front right. Image source: Commercial Appeal

Jim Strickland at March 17 City Council meeting during debt restructure proposal. Note white-haired man with bionic ear front right. Image source: Commercial Appeal

Memphis’ deteriorating financial condition is an issue that most citizens – and, regrettably, most elected officials – do not understand clearly. Folks around here tend to get aggravated when you compare Memphis to Detroit. But denial is never a good long-range strategy.  We yearn for a mayoral candidate and a flock of new city council members with financial as well as political savvy who will make such comparisons unnecessary.

Last week, Eddie and Shelby County Commissioner Terry Roland  met with financial officers at Regional One to better understand 1) how the medical center will be affected by ACA,  2) how much providing health care to indigents actually costs Shelby Co. taxpayers, and 3) what will be the real impact on Regional One of passing or not passing Insure Tennessee.

Regional One is one of those local entities like Memphis Housing Authority (MHA) whose complete financial positions, including debt, sources of revenue, and investments do not appear on the city’s financial statements. Back in River City is digging to learn more about these agencies and the impact their decisions and spending have on residents’ quality of life in Memphis and Shelby County.  We will report throughout the year as new information and insight come to light.

For the past nine months-plus,  Back in River City and our favorite in-cahoots-with blogger and government watchdog searching dog with magnifying glassJoe Saino have been meeting with Shelby County Schools to improve their public transparency. With great thanks to Supt. Dorsey Hopson and SCS board member Chris Caldwell, we are delighted to announce that SCS will soon open a public reading room.  Anyone will be able to visit the reading room to request and review documents that fall under the Tennessee Open Records Act. These include contracts and agreements with vendors; financial records including proposed projects and expenditures; academic planning, analysis and progress reports;  instructional materials, and more. SCS is working to make many documents available on their website. Textbooks will also be made more easily accessible. This may be a lengthy process, but the wheels are turning. Back in River City will report full details about the reading room when it opens.  Following several meetings with Supt. Hopson, Mr. Caldwell, Joe Saino, and SCS staff; Supt. Hopson created a task force in late 2014 to ensure public input (including two SCS parents) into the process of affording fuller transparency. Both of us at  Back in River City (yep, Eddie and me, his ancillary ears) serve on this task force.

Open records has gained importance as a topic of conversation in this mayoral election year.


During the media’s Sunshine Week (March 15-21, 2015), the Commercial Appeal reported on Memphis city government’s routinely snail-like responses to open records requests from the public. The paper’s own  request to the city for email correspondence with a former employee suspected of possible fraud has still not been answered, a year later. Many aggrieved public comments and a CA editorial later, Mayor Wharton asked Mike Carpenter, Executive Director of the Plough Foundation and former County Commissioner and city official, to review the city’s open records process and recommend improvements.  Mayor Wharton’s first executive order after his 2009 election committed his office to

“open government, transparency and establishment of new standards [to] facilitate the expansion of the public’s access to its government .  .  .”

Election years have a way of making unfilled promises receive new attention. Thanks, CA!

This year is a big one for local elections. Memphis will elect a new mayor, and all City Council positions will be up for grabs. At this date, four incumbents have announced they will not run for a 2016-2020 term. As major issues evolve, Back in River City will continue to offer perspective and information. Remember to follow our  Facebook page for frequent commentary and linked articles on a variety of Memphis matters that matter. (Hat tip to Ken Welch and his podcast A Memphis Conversation. Plug or plagiarism? You decide).

birthday cupcake 3 candles

One last item of shameless self-promotion:  Back in River City recently marked our third anniversary!  2014 was a great year. We had over 25,000 hits and 12,000 unique visitors, each viewing two posts on average. Over 2,000 people are considered regular followers. Our most popular post was the 2014 Voters Guide to the Judicial Elections, closely followed by our post on Dr. Ben Carson’s April 2013 speech that “legitimate” local media declined to cover. The Ben Carson post has been the most popular ever since it was posted, drawing people to our site through Google and other search engines weekly. (Interesting, huh? Stay tuned for more about Dr. Carson,  his presidential prospects, and the black conservatism movement’s impact on Memphis politics.)

Eddie and I appreciate each and every one of you. We look forward to more good times as we share our love for Memphis, our memories and hopes,  and work with you to make things better for all who call River City home.



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