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2012’s Top Stories that Changed Memphis

December 31, 2012

Back in River City’s  list of 2012’s top local news events reflects our thoughts about people and events that will generate ripples and waves of impact throughout 2013 and beyond. We made selections based on common themes of “What ties us together?” vs. “What continues to divide us?”  and “What uplifts Memphis and gives us hope for a better tomorrow?”

Here we go.


10. Grizzlies get new ownership and a pledge for another 15 years in Memphis.  Dot com billionaire Robert J. Pera and his 20+ co-0wners, a stellar group of Memphis boosters that includes Justin Timberlake, Penny Hardaway, Billy Orgel, Ashley (Mrs. Peyton) Manning, Pitt Hyde,  Staley Cates, and Harold Ford, Jr., know what the Grizzlies mean to Memphis.

The Grizzlies  tie us together.

photo credit:

photo credit:

9. (TIE) President Obama makes address to Booker T. Washington  graduating seniors . Booker T. Washington High School made national headlines when it won the honor of having the President deliver its 2012 commencement address.  The school’s stellar improvement under Principal Alisha Kiner is an example of  changes we all hope to see throughout the new unified Shelby County School System.

The quest for greater student achievement ties us together.

Yo-Yo Ma plays for  Memphis’ New Ballet Ensemble and graduate Lil’ BuckColonial Middle Schoolers were treated to a world class performance on October 23, 2012 by the Memphis Symphony, world renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, and student dancers from the New Ballet Ensemble and School (NBE). Yo-Yo Ma helped launch the career of NBE (and Carver High) graduate Charles Riley, known professionally as Lil’ Buck. Lil’ Buck, according to NBE CEO and artistic director Katie Smythe, is “the Baryshnikov of jookin.”  New York Times dance critic Alistair Macauley shares her opinion in a rave review he penned while visiting NBE in November. (Jookin, for the arts-challenged among you, is  a unique street dance genre born in Memphis. Its jaw-dropping moves echo ballet as well hip hop .)  When Lil’ Buck performed “The Swan” to Yo-Yo Ma’s accompaniment at  a Los Angeles fundraiser promoting the arts in schools, it was filmed by director Spike Jonze,  posted to YouTube, and has currently been viewed over 2 million times.  Lil’ Buck opened for Madonna at the 2012 Super Bowl, and subsequently joined her international tour. He has also appeared in Gap ads. (More about little-known Memphis treasure New Ballet Ensemble and School in future posts, including my long-delayed review of  NBE’s annual Nut Remix).

The vision and philanthropy that inspire Memphis’ New Ballet Ensemble and School inspire us and tie us together.

8. Undefeated wins Oscar for best documentary of 2012This authentic Memphis story won the hearts of everyone who saw it. White businessman Bill Courtney volunteered enormous amounts of his time for six years coaching the underdog Manassas High School football team to its first ever playoff game. See it. Celebrate the story Undefeated tells about Memphis youths overcoming overwhelming obstacles. Celebrate the victory of teamwork, self determination, and persistence over a culture of defeat and hopelessness.

The story and success of  Undefeated  ties us together.

7. Commercial Appeal gets new publisher. Where there is new management, there is hope.  A great city deserves a great newspaper. I am a newspaper junkie who grieves over the demise of daily newspapers in an industry that seems to be chewing its legs off rather than flipping open the trap. Nearly every day I want to write a letter to George Cogswell and help him “get” how to sell more newspapers in Memphis. So far, She-who-shall-not-be-named has kept her job.  The good news is that the very talented   Geoff Calkins, who has a gift for writing lyrical and uplifting Memphis stories, is being used beyond the sports desk. Let’s hope that the CA will stop trying to sell newspapers by dividing uswhich hasn’t exactly been a winning strategy.

c-y festival6.Cooper-Young named one of the Great Places of America by the American Planning Association. Memphis’ “free-wheeling, eclectic, and bohemian” enclave of 1930’s homes and hip restaurants just got cooler.

C-Y, you uplift and tie us together.

5.Memphis named one of National Geographic’s Best Trips of 2013. The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, Shelby Farms, Project Green Fork, Andrew Michael Italian Kitchen and Central BBQ get strokes alongside Graceland and Beale Street to launch Memphis into Traveler magazine’s must-go destinations for 2013.  This is so much better than 2011’s dubious honors as America’s Fattest City and America’s Poorest City. Uplifting for sure!

wolf river bridge shelby farms

4.(Multiple stories): Memphis politicians continue to behave badly. Oh, where to start?  The County Commission waging war against suburban municipalities as well as the first  amendment rights of the Commercial Appeal? School Board members  waging war on each other ? Ophelia Ford ranting against ~ uh, nurses? Janis Fullilove being Janis Fullilove? These shenanigans divide us.

3. Memphis continues to have too little representation in Nashville. Folks, face it: a GOP-dominated Tennessee Legislature will be in place likely for decades to come. Until Memphis replaces its virtually voiceless Democratic state senators and district reps with Republican legislators who can get things done, we will continue to be the blue-headed stepchild who gets no love, no respect,  and no aid from Pappy Tenntaxbucks.  We know there are  capable, qualified, level-headed and Memphis-loving potential candidates among you who fear coming out of the conservative closet in a heavily Democratic county.  If that describes you, maybe you should put on your Big Boy or Big Girl pants and get to know your local Republican Party.  (And RP, you gotta lotta ‘splainin’ to do.)  Just sayin’ . . .

What often divides us could create unity, if we focus on our common ground and goals for Greater Memphis.

common ground the heart of community

2. The school consolidation struggle: it ain’t over ’til it’s over. No need to rehash this conflict today. There are valid points on either side.  We will continue our coverage of education in Memphis in 2013. Nothing is more important to Greater Memphis than the education of our children. Let our common ground be the creation of a world class school system to replace the shattered remains of MCS. This quest should tie us together, not divide us as it has been, with Memphis and the Shelby County municipalities warring against one another.

mixed race second graders

1. The death of Officer Martoiya LangMemphis comes together when we lose one of our own. We all stopped our holiday shopping and celebration to mourn the senseless loss of this brave protector of our peace. The same day, we received another solar plexus assault when a tragedy beyond imagining took place in Newtown, Connecticut, taking the lives of innocent children as well as brave teachers and school officials.

When tragedy strikes, we find our common humanity, our common desires for the safety and protection for our loved ones. When Officer Lang fell in the line of duty, we were reminded that those who risk their lives to protect us  on a daily basis  also have loved ones. Recognizing that we all have the same basic needs, fears, and desires is the ultimate cord that can ~ and must ~ bind us together.

Photo: Alan Spearman, Commercial Appeal

Photo: Alan Spearman, Commercial Appeal

We began our end of the year musings with tributes to special people who brought Memphis together through music. There is so much, much more than our music that we share.  The stories that we have listed here can change us and bind us together if we see how God is working within us, within Memphis, to make us a stronger, healthier, more prosperous community.

Tell us what you want to see change for the better in Memphis in 2013.  And if you have ideas on how to make your vision real, share it here at Back in River City. Here we can come together in civil dialogue and conversation.  Here we can plant the seeds of change.  Here we can come together.

Happy New Year to all of Greater Memphis!  


4 Comments leave one →
  1. Jeanne Distretti permalink
    December 31, 2012 7:17 pm

    Eve: I liked (and agreed with) your top ten Memphis stories. Jeanne


    • December 31, 2012 8:56 pm

      Jeanne, what a joy to hear from you! Thanks for your comment. Eddie and I would love to see you. We missed you at the last GHS reunion. #45 coming up in 2014 – we should call it a Geezer Gala. : )

  2. Bill Hicks permalink
    January 2, 2013 4:36 pm

    WOW, guys……… have an important ministry in a great city. Much work remains to be done, but God is using you to help heal a divided metro area. Our prayers are with you as you continue to do such an important job for Memphis and Shelby County and for our Lord. God bless you,Bill & Mary Ann Hicks P.S. Take some time off this winter and come south for a visit to The Villages in Florida. We are about an hour north of Orlando in a unique 55+ community. God has led us here to minister to those of our generation and the Builder generation above us (also called the “Greatest Generation”). We helped start a community church called Live Oaks and are part of a new movement called ENCORE generation, where people are encouraged to “finish life well” – physically, mentally, and – most importantly – spriritually. We have extra bedrooms and would love for you to see the area and our new mission field.
    Date: Mon, 31 Dec 2012 17:59:58 +0000

    • January 4, 2013 1:52 am

      Hi, Bill. Thank you for the prayers and kind comments. Your ministry with Mary Ann sounds wonderful as well. We would be delighted if we could get away for a visit to see you both. That would be a treat. Not likely for the winter, I’m sorry to say. We’ll work on it, though! God bless you and Mary Ann and your loved ones.

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