Missing Memphis: the Young and the Restless

Posted on July 1, 2014

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By Katie Butler

photo_for_websiteDisclaimer: I have just spent the past two weeks as a camp counselor, taking care of twenty-nine wonderful teenage girls along with a slew of other young twenty-something college students. Deep in the middle of Texas, I found myself surrounded by students from large state schools, and as the only Memphian working at a Texas summer camp, I found a need to explain why I dare moved out of the wonderful state of Texas to attend a school in Memphis, of all places. Due to the immense amount of Texas pride in my fellow co-workers, my arguments about the greatness of Memphis had to be sound and convincing. It’s a good thing Memphis as a city never fails to impress.

“Hi, I’m Katie, and I attend Rhodes College in Memphis Tennessee,” I remember saying what seemed to be hundreds of times over the past two weeks.

“Memphis?”

“Yes Memphis,” I would say with a smile, expecting a retort.

Most times this would be the response: “What is there to do in Memphis, and why would you want to leave Texas?”

It is widely known that Texans have an overwhelming sense of pride in their state and willingly argue against the greatness of other cities. Therefore, explaining the greatness of Memphis to other kids my age and parents of campers was not an easy task. So I took the best approach I could, pushing the buttons of my fellow college-aged colleagues right in the sweet spot.

“Want to know why Memphis rocks?” I would say earnestly. “It’s the perfect place for young people. Not only does it give you a chance to make a difference, but it’s a place to make a life, set roots, and explore.”

I continuously notice that college students I meet everywhere are eager to find a job, life experience, and satisfying hobbies. Not only were my fellow camp counselors concerned with their futures, but friends from my hometown of Houston and other cities are all concerned with the idea of growing up. However, I continuously find myself frustrated in my hometown of Houston and in other large cities not only in Texas, but in other states too. The issue is, while such cities are thriving, there seems to be little room for the explorative minds of college students and recent graduates. Memphis, however, tells a very different story.

Memphis is a growing city for young people, and with gusto, I told this to everyone that I know. Not only this, but the young people that are moving to Memphis are young, college-educated professionals Now, I understand that any city in the world can attract young people, I would say, but here is the difference about Memphis; because it is focusing on restoration, the arts, and creating a lively city culture, there is the chance for exploration, start-ups, and rebuilding, all beginning with the hands and minds of college graduates.

About now, the wheels in the brains of those I talk to about Memphis are turning. They are thinking “Hmmm, well, I am young, needing a job, wanting to explore, and deserve a chance. I can find all this in Memphis?”

“Absolutely.” I would then talk about the Choose901 initiative, the FedEx Forum, Beale Street, and other social events, Playhouse on the Square, the Orpheum, and other art festivals or projects, along with Overton Square, Cooper Young, and other hidden gems like Otherlands Coffee Shop and Sweet Noshings. “It is no wonder that young people are flooding into Memphis,” I would say, “it is a melting pot.”

“Alright alright,” the person I was talking to would say, “you keep talking about young people. But you’re a young person yourself- what has Memphis ever done for you personally?”

I would smile, take a moment to think, and say “It is taught me that there is a chance for me outside of my bubble of home. It has taught me that even as a young person, I can make a difference. I can work for a real newspaper and interact with homeless people. I can support small businesses and eat green. I can volunteer with cancer patients. I can talk to new people about how to make a difference and listen to blues music while eating from a food truck. I can rebuild not only a city, but myself, as a young adult who never thought she could.”

Let’s just say I had this conversation many times, so I got really good at convincing other college students, especially those hard ones who live in Austin, just how cool Memphis is.

Lastly, I would tell them the true secret. Any city can have thriving youngsters in it, but Memphis embraces young people, college students, and explorers with loving arms, and pushes them to give their dreams a chance. And with that, my fellow college-aged co-counselors would ponder what I had to say quietly and smile. The fact that there were no retorts about the greatness of Texas (though it is a great and wonderful state, I have to admit), meant that I had done my job.

Katie Butler is the News editor for theGRIND and is a sophomore at Rhodes College, where she studies English, music, and urban studies.

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Posted in: Lifestyle