100% Sure

September 18th, 2014

In last week’s Memphis Flyer (9/11/14), editor Bruce VanWyngarden wrote an excellent column – as he generally does, dammit – about the mess in Kroger’s parking lot. He offered this about comments he saw on the paper’s website:

“Racists found it the perfect excuse to use the ‘n word’ and/or to disparage all black teens as ‘thugs’ or ‘animals.’ For Memphis haters, it offered a wonderful opportunity to bash the city and brag about how they ‘got out in time.’ Gun lovers pointed out how much better the situation would have been if someone had just shot some of the teens. Liberals saw the incident as the inevitable result of income inequality.”

Long on “I’ll tell you another damn thing” and short on useful things.

I was reminded of the theme of a past column by somebody else I try to read every week.

That would be me.

As published in The Daily News, September 19, 2014, and in The Memphis News, September 20-26, 2014

BTW Address


I wrote something three years ago when President Obama’s visited Booker T. Washington High School. In light of recent events, I’d like to visit those words again.

“We’ve seen the letters to the editor, heard the guy two stools down, the geniuses spitting into talk show microphones, ‘It’s not the teachers, it’s the parents.’ If I’m 17 in south Memphis right now, we don’t have time to teach or reach my parents to teach or reach me. I have little brothers and sisters I’m responsible for, they’re hungry, I’m mad.

“And I just put a gun in my pocket and walked out the door.

“When there’s one exhausted parent or no parent at home, where would you have me go? When home is no place I can safely come home to, when the corner is my mentor, the street my support, what would you do with me? When there are thousands of me one meltdown away from you, can you pretend that we have nothing to do with each other?

“I’m next door. What happens to me tonight when I walk out that door happens to you as a city tomorrow.” 

It happened to us two weeks ago in Poplar Plaza.

People who talk just in terms of police and security crackdowns or in terms of 20 years from now – or just talk – just don’t get it. We need to stop that kid at that door and open another one right now. We need to stop these teen pregnancies, graduate these kids, save this generation so it can save the next.

There are programs that get it. The Boys & Girls Clubs, building responsible citizens from the very raw product of urban reality, get it.

The President came to BTW in recognition of what that amazing inner city class did, raising their graduation rate more than 20%, raising the hope of a city, and symbolically through his appearance, the hope of a nation for inner city schools.

Half that class went to the Porter Boys & Girls Club across the street instead of staying on the street. For mentoring and guidance. For role models, reinforcement, and a sense of self-worth. For what can happen when parents can’t be there but others are willing to step in and stand up.

When I wrote that column, the graduation rate in city schools was in the low sixties. It was 99.6% in the six Boys & Girls Clubs. In the three classes since, it’s been 100%.

In a town where the unemployment percentage for African-Americans is double that of whites and around 44% for African-American teens, the Juice Plus+ Technical Training Center offers both life and skills training to members of the Boys & Girls Clubs from 16 to 21 in culinary, logistics and automotive care. The job placement rate of their graduates is 100%.

Our kids can do anything, but not if we do nothing.

I’m a Memphian, and we need to do everything we can to save tomorrow, everything that works.


Join me, Willy Bearden and Corey Mesler for Making Memphis, a Mid-South Book Festival panel discussion, Thursday, September 25, 6 p.m. at the Crosstown Arts Story Booth, 438 N. Cleveland. You might hear a good story or two, at worst, you’ll get a drink.

I'm a Memphian by Dan Conaway

If you don’t read it, I’ll read it to you.

The book is available in print online and all over town and now in audio online at Amazon, Audible and iTunes, read by the author – columns, comments and character references for a city filled with it and often absolutely full of it. Take a look or a listen.



Macel Newton: When My only son was growing up , At the age of 15 , He would beg me for the car and did not want me with him, I said no, But went to bed early because it took all of my strength to mean no. If he went to the skating rink, I would have him paged if I was concerned whether he was there or not, I believe parents find it easier to not say no, It is full attention raising a child.

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