Expect More

May 9th, 2019

We should expect more of ourselves.

Published in The Daily Memphian



A couple of years ago, Memphis beat out Salt Lake City as the most giving city in the United States according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy. We give about six bucks out of every $100.

You – each one of you – deserves a pat on the back for that statistic.

Cruising around in last year’s Memphis Business Journal’s Book of Lists – hey, it was a slow afternoon – gave me a bit of an indication about where the money goes.

The top 12 local granting foundations spread $394 million around the Memphis area last year. Our top 25 charitable organizations received $1.8 billion in public support. FedEx, International Paper, First Horizon and Raymond James were the United Way top four in corporate giving with a total of $2,153,000. The same top three and our own MLGW in the fourth position led the way in employee giving with $5,613,000.

And those totals don’t even begin to cover all of the not-for-profits and charitable organizations, and none of the places of worship. There are, and this is a rough guess on my part, about a million of those.

Next, I dove into some census info – hey, at least I’m not surfing cat videos or freaking out on Nextdoor – and was once again confronted with the dichotomy that is our city.

The most giving city in the United States is also one of its very poorest. Our poverty rate is pushing 27% – for children it’s 39%. And both of those numbers are an improvement in the last couple of years.

The numbers vary a bit from source to source – and I was doing the math – but the conclusion drawn is accurate: The people of Memphis are warm and giving, but the city itself can seem cold and distant to much of its population. 

You – each one of you – deserves better.

We must find a way to take the warmth around our tables, the generosity in our hearts, and what I believe to be the genuine decency of our nature and carry it to the chambers of those elected to lead us. If we don’t see those qualities in the debates, those motivations in the proposals, and that character in the votes, we are not seeing the best of ourselves represented.

If we continue to look the other way, if we continue to pretend that none of that is about us, or that it’s all business as usual, we will finally become what we’re seeing.

We will lose our soul.

When the city council comes to a standstill, exhausting every parliamentary trick it can muster, over how many black and how many white votes it can create, you know we’re walking backwards. When a council member promotes the interest of his employer for months without revealing that employment, that may not be illegal, but you know it’s wrong.

When the state legislature continues to deny insurance to hundreds of thousands of the state’s working poor, or passes a law that puts people in jail for incorrect voter registration forms, or takes money from the public schools in the biggest districts, you know which city suffers the most.

When the very moral fabric of this nation is ripped from the very top every day, when common decency becomes uncommon, and fear of the other replaces faith in each other, you know you can’t continue to pretend that any of that is in your best interest.

This is a local election year and next year is a national one. Between now and then, look inside for the best in you, and don’t settle for anything less out here.

I’m a Memphian, and let’s give it our best shot.

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