In A Word

March 8th, 2012

While we boomers are booming away here and nationally, taking shots at everything from entrenched positions in the rear, engaged primarily in leading the march backwards, there are positive signs of forward progress at the front where the battles are actually fought, as they always have been, by the young.

The Leadership Academy’s Fellows and Connect Memphis programs, Leadership Memphis’ FastTrack and Grassroots programs, Launch Your City’s Seed Hatchery and Launch Memphis programs, Ignite Memphis, Millennials Memphis, I Am Memphis ... on and on ...

My word, there’s a lot going on.

As published in The Daily News, March 9, 2012, and in The Memphis News, March 10-16, 2012

In A Word Pic


I’m paraphrasing a bit, but this was the gist of what they were asked:

What matters most to our city’s future?

What do we promote to bring your friends here?

What do we creatively energize to become a talent magnet?

The Daily News is kind enough to give me 500 words each week to rattle on about the this and that of where we live. The Leadership Academy gave them three – just three words to answer each of those three questions, and just a few minutes to come up with them and present them to Mayor Wharton.

“Opportunity, Education, Identity,” they valued.

“Collaboration, Perception, Strategy,” they proposed

“Affordability, Authenticity, Accessibility,” they alliterated.

It was an exercise, one of those brainstorming things where teams of people come up with stuff, then somebody reports it to everybody, then everybody nods knowingly while the usual suspects … the ones who simply must share their insightful understanding … pontificate on its true meaning. It was an exercise as familiar as the squeak and smell of markers in closed meeting rooms.

“Culture, Warmth, Soul,” they shared.

“Progress, Reform, Innovation,” they observed.

“Incentives, Promotion, Commitment,” they offered.

But this wasn’t that familiar. This squeaked like wheels turning, crackled like electricity. These people were into this. They cared about what was being said, more importantly, about who was saying it and what it was about. They don’t want to talk, they want to do. They don’t want to wonder, they want to measure. They don’t want just words, they want real meaning.

They are a group of about a hundred Academy Fellows, together for a year or so, average age about 33. They are black and white, woman and man, right and left, half from here and half from somewhere else, bound by this place and bound to make it work better than it does. As I listened to them, I thought of other groups like them springing up here and there in Memphis, determined to grow and bloom in this city without being buried in the fertilizer of previous generations.

When I can no longer find my keys or remember where I was going – okay, that’s now – when I can no longer find my car or remember if I have one, these are the people who will be driving this city and they’re the ones fueling what’s next this very minute.

Take another look at what they came up with, and at words I didn’t already include like “inclusion,” “acceptance” and “pride,” even clichés they used like “clean slate” and “blank canvas,” and think what it would mean to Memphis if those words had real meaning again.

Mark Twain said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.”

I’ve been in enough rooms full of lightning bugs to last a lifetime. In this room, on this day, there was lightning.

I’m a Memphian, and – in a word – hopeful.


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