This video captures something of the life of South Memphis. My shop is on the train tracks that literally divide Orange Mound (South Memphis hood) from Midtown, and a lot of my coworkers live in Orange Mound. The narrator is now attending Lane College, which is the HBCU in Jackson, TN where both of my parents worked (dad as a career counselor, mom as librarian) for a couple of years before they moved to Memphis.
Memphis has, to paint with a broad brush, two large swaths of "bad" ghetto (there are pockets of such across Memphis, and there are not so "bad" areas within each, so this isn't really accurate, but for the sake of simplification...) Orange Mound in the south, and Frayser in the north. My brother was a cop in the South Memphis police precinct (Raines Road Precinct) for a good while, so I've heard stories both from the perspective of a cop and from the perspective of my coworkers who live there. I live on the Raleigh/Bartlett border in the north, and have taken classes at the community college extension campus and spent a lot of time with coworkers in Frayser, so I know the North side better. Plus my mom was librarian at the "worst" public elementary school in Frayser (and in the whole city, so it was said, they have since shut it down) for years. Both Orange Mound and Frayser can be quite beautiful, especially in the spring when the flowers are in bloom, and later in the summer when the crape myrtles bloom. Memphis is an interesting city in that there is flora everywhere, and as seen in the video there are pockets of "woods" throughout the city. It's not all concrete. There is something about the rolling hills in Frayser, and the large number of pine trees there, that I find quite peaceful. The food (especially soul food and BBQ) in both north and south sides of the city is often sublime. I'm attending a community BBQ some friends of mine in Frayser are putting on in a couple of weeks at a COGIC church there, and my mouth is already watering at the thought of it.
There is a heaviness in the aesthetic of Memphis that is hard to describe (and by "Memphis" I mean real Memphis, not East Memphis, which is Disneyland Memphis for rich white people). Part of it is the anatomy of summer here, the visible weight of the humidity - that great oppressor. Part of it is the goddamn brokenness of everything here- govt, roads, schools, neighborhoods, businesses, churches - anything you need to work for you doesn't here. There is that hauntedness and a woundedness seen in many of the souls who grow up in or next to the sorts of hells noted in the video. There is that completely disarming mix of hopelessness and mirth seen. There is the always lingering possibility of violence (that is everywhere in this city - I never, a dozen years ago, would have thought if possible that I, former Catholic Worker, would become someone who didn't leave home without gun and knife). But, despite and because of that heaviness, there is the singing shown at the end of the video, there is a palpable joy to be found in South and North Memphis that you notice if you stick around long enough, longer than the ghetto tourism of white Christians from East Memphis (or its satellites in trendy Midtown neighborhoods and Mud Island) or eastern suburbs churches doing pat-themselves-on-the-back projects on the occasional afternoon. It is a joy that makes no sense, and it certainly isn't a joy that makes everything OK or worth it. It is a completely useless, gratuitous joy, the existence of which makes one wonder at the absurdity and beauty of human beings.