Thank you to everyone who came to the exhibit opening! It was such fun! Special thanks to Jane Roberts and Church of the Holy Communion for the beautiful flower arrangement, to Steve Schad for the wonderful music, to Constance Abbey for providing transportation for a number of guests, and to my sweet husband Phil for all of his support and encouragement along the way. Several people sent me photos from the evening --- wish I could say who took which shot, but I cannot. I share them here with heartfelt thanks!
The Connecting Memphis exhibit is coming up soon! The invitation (with all relevant information) is below, but the basics are ---
DATE: May 18, 2018 (on a Friday evening) is the opening reception. The exhibit runs through July 18. Gallery Hours are: Mon-Thur: 7:45 a.m. - 11:00 p.m. / Fri: 7:45 a.m. - 4:30 p.m. / Sat: 12:00- 4:00 p.m. / Sun: 1:00-11:00 p.m.
TIME: 5:30 to 7:30 pm
DESCRIPTION: The exhibit at CBU features 50 selected photos & stories from the (almost) 1200 interviews conducted over two-and-a-half years
PLACE: Beverly & Sam Ross Gallery on the campus of Christian Brothers University (650 E Parkway S, Memphis, TN 38104). The gallery is on the bottom floor of the library. Enter through the door on the north end of the building. Wheelchair access is available on the west side of the library. Ask the guard at the gate (at either the entrance on E. Parkway or the entrance on Central) for the best place to park. He or she can also give you more specific directions to the library / gallery. There will be signs directing you to the gallery.
MUSIC: Provided by Steve Schad
COST: Free, of course :-) and open to everyone. Feel free to pass this email on to anyone interested in the photos and stories from fellow Memphians.
Hope to see you there!
Two-and-a-half years ago, newly retired from the public school system, I launched a community storytelling project and called it Connecting Memphis. Its goal was simple: to honor the image of God in every human being. Over these past many months, I've had the privilege of interviewing almost 1200 people from all parts of our city. I can say with absolute certainty that my life has been changed and enriched by the stories people have so generously shared. I am grateful beyond words to have encountered so many wonderful people of all ages, ethnicities, religions, levels of education, economic circumstances, degrees of health, interests, abilities, and backgrounds. The more I’ve listened to people, the more I’ve come to realize that we share many more commonalities than differences. Each of us brings something to the table, and every person is valuable beyond description. We all have stories --- many stories --- inside of us, those unique experiences that have brought us to this point on our journey. None of us fit into neat categories. We are much, much bigger than that.
As the Connecting Memphis project comes to a close, I want to thank you for reading the interviews and encouraging and affirming those whose stories have appeared in this space. When someone gives us a glimpse into his or her life and we identify with it, something wonderful happens. Author Anne Lamott puts it this way: “When you tell the truth and somebody says ‘me too’, then you know you’re home.” We are not alone in our struggles; we all have hard things to deal with. We all love, we all grieve, we all hope, we’re all afraid sometimes. And we all need the thoughtfulness, kindness, and compassion so very evident in your comments and responses to the stories. Thank you for that.
A special thanks to Caritas Village for letting me monopolize a window booth as my “office.” Thank you to the Memphis Public Library --- particularly Wayne Dowdy and Wang-Ying Glasgow --- for making it possible for me to conduct interviews there. Thank you to St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral; their weekly community breakfasts have enabled me to meet many of the homeless men and women whose stories appear here. Thank you to the many festival organizers, non-profits, local businesses, community centers, houses of worship, retirement homes, civic organizations, and individuals in various neighborhoods who have welcomed me so warmly and openly. Thank you to the many artists of all kinds who touch our hearts and imaginations with their courage and creativity every single day. A special thanks to CBU Gallery Director and local artist Rollin Kocsis for encouraging me from the beginning and walking with me as the project moved toward completion. And of course, heartfelt gratitude to my husband Phil for his unfailing support and love.
SAVE THE DATE: Many, many thanks to Christian Brothers University for sponsoring and hosting the upcoming CONNECTING MEMPHIS Exhibit. The opening reception for the show will be May 18, 2018, from 5:30 to 7:30 pm in the Beverly & Sam Ross Gallery on the campus of Christian Brothers University and will feature a number of photos and stories from the project. Yes, the opening is more than a year away, but I would be so honored to have you join me that evening. Please mark it on your calendar! The exhibit will be on view through August 1, 2018, and the pieces will then become part of the university’s permanent collection. Thank you, CBU and Rollin Kocsis for affirming the value of our community’s stories. If you would like to receive a reminder about the show, click HERE or go directly to https://goo.gl/Nt9Yd1.
Going forward, I plan to continue to volunteer with a couple of non-profits and to work on some personal writing and photography projects. I'm not sure in which direction those will take me, but I'm excited to explore the possibilities.
There is so much more I could say, but I will close with this quote from the Bible, found in Micah 6:8. This simple but profound truth reminds me daily of what is really important in life: “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
Thank you, Memphis. You are a treasure.
Cindy Putnam McMillion
Photo below (interviewing Howard on Beale Street) by Adarryl Jackson Photography:
Article by Commercial Appeal columnist David Waters: 'Connecting Memphis' one web post, one person at a time (online 2/24/17, print 2/25/17)
Justin Jb Brazil's original interview ran on the Connecting Memphis site on February 22, 2016. Since that time, Justin has spoken to numerous groups about overcoming difficulties in life. Using his own experiences of childhood trauma, he encourages audience members to keep going in spite of the challenges they may face. The photos on this page were taken in February of 2017. The text of the original interview follows and is well worth the rereading:
“When I was ten years old, a neighborhood bully threw a Cool-Whip container full of gasoline on me and set me on fire. I had second and third degree burns on over fifty-percent of my body, and I couldn’t go outside for years. I remember sitting at the window one day watching my brothers and friends play, and I made a promise to myself: ‘When I’m able to go outside again, I’m going to see as much of the world as I can.’ There were commercials on TV about the military that said, ‘Be all that you can be’ and those caught my attention. I researched it and decided to go Navy because they traveled. I was able to touch every continent on this planet except Antarctica, and I don’t consider that a continent; it’s just a big block of ice. [*laughs*] I served on the USS Carl Vinson in the western Pacific and deployed twice to the Persian Gulf, where I transitioned to the weapons department. Building missiles, bombs, and torpedoes is dangerous work. It only takes one wrong tug, one wrong push, and all of us would be gone, so we had to build trust and support. We had to know that we’d go down there and make the right decisions. I didn’t have to go on that second deployment, but I extended my contract so I could. I wanted to. A lot of my friends were still there and I didn’t want to leave them, just in case something were to happen. Being in the Navy was the first time I had ever stepped out of my house and had a group of people who would watch my back and be with me no matter what. If I was hungry, they fed me. If we were hungry, we fed each other. We never left anyone out. They taught me loyalty. We became brothers there. We were all we had. If something happened, they would have pushed me out of the way and taken it, and I would have done the same for them.In the good times, traveling all over the world, to the bad times, losing family members and friends, we stuck with each other. It was tough, but we made it through.
“We’re scattered all over the world now, but we still stay in regular contact. We still motivate and push each other. Not long ago, one of my friends was thinking about dropping out of college, and we all got on the phone. He didn’t drop out. We have lifetime support that will never change, and we know each other's boundaries.
“When I first got out of the military and came back to Memphis, I bumped into the guy who set me on fire when I was a kid. I used to think, ‘If I ever see him again, I’m going to do this, I’m going to do that.’ And when I saw him, I was angry. I approached him and said, ‘Do you know who I am?’ He said ‘Nah.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you know who I am.’ He kept saying, ‘I’m sorry for what happened to you, man. I didn’t have nothing to do with that.’ Rage just instantly clicked on inside me, but I stopped. One thing that the military taught me was control. I could easily, easily have hurt him, but I didn’t. I let it go. I look back at all the things I was able to do because of what I went through, and I can say he played a part in pushing me through the path of my life. I enjoy my freedom. I enjoy being able to go out and touch these different countries. I enjoy the friends that I have. And if it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t have had all that.
“I’ve been with the Grizzlies TEAM Mentor Program since August, and I plan to keep on doing it. I’m also mentoring (by phone) a 13-year-old kid on Staten Island. I found out about him through a news story. He too had been set on fire by bullies, so I contacted the family and have been in touch with them ever since.”
“I was in a 10-month spiritual formation group several years ago, and when we studied power and privilege, it was probably the first time I had seriously looked at those issues. I knew then what I should be doing. I moved into the neighborhood [Binghamton] at that time. For the first six years, we did everything out of my house, and then opened Caritas Village in 2006.
“My time with Caritas has changed me tremendously; it’s probably affected me far more than it has anybody else that we’ve worked with. With all the diversity in the neighborhood, it’s just really rich with relationships. The stereotypes we put on people who live in the inner city are very incorrect. I can’t imagine going through some of the things these people go through and coming out on the other side standing. So yes, it’s definitely changed me.
“I wasn’t ready to retire. I never thought I would, but my back doesn’t allow me to stand a lot anymore, and this place needed somebody with a whole lot more stamina than I have now. I really excited that Caritas is in Leslie’s hands now [Leslie Barker]. She will be able to take it much further than I was because she is an artist. I am just creative; I’m not an artist.
“I imagine I’ll always be connected with this place, unless they kick me out [*laughs*].
Pieces by Frank D Robinson adorn Caritas Village, both inside and out:
A few shots from Onie's retirement party, February 2017:
WMC Action News 5 co-anchor Joe Birch is a great Caritas supporter:
Alive Paint artist Jamond Bullock works on a portrait of Onie during the event:
Grammy-award winning jazz saxophonist Kirk Whalum dropped by the celebration:
Onie Johns, Founder and recently retired Director of Caritas Village, 2509 Harvard
A sampling of articles about Caritas Village.:
"This is our second year for the MusliMeMfest. The reason we have the festival is to dispel wrong ideas about who we are and to open ourselves up as a community for folks to feel comfortable talking to us. Festival attendees can sample foods --- including sweets --- from our various cultures, enjoy a light show, watch an educational cartoon about science in Islam, buy clothing and other items, and ask questions of the local religious leader. We don’t want people to think of us as outsiders. We’re part of the fabric of the community. We work here, our kids go to school here, we have strong morals. I think people assume that we are 'other', but we are a part of Memphis too." [MusliMeMfest 2017 will be held on Saturday, March 25, 10am - 6pm at the Agricenter International, 7777 Walnut Grove Road. Admission is free.]
Images from MusliMeMfest 2016 below, courtesy of the Muslims in Memphis FB page:
“I did four and a half years in the Marines. When I first started in the service, a lieutenant told me: ‘Have faith in yourself.’ I've always remembered that because he's right; It will get rough. Sometimes you might be hurting inside and want to do something to yourself, but God has you covered. Don’t give up. God knows. Believe in him. Believe in yourself. Thank you.”
"I’m a disabled Vietnam veteran. I lost a lot of my friends in the war and because of that, one of the things I suffer from is survivor's guilt. When I lived in Chicago, I used to the roam the streets, two- and three-o’clock in the morning, with a K-bar [Marine survival knife] in my hand in case somebody tried to jump me.
"Photography was my way out. I’d been taking pictures from the time I was six or seven years old; both my parents were shooters, so it was in my blood. I started shooting a camera again, but instead of taking aim with a gun and bang, bang, bang, I take aim and it’s click, click, click. Back in 2009 I started a camera club here at Caritas Village for neighborhood kids --- did it for a couple of years --- where I taught them the basics of photography, how to edit pictures, and how to make graphics. One of the kids I taught is in college now majoring in graphic design. It gave me peace of mind to help them and keep them out of trouble. Some of them didn’t have a father in the home or their parents were working all the time, so they needed somebody to spend time with them. I took them places, showed them things they hadn’t seen before, and taught them not only about photography but about life. Shooting was --- and still is --- a way out for me."
A sampling of JB's work:
If readers are interested in purchasing any of JB's photographs (and there are many more to choose from), he can be contacted through Caritas Village.
“If we want to make new friends, we have to act kind to them and have fun with them and play games with them, like tag and hide-and-seek.”