“In March of 2016 I went to Haiti with a medical group and was overwhelmed by what I saw in terms of the poverty, the hardship, and the courage of the Haitian people. One moment really sticks out in my mind. We had turned a corner, and there was a pile of trash several feet deep. I noticed first a dog digging in it, and then I noticed the man digging in it. I was just kind of speechless. I didn’t know how --- I couldn’t even think of a way --- to put that into a context I could understand, based on my life. Weeks later, I was home and had gone back to my usual routine. I went to get a manicure and was sitting on my back porch looking at my thumbnail, which had gotten smudged a little bit after the manicure. I was sort of pouting about it, and then I thought, ‘My God. A couple of weeks ago I was seeing a man competing with a dog digging through trash, and here I am back in Memphis in my advantaged life, upset about my thumbnail.’ I was stunned by the contradiction there and the sense that through no fault of his own, that man lives his life --- and through no credit on my part, other than God's grace and good luck, I’m living my life.”
Ruth Mulvany is retired from her position as Associate Professor of Physical Therapy with the University of Tennessee Health Science Center.
“The Lisieux Community is a program for women who are making a transition from life on the street ---- drugs and prostitution ---- to learning how to live, how to cope, how to budget and manage money, how to clean, how to go grocery shopping --- that’s a big thing for them --- and just how to succeed. I’ve been the resident manager here since September. I like to see the smiles on the ladies’ faces, especially when they first enter the house, because they feel like they’re finally in a safe environment, a safe place they can call home instead of just being out there on the street somewhere.
“Getting them to open up can be hard sometimes because they’re not used to trusting people, they have a lot of fear, and they don’t want anyone mad at them. They’re used to being abandoned. Somehow they come in with the idea that if they speak their mind, they’ll get kicked out, so we have to work to get past that. It’s a wonderful thing when they get to the point where they feel comfortable coming and talking to me about what’s really going on with them, but building that trust and camaraderie can be challenging.
“They do a lot of laughing --- laughing is good for the soul --- but even when they cry, they’re getting all the things that have been bottled up inside of them for so long out in the open. They’re letting them go, and that’s a good thing too. I love to see that part of them because it helps them to grow.
“I want the women to stay here the two years they’re supposed to and then go out there and show life what it’s all about. I also want to see them come back and volunteer. There's a lot of potential in these women, especially in the ones who are here now. On family day, when their families come to visit, they see the growth in them. They see how well they’re doing and how they’re transforming into real ladies. I want to see the women who come here succeed.”
Valerie Davis, Resident Manager
Lisieux Community on Facebook
See also the Connecting Memphis interview with Sandra Ferrell, Founder and Executive Director of the Lisieux Community
“I’m an ex-felon, so finding jobs has been difficult. I’ve got applications filled out right now though, and maybe one of those will come through. Back before all this, I lived in Chattanooga. Worked for 25 years at a steel factory. I also worked with my stepdad, painting and doing construction. I hunted, fished, camped, outdoor stuff like that too. Those were my happy years. I was married and had six kids, but we got divorced. Then, well, long story short, I wound up here. Since then, it’s been a struggle.”
“Crossing over boundaries is really, really hard and hurts sometimes. I live in community with a group of students who have made a commitment to racial reconciliation. We’re committed to talking through hard things and to really listening to and learning from each other. It would be easier for sure to avoid those conversations, especially when something racially charged happens on campus and I’m like, I don’t want to talk to anybody and I’m angry at all the white people. So yeah, it’s hard, but it’s also really cool to know we can talk about our frustrations and depend on each other to hear us. I’ve been surprised at the diversity of people who are willing to engage. For example, it surprised me --- in a good way --- that upper class white frat guys were attending our events. I realized that I had stereotyped them as not caring about racial reconciliation issues, and that wasn’t necessarily true.
“This experience has definitely changed my perspective on the importance of being in spaces that are not natural to me. I’m kind of forced into that anyway because I’m on a college campus. But instead of feeling like a victim and like there’s nothing I can do to change things, I’m seeing that I can be an active participant in those arenas where I might be the minority. I guess I could just stay in my little group and not engage, but that’s not what I want to do. I’m learning to be intentional about crossing lines. And I’m learning not to make assumptions about whether or not people like me. Even if they don’t, I can still reach out to them. Wherever I am and whomever I’m around, we’re all just human beings; we’re alike in so many ways. Just seeing how much I have in common with my roommates, for example --- both of whom are white --- has been so cool. One in particular is very similar to me in the way she thinks and processes things; we’re both extremely internal people. I love both of them a lot. We’re willing to talk through tough things, help each other, and learn from each other. The process of getting past my own hesitations and selfishness is hard --- I’m still working on that and I’m not very good at it sometimes --- but it’s definitely worth the effort.”
"I joined in 1978, but the group started meeting once a week back in the 1950’s. It was originally called the Prayer Meeting, but a few years ago we were renamed the R.O.M.E.O.s --- ‘Retired Old Men Eating Out.’"
"It’s not OLD men. It’s OLDER men. I don't know about you, but I'm not old!"
"Several people who were fairly prominent in the community were members at one time or another. We’re all retired. One of the things that happens when you retire is that you lose the camaraderie of people at work, so you need a new group. For us, that’s the R.O.M.E.O.s. And since we only see each other once a week, we like each other well. We’re down a little today; usually there are between 8 and 13 of us here. Humor, food, books, and storytelling are some of the things that hold us together. We watch out for each other too. We always say: If you die, somebody here will come and find your body. I remember when one of our members was no longer safe on his motorcycle --- he was about age 80 at the time --- so the group took his motorcycle away from him."
"Because the members come from a variety of professions and business backgrounds, they bring a lot to the table. Someone can always learn something every time we meet. There are two subjects that we try not to touch though: one is politics, and the other one is religion. We actually do touch on politics, but we do it very carefully. We let people express what they think, but then we don’t answer them."
"You forgot about sex. We don’t talk about that either."
"Nope, 'cause it’s only a distant memory." [*laughter*]
L-R: Max, George, David, Billy, Carroll, Greg
The R.O.M.E.O.s meet every Wednesday at 11:30am at Caritas Village, 2509 Harvard.
“I was the first nude male model at the art academy. My wife had modeled nude there for years and she mentioned that they were looking for a male model. I had been to nudist colonies before, so it wasn’t a big deal to me; I didn’t think too much about it. Well, I went over to the school and they said, ‘Take your clothes off.’ I did, and all of a sudden all these art students started coming into the classroom. Then the teacher walked in. He stopped, looked at me, and said, ‘Where’s your jock strap?’ I said, ‘I didn’t know I was supposed to have one.’ He thought for a minute and then said, ‘Oh well’ and let me finish.”
“I was diagnosed bipolar in January 2015, but I’ve struggled with anxiety and depression most of my life --- and suicidal thoughts since I was 16. Depression is debilitating. It’s isolating; you don’t want to get out, you don’t want to talk to people, you don’t want to seek help, you feel worthless. When my depression is out of control, I feel extremely insecure, like I’m no good, like I’ve ruined my life, though I’ve done good things. When I’m experiencing anxiety, it’s very physical: my heart pumps hard and fast, my chest feels like someone is pounding on it, my legs even get tingly. I won’t hang out with people because I’m nervous about social situations and how I might come across. It’s hard. Before I was diagnosed, I kept most of it inside and channeled it into other things like music and art, but then one day everything just hit the fan and I had to go to Lakeside. If it weren’t for Lakeside, for the help I’ve gotten there, the coping skills I’ve learned, and the mood stabilizers I’m on, I think I would be dead now. They changed my life.
“I’m a classical guitarist, a singer/songwriter, and a music teacher by profession, so I don’t have a degree in psychology or counseling, but I can listen. If someone I’m talking with is experiencing anxiety, depression, or maybe paranoia, I can relate; we can talk about it. And I can offer to help them find the resources they need if that’s what they want.
“We have to beat the stigma associated with mental health issues. I talked to someone just today who told me he was scared he couldn’t get a job because he deals with depression. We need to be more open about these things. Talking about it will make everyone realize that it’s okay; other people experience it too. Don’t run from it. Sit with it. Be with it. We can try to help each other, but professional help is also available; treatment is available. I make a point of talking openly about my struggles on Facebook; I want to make it okay to have these conversations.”
If you're interested in connecting with Michelle, she frequently attends the community worship & breakfast [Wednesdays, 8:00 am] at St. Mary's Episcopal Cathedral, 700 Poplar.
“Dr. Barber --- ‘Big Jake’ --- was principal at Cypress Junior High when I was there in 7th, 8th, and 9th grade. He was one of those principals that everybody loved and respected. He was the only principal I ever knew who could walk into an assembly with 1300 kids and when he stepped up on that stage, everybody’d get quiet. If he had to substitute, to sit in for a teacher, and he found out you were having trouble with your class work, he’d sit down and tutor you. We had several good teachers there at Cypress, teachers who had a heart to teach. When he passed, everybody who knew Dr. Barber wanted to go to his funeral, but by the time some of us found out, they had already buried him. He was a wonderful kind of principal. I'll never forget him."
Darrell's principal at Cypress Junior High School was Dr. James Barber, who passed on November 7, 2006. Numerous students and friends signed the online guest book.
“The show is called 901 Night Stalker and is essentially a series of shots I did here in Memphis during 2016. It’s literally me just wandering around the city, from midtown to downtown to north Memphis to south Memphis, taking photos during the night or in the wee hours of the morning. I’ve lived here all of my life --- all 21 years --- so I know the city and feel comfortable going pretty much anywhere. Walking around at night is relaxing to me. It's also when I'm at my most creative and productive and is the best time I've found to capture the gritty, moody images I’m going for. This show will be here at City & State, 2625 Broad Avenue, through the end of January, so people can stop in anytime and check it out.”
A few of the images from 901 Night Stalker (pardon the light reflections):
901 Night Stalker showing at City & State through January, 2017.
All photos are available for purchase.
Averell Mondie, photographer
"I always admired the art I saw in museums. I figured if I was ever going to own anything like that, I'd have to do it myself. That's when I first picked up a pencil and drawing paper. It was 1986, and I've been drawing ever since. I've had several gallery shows and been in several juried exhibitions. I've lost count of how many."
Guy Church, artist (declined to be photographed for this interview)