“I have the same story that most addicts do as far as a rough childhood, so I’ll skip all of that. What really started my downfall was a toxic relationship. Neither of us was healthy, and we were especially not healthy for each other. Things went downhill fast the last couple of years we were together, and the marriage ended in a nasty divorce. I was naive in thinking that we would be able to handle it like adults. We had caused each other a lot of pain, and the legal battle was long and hard. Since he had more money and thus more power in the courtroom, I ended up losing custody of the children. That was my breaking point. I completely lost all sense of who I was. A friend turned me on to crystal meth, and at first it killed the pain of what I was going through, but things quickly turned dark. Within a year and four months I had lost everything. I found myself arrested and in jail for the first time ever in my 37 years. I could not believe what had happened to me. My parents didn't raise me this way. It was completely mind-blowing. Thankfully, Judge Dwyer allowed me into the Shelby County Drug Court program. I attended over 150 hours of intensive out-patient treatment, went to three NA meetings a week, called in three times a day, submitted to random bi-weekly drug tests, and met with the judge thirty-eight times. A year and a half after I began the program, I graduated with special recognition. Even though I had finished high school a year ahead of schedule (making only one “B” the entire time) and attended the University of Memphis, I hold my graduation from the drug program as one of my biggest accomplishments. For the year and four months that I was on crystal meth, I gave up on myself and allowed the drug to take over. Thankfully, my higher power had other plans for me. Today I am almost 2 years clean of one of the most addictive substances out there. I have regained my position at work and in my career. I have also worked very hard at being a good mother again. My ex-husband and I split our time now with the children; they are the major reason I’m still here. Being a good role model for them is what I strive for every day. I am one of the lucky ones. I got out before too much damage was done. I can’t imagine not having my parents, friends, work family, and my whole support network to help me on this journey. They encourage me in so many ways and remind me never to give up on myself again.”
BENNETT: "My wife and I have lived in Binghampton since 2010, and we like it here. I hope that someday I can do something to impact the community the way Caritas Village has. I don't want to live passively; I want to be engaged with the neighborhood, to be a contributor. It's working class areas like this that are the life of a city, that keep it going. I feel privileged to know the people I live around, like Marquez here. He's a neighbor of mine. We met last year. He's a smart kid. He asks questions about everything."
CM: "Nice to meet you Marquez. How old are you?"
MARQUEZ (not pictured): "Ten. Why do you want to know? Who are you? Are you the FBI?"
BENNETT: "That's what I mean."
"My friend Michael and I have known each other a long time. When I went through a divorce six years ago, I talked to him a lot because he was a safe person and I knew I could trust him. He and his wife offered me unconditional love and support and helped me get through it. They even loaned me a car for a month when mine was totaled. They're the kind of friends who correct me when I'm wrong, don't judge me when I mess up, and don't treat me any differently when I make mistakes. I can envision myself knowing them both for a long time to come."
“I worked for several downtown stores when I was a teenager. When one boss took me to an auction and I got a behind-the-scenes look into retail for the first time, a light bulb went off in my head. I saw how things worked, and I thought, I want to get into this business someday. I want to own a store. One day when I was walking down Beale, I stopped in front of this building, looked in the window, and a feeling came over me. I thought, This is it. It was like an epiphany, like it was meant to be. I had always loved Beale Street. My father did too. He was the sharpest-dressed black man in Memphis in his day. He and my mother met right there in front of the Daisy Theater in 1950. There used to be all kinds of businesses down here: a Harlem House right across the street [African-American version of the Toddle House], barbershop, dentist, clothing stores, everything. Beale Street was where I spent half of the first paycheck I ever got and the first place I went when I learned to drive. There’s a lot of history here. I signed the lease on this store in 1983 and have been here ever since. When times have been lean, I could always look out the front door, see the Daisy, and think, What would my dad say? I could have done lots of other things, but sometimes you just know you're doing what you’re supposed to be doing. I was talking one day with the guy who started the Beale Street Flippers, and he told me that one of the young flippers said to him, ‘I want to be like Mr. James one day and own a business too.’ That meant a lot to me. I’ve been here for 32 years. I’m a constant, and they can see that. You don’t realize that young people are looking at you and patterning themselves after you, but they are. Young people who look like me can see someone stick with one thing and make a success of his life.”
James Clark, CEO
Eel Etc. Fashions | 333 Beale Street
"My family encourages me, supports me, and teaches me right from wrong. Of course we spent Christmas together, but we're together today too, playing basketball. They teach me about how important it is to get an education and how I should put God first. They teach me how to be a man."
“It gives me hope for the future to see so many people working together for the good of our city. I’m a product of the Memphis community: I went to school here from Kindergarten through the 12th grade and did my undergraduate and graduate work here. I attended an historically black college, LeMoyne-Owen, and have always been grateful for people who wanted to make a difference. I feel that I owe Memphis so much. I’m a retired schoolteacher and have been involved in a number of organizations over the years, including Leadership Memphis and Facing History and Ourselves. The Facing History program has helped me realize that to move forward, we have to face our history. Although Memphis hasn’t always had a good history, it has good people who are trying not to repeat the mistakes of the past. One example is the Caritas Community, which works to bring together people of all backgrounds and helps us recognize that together we can make a better future.
“I can’t tell you when I didn’t have a social conscience. My parents believed in helping people, and that was ingrained in me. I remember a young white lady my parents knew who was shunned by her family because she had a biracial son. That’s how things were then, but my parents were always kind to her. They modeled that for us kids. The driving force for me has always been faith and family. I want to live the kind of life I read about in the Bible.”
"Family is very important to me. I want to do my best and work hard for my wife and son. I want my son to grow up to be a good person." [via translator]
“While on a trip to Uganda in 2013, a young girl asked me, ‘What would you do if you came home and your mom and aunts were sitting around a table with a much older man and they told you to pack your stuff, that you were going with him to be his wife or girlfriend? And if you go, the money he pays your mother will feed your brothers and sisters for a long time? That’s what happens in my village when a girl turns sixteen. That’s what will happen to me.’ I didn’t have any answers for her, and I remember how quiet we both were for the rest of the day. When I came back to the States, I thought, Should I move to Africa and fight human trafficking? I don’t have a law degree and I don’t have handcuffs to arrest anyone, but I do have a pen and I know how to use the stage. I’ll write a show on the issue of human trafficking in Uganda. As I researched, more and more information about human trafficking in Memphis popped up. I began to realize how much was going on right here in our city, so that’s where I turned my focus. I was especially drawn to the children who are victimized. The average age for getting pulled into trafficking is 13, and I wanted to find out why. I pictured young girls being snatched off the streets and forced into prostitution, but when I talked to the pimps, they told me that they don’t need to do that when there are so many little girls who have such a deep need to feel loved and taken care of. All the pimps have to do is sweet-talk the girls, give them a compliment, and within seconds they can tell whether or not they have them. We as a community need to ask what has happened in these girls’ lives to make them so vulnerable. So often it’s a dad wound, a step-dad wound, or an uncle-wound that’s a defining moment for them. Maybe they’ve been raped or hurt somehow and that’s made them susceptible to men whose intent is to prey on them. For a lot of girls, the pimp is the first one who’s ever made them feel special. They see him as a lover-boy or a dad-figure. If it were my first time to feel that important to someone, I’d probably go with him too. We need to ask, What is it about our society that perpetuates this tragedy? What can we do to prevent it?
“My one-woman show Thirteen came out of that year of research, interviews, and analysis. The stories in the play are true and all come together in the character of a 13-year-old girl. I want the audience to take away information from the show but also to leave with a determination to be proactive. That doesn’t mean everybody quitting their jobs so they can fight trafficking full-time. But it also doesn’t mean walking away saying, ‘Oh, that was a great show. It broke my heart. Now let’s go grab a beer or go shopping.’ I want people’s feelings about the show to change what they do. When I mentor middle school girls now, my whole outlook is different. Some girls come from loving families and have had great mentors, moms, dads, uncles, aunts, or brothers who have affirmed their value, but many others haven’t. Those girls especially need to hear that they’re loved and that they’re worth more than they’ll ever know. If no one’s ever said those words to them, I make sure they hear them from me. Then, if a pimp tells a young girl, ‘You’re beautiful!’, she can say, ‘Hey, I’ve heard that all my life. You’re not telling me anything new.’ I think what gets me most is knowing that inside of these girls and women is a little child whose soul-wound has never been attended to.”
“Thirteen is about a little girl in the foster system who has never learned to read. She meets a friendly, funny man in the park who promises to teach her, and before long, he is in total control of her life. It’s a story of how he gains her trust and why she comes to feel that she owes him a debt she can never repay.”
Rhodes College, McCoy Theatre
Thursday, January 21, 2016
7:30 pm, free admission
Jazmin Miller, Playwright / Actress / Rhodes College children's theatre teacher