"I was just thinking about a new year’s resolution this morning. I’m sometimes busy, but I’m starting to get more time, so maybe I can do more volunteering. For example, today I’m volunteering with the food pantry, and I’ve volunteered for Muslims in Memphis at the Agricenter too. It’s fun, and it’s good to know that you’re helping out. Just doing a little bit can change everything. There's a few people right now that if I didn’t come here today, I would have never even known."
Saajid volunteers with the Halal Food Pantry at Masjid Al-Mu'Minun, 4412 S. Third, which serves the Memphis community on the last Saturday of each month, 12-3pm.
“I started at the University of Memphis when I first came out of high school in 1969, but between a full time job, full time school, a girlfriend, and a hot rod, I didn’t do so well. I’ve always wanted to finish up, so after 43 years I decided to go back. It was definitely an experience. There’s not a real good road map on how to do it; it took a lot of trial and error for five months to find the right offices and do the right things. I had never used a Pell Grant before, but guess what: They gave me a Pell Grant, just like they do the kids. And I found that I was accepted by everyone, especially the students. They were really cool. I've worked alongside Rhodes College students, particularly the Bonner Scholars, for the past twelve years in their outreach to homeless people, so this age group wasn’t completely foreign to me. Every year there’s a certain few of these kids I get really close to. I’ve been to recitals, I’ve been to speaking engagements, I’ve showed up. And I’ve been rewarded by having some of the best young people in my life that you can possibly imagine. They all call me Ponytail Bob or P.T. Bob.
“So I was excited about going back to school. I don’t get nervous. I’ve been shot twice, stabbed four times, had a major heart attack and two heart surgeries, so no, I don’t get scared. I just jumped in. I changed my major to journalism because I’d already been published for a couple of years with The Bridge. All of my stories have something to do with homeless or outreach programs. My story about Hank the Hermit really shows you how not to judge a book by its cover. Then there’s a story about my mom, about her being my mentor. At my age, I can do journalism and dig deep, but I’m more of a storyteller. I’m still not done with my degree, but I finished one semester with a 3.5 GPA. Twelve hours, four classes. I’m proud of that. There are a lot of opportunities for adults out there."
Clippings of some of Ponytail Bob's work with The Bridge and U of M's The Daily Helmsman:
“My mother was beautiful. She led me in the right direction, kept God in my life, and made me think about how to make the best choices. She’s deceased now, but if I could talk to her again, I’d tell her that I love her.”
“My grandfather owned a bakery at Beale and Third, where the Rum Boogie Café is now. You know how they used to put names on the buildings in cement? You can look over the doorway there now and see his last name, Bensieck. That’s where he had his bakery. His son was my daddy. When I was five years old, Mother and Daddy bought a house close to Immaculate Conception Cathedral so my brother and I could walk down the street to the school there. I’ve lived in that same house for 80 years. I never got married, and Mother and Daddy left the house to me when they died. Thank goodness they did, because I never made a lot of money and I would have had a hard time paying rent. To me, a paid-for house is a wonderful thing. I know so many people who don’t have a roof over their head, but I’ve never had to worry about that. I just feel real fortunate.
“I believe that now is the happiest time of my life. I’m content. I don’t want for anything. I don’t have a lot, but when you get older, when you’re 85 years old, you just don’t need the things you needed when you were younger. You don’t want the same things. Things that used to mean something to you don’t mean a thing anymore. It’s really just people when you get older --- that’s what means something.”
Wezi's grandfather's bakery was located at Beale and Third:
“My mother had me when she was really young. Growing up, I was that black kid who lived in the hood and didn’t really have a chance to reach outside that environment and meet other people. Nobody I knew ever thought about being anything but a basketball player or a rapper, but my mom wanted better for me, so together we moved to New Jersey. The school I went to there was only 3% black, so I had an opportunity to network with people outside my normal circles and see more possibilities for my future. I attended college in Dallas, and that’s where I started The United Beings. It’s a movement, a way of using social events to deliberately bring people from different backgrounds together to meet and to collaborate. For example, I’m an artist, so I might put on an event that brings together white artists, black artists, and business people. As we get better acquainted and see what each other brings to the table, we can open up opportunities for each other. Every city needs that.
“Although this isn’t a United Beings event, the challenge I set for myself tonight is just to go around and at least say hi to every person here, tell them my name, ask them their name, make some type of connection. Otherwise, some people might not get spoken to at all. Friendly gestures are important. And you never know who you'll meet. I might run across someone who's interested in collaborating with me. If so, that's great. You have a business, I have a business, we can work together. It’s a way of uniting and helping each other.”
YouTube: The United Beings Intro
Dee & Veleska
DEE: "I’m the project manager for the Withers Collection Museum and Gallery at 333 Beale Street. I think Dr. Ernest Withers’ iconic images show more the unity of Memphis than the separation of Memphis. One of my favorite events he documented was the unveiling of the statue of St. Jude, which was a symbol of hope for our city. Nothing about it was race-based. Everybody came, including little children out of school for the day. And after the ceremony, Danny Thomas came to Handy Park and played his trumpet for the kids. The whole series of events, from the laying of the cornerstone to the unveiling of the statue, is documented by Dr. Withers as a tribute to Danny Thomas."
VELESKA: "I’m the museum manager with Withers Collection Museum and Gallery. When I think of Mr. Withers’ beautiful photographs, one particular image stands out. It was taken during voter registration in the Tent City era and pictures a young lady holding her registration card. Her name is Reecie Hunter Malone. She has just received her registration card, and the glee in her eyes --- just the excitement that Dr. Withers caught in that photograph --- is so amazing. It looks as though she’s saying, ‘I got it! I finally got it, after all we went through!’ And just the beauty of the scene --- the lacy leaves of the tree in the background, the face of the other lady standing at Reecie’s side --- it’s just one of those photographs that speaks to you. Also Ms. Malone has a gold grille across the front of her mouth. It’s so funny to see that. Kids think they’ve done something new, but things always come back around. It’s an amazing, amazing, image. I love being at the museum, and I’d love to invite anyone to come and see the beautiful works of Ernest C. Withers."
Image source for photo (below) of Danny Thomas, taken by Ernest Withers: http://pictorialemporium.com/products/the-withers-collection-true-saints
Image source for photo (below) of Reecie Hunter Malone, taken by Ernest Withers: http://pictorialemporium.com/products/tent-city-triumph-right-to-vote
Withers Collection Museum and Gallery, 333 Beale Street
Email for Dr. Dee Lofton: email@example.com
Email for Veleska Lipford: firstname.lastname@example.org
“Typically, when people are getting rid of items they no longer need, they give them to an organization or have a yard sale and make back a little money. Either way, their abundance usually goes to people they will never know. But when the idea of a really, really free market came up on the national horizon several years ago, our faith community talked about it and decided we'd like to organize one of our own as a way of building relationships. So once a year, we invite persons from all over Memphis to come together, bring things they’re now ready to let go of, and then other persons in the community can come and shop. It’s just like a yard sale, but everything is free. Nothing is for sale here. It's a wonderful community-building event because people get into conversations about items they like and end up talking about their lives. There’s a reciprocity. Rather than keeping each other at arm’s length, we're sharing our time, our knowledge, our experiences, our connection with God and with the world, and we're getting to see life through each other’s eyes. We’re not only letting go of these items but we’re doing it with an open hand. We’re not putting any conditions on it. We’re not putting a price tag on it. We’re just letting it go. And that’s what really makes it God’s economy.”
Barbara Vann, organizer of the Really Really Free Market held annually at the Commons on Merton (258 N Merton) in Binghampton, talks with fellow volunteer Michael.
"One year when my wife and I were living in Idaho, we decided to find and cut down our own Christmas tree. The day was cold and overcast and the snow was well over three feet deep, but we put on our skis and finally located one we thought was perfect. I climbed down the embankment and picked my way across the stream balancing on wet stones to try to keep my feet dry. As I began to chop away at the base of the tree, I realized that cutting a fresh evergreen with a hatchet was going to be much more difficult than I thought. It always looked so easy on those outdoor shows on T.V. By the time the tree was down, I was on the verge of cardiac arrest. We finally got it into the car and home. Next year’s tree came from the Kroger parking lot!" (image credit: Phil)
“My great-aunt and great-uncle raised me on a farm in Mississippi, and I’d say it was a very happy childhood. I did everything a kid on a farm did back in those days. Ran around outside. Drove a tractor. I remember when the cotton came in, I spent a lot of time waiting in line at the gin. After high school, I moved to Chicago and worked as an airline dispatcher. I had an apartment, a nice car, made good money, flew anywhere I wanted to go, and stayed in nice hotels. I was a country boy in the city, living in the fast lane. I had that job for 8 or 9 years, but then I started drinking and got to the point where I couldn’t --- or wouldn’t --- go to work.
“I’ve had other jobs in my life. I learned how to weld and worked my way up to journeyman welder-fitter. Worked in grocery stores a couple of different times. Went back to Mississippi and helped my great-uncle on the farm after my great-aunt died. But then some things happened, and I eventually ended up on the street with nowhere to go.
"I’m in stable housing now, but I remember my first night in an emergency shelter. It was rough. I’d never been anywhere like it. They provided showers and offered me clean clothes, but people were sleeping all over the place, on the floor and everywhere. It wasn't violent, but it was chaotic. You couldn’t lay anything down or somebody would take it. I got to move to a dormitory situation before too long because I was recovering from hip surgery and in chronic pain. That's where I am now. It's a nice place; it's good.
"I go to recovery meetings, and I haven’t had a drink since August. Not GONNA have a drink. If I had my life to do all over, I never would have picked up the bottle in the first place. I wish I could tell young people just starting out: Stay focused. Don’t fool with drugs. And listen. Listen. You don’t know everything.”
“I’m 7 years old, and I want to be a doctor when I grow up. To be a doctor, you have to be good at science, because you have to be able to take x-rays, and x-rays are science. I already have a lab coat at home, so I’m going to wear that. And I have a doctor’s kit and a real stethoscope too. It’s my aunt’s, but she lets me use it a lot. I want to doctor kids, and I want to doctor animals. I think the best part will be helping people. The hardest part will be figuring out what’s wrong.”