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Going Deep

Going Deep

A nonprofit organization’s mission is truly only as powerful as its ability to finance the strategies and tactics necessary to achieve it.

This is not a fundraising appeal, so please keep reading.

For My Cup of Tea, a substantial amount of revenue comes from the sale of our high-quality tea and related products, but for now the majority comes from grants and donations. Like virtually all nonprofits in town, we compete for the charitable donations of private foundations, government programs, and our community’s top private employers. We have been blessed to receive the support of many of these organizations.

One of the challenges faced by My Cup of Tea is communicating a narrative which demonstrates a broad impact on hundreds or thousands of individuals and their communities. Understandably, even the largest philanthropic groups have finite resources to support enormous, complex needs and want to know the masses are being reached with viable solutions. In this data-driven age, funders want to know about our KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) and our quantitative and qualitative analyses that prove their money will make a difference.

This is not an unreasonable request. So, recently we tried to quantify our impact over the last decade with meaningful data. We learned that My Cup of Tea has:

  • Paid approximately $2 Million in wages;
  • Provided 125,000 hours or so of dignified work; and
  • Served 25,000 meals through the generosity of volunteers.

We were even a little surprised at how sizeable the numbers are, and we are thankful. But our mission is about much more than width. It is also about depth.

As the Apostle Paul notes in his prayer for the Ephesians in verses 17-18, God’s love for us is more than just wide.

“…And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ.”

Christ’s love is deep too, so our love and service toward Orange Mound and the My Cup of Tea ladies must also be deep.

“Going deep” at My Cup of Tea means striving to acknowledge each woman as an image bearer of God with a past that doesn’t define her and a future with a purpose. It means leaving judgement at the door and putting on our desire to both teach and learn from others with disparate life experiences from own.

In the most practical way, loving deep erases the time limit one can stay at My Cup of Tea. Women are encouraged to seek other opportunities to help them become self-sufficient, but there is plenty to do at The House until they are ready for what’s next. It means paying at least $15 per hour, so they can fulfill their basic needs.

Going deep means actively seeking the opinions of the women served. It is empowering them to lead as members of our Board of Directors or as supervisors of daily operations. It is a vision that one day a Black woman from the neighborhood will lead our grand experiment.

Depth includes knowing their children, who lives in their homes, and their health concerns, not because they are required to tell us, but because they have trusted us enough to share. It is standing shoulder to shoulder with them in the best times and in the worst.

Going deep is studying God’s word together, teaching what we know, but acknowledging that none of us could ever know it all. It’s praying for their specific needs as they share them and being vulnerable enough with them to seek their prayers.

In the world of deep diving, enthusiasts plunge into ocean depths greater than sixty feet and experience an underwater realm never seen by most people. These dives can be draining and perilous. One of the primary safety rules is to never dive alone. Going deep at My Cup of Tea is not something we can do alone. Orange Mound women, volunteers, and leaders must partner for the good of each other.

The divers who see indescribable beauty under the sea often try to capture its essence with underwater cameras and various technologies, but the pictures, videos, and recorded sounds never adequately replicate the diver’s experience. In the same way, we share photos, videos, newsletters, and more to try to communicate to you and our potential funders what is happening in the depths of Orange Mound. Like the divers, our efforts cannot do justice to the beauty we see.

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Committing to Resilience

Committing to Resilience

Unless you have been “off the grid” for the last decade, you are likely aware of the growing mental health crisis in America. Today, nearly 58 million adults or 1 in 5 have a diagnosed mental illness. The fastest growing segment is women. Thirty-six point seven percent report having been diagnosed with depression – a 10.6% increase since 2017. The number of African Americans who report being diagnosed with depression is now 34.4%. This outpaces the growth of whites who report a depression diagnosis by more than 8%. Finally, according to the Centers for Disease Control, people living at or below the poverty level report feelings of nervousness, anxiety, or worry at a significantly higher rate (19.4% vs. 12.7%) than adults who live above the poverty level.

  • Female
  • Black
  • Poor

These are the primary demographics of those served at My Cup of Tea. It is also notable that prolonged exposure of children to trauma involving abuse, neglect, and dysfunctional home lives contributes to serious mental health issues. More than a majority of women served by My Cup of Tea over the last decade had childhoods that included these adverse experiences. Working side by side with Orange Mound women for approximately 2,500 days, we know that what the data reports about the mental health of poor, Black women in true.

More than the mental, emotional, and physical damage caused by a mental illness, an article by Drs. Michaela Beder and Kevin Simon in Psychiatric Times points to another challenge unique to the poor in our country.

The evidence is strong for a causal relationship between poverty and mental health. However, findings suggest that poverty leads to mental health and developmental problems that in turn prevent individuals and families from leaving poverty, creating a vicious, intergenerational cycle of poverty and poor health.

In other words, if we strive to address poverty by providing a good paying, reliable job but fail to grapple with the issue of mental health, the odds of breaking the cycle of poverty become slimmer.

As the mental illness plague has become more pervasive, it seems everyone is seeking the causes. Some point to the obsession with social media. Others suggest materialism in our culture. Broken homes are a favorite excuse along with “helicopter parents” or a lack of physical activity. And while the medical and academic communities mine the data to discover the cause or causes, some in the Christian community suggest that a lack of prayer, reading of Scripture, and time spent with God is the basis for our nation’s challenges with mental health.

Honestly, we don’t know the “why.”

What we know is that many of the women we serve are suffering, and if they are suffering, then so are their families. What we also know is that treatment is now available in our communities.

The Memphis Resilience Project is a long-term commitment by the mental health experts at Christian Psychological Center to partner with nonprofits and city organizations to provide mental health services to the underserved. Under the program, individuals at 175% of the poverty level or below can receive counseling for $10, $30, or $50 per session depending on their income level. This alone would be an enormous benefit to the community, but there is more. CPC will provide schools support for early intervention for childhood trauma. They are offering community trauma workshops, training for nonprofit staff on how to build emotional resilience, and scholarships for clinical trainees to help grow the number of available practitioners to serve the underserved.

Last week, we introduced this program to the My Cup of Tea ladies and already some are moving forward to take advantage of the services offered. Whatever the causes of mental illness, we are resolved to support the ladies in the same way we would support them if the diagnosis were cancer and not depression, anxiety, or PTSD. We will recognize it’s real and serious. We will pray together and share encouraging passages of Scripture. We will ask how else we can help. We will encourage them to take full advantage of proven treatments.

And we will trust in the goodness and mercy of our God.

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Our Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Our Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

In 2013, the doors opened at the House in Orange Mound welcoming women in the neighborhood in pursuing connection and mutual appreciation. Countless workshops, experts and volunteers have enlightened us and enhanced our quest for self-improvement and a capacity to work in community while promoting our lovely products.

A diagnostic, often required in business settings, was offered only recently to our ladies at My Cup of Tea. Personality tests are fascinating and though readily available in Memphis, the ladies had never been exposed to a personal diagnostic to explore core motivations, desires, and fears. Our ladies’ mentors agreed to examine material and provide this opportunity to enlighten them and acknowledge the singularity and value of each of the MCOT employees.

One of our volunteers has had years of coaching the nine profiles of the acclaimed Enneagram system and graciously led us through three workshops.  Each of the ladies recognized her own number type connected to a broad personality standard and the “wings” or ancillary personality types that are associated with it. With confidence each explained herself to our group. In a short while, we became amused by our differences in problem solving, communication, and social interaction. Our coach emphasized that we are providentially interacting as a body with essential, valuable, and irreplaceable members with problem solving skills.   All of us felt seen and respected. I loved the laughter and the nods of agreement. We concluded that we are free to embrace our personalities and characteristics identified by the test. They are vital to the furthering of God’s work for us in Orange Mound.

One is a Reformer and Idealist.

Two are Helpers and Caregivers.

One is an Achiever and Pragmatic.

Two are Individualists.

Two are Enthusiasts.

One is a Challenger and powerful.

One is a Peacemaker and always agreeable.

We are interlaced daily in a simple task of formatting and shipping our excellent tea to customers locally and in all fifty states. This safety, security, and peacefulness is our Dr. Jekyll from the Robert Louis Stevenson classic.

But there is more than tea on our minds. Every afternoon, upon walking out of the front door at The House in Orange Mound and stepping off the front porch, our collective consciousness shifts from comfort to caution. The ladies live daily among lawbreakers with guns and vendettas. Poor and heads of their households, they cannot be passive or ignore the dangers. All they hold closely is in jeopardy and their loved ones are vulnerable. They are stepping out to face our Mr. Hyde. 

Our neighborhood has an inordinate amount of crime unchecked. Last week our plight was tagged nationally when gun violence terrorized a block party a mile from our House in Orange Mound and death and injury ensued. The ladies knew more than the social media reports, because information is passed along the streets faster than the Internet. The personality types we had discovered and identified only a week earlier showed up and out.  A never-before and robust discussion in the kitchen with refreshing confidence in their positions held us all for 20 minutes and lunch waited.

The exchange began with scripture from Luke 10:29-37 and asking, “What does loving our neighbor look like in Orange Mound”?

Our Peacemaker led the discussion saying we must be agreeable and not call the police for small mess-ups. Our Loyalist said build a trusting and friendly relationship with neighbors who have children and help when able. The Challenger agreed and suggested we need to be proactive and intentionally cultivate safe neighbors. Our Helper said she had tried bridging often by sharing her resources. Our Reformer said it is possible, but a strategy must be informed and intentional.

The vision for a shalom community is being repeated in our prayers and in our conversations more often around the kitchen table. Passivity is no longer recommended.  Each of us should be a participant in reclamation and repair of our community but slowly and courageously. What was improbable now looks possible with the Lord and collaboration. We know He wills His Kingdom into full glory in Orange Mound.

While many people are fleeing our neighborhood, we remain to restore the peace and security once known here. In1878, many left Memphis, fearing the ubiquitous Yellow Fever. Those who remained cared for the sick, made house calls, and personified good neighborliness. Our city recovered and ten years later, Orange Mound was founded by many of those who prevailed through the epidemic.

Our crime statistics rival an epidemic now. Fear and resignation are no longer on the kitchen table at The House. We aren’t seeking a secret potion like Dr. Jekyll attempting to control Mr. Hyde. We are committed to the hard work long-term. We are growing in resolve to be the change agents and the harbingers of a new and better version of Orange Mound by thoroughly loving our neighbors.

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Some Doubted

Some Doubted

On Saturday, March 23, MOUND UP, a neighborhood revitalization planning cohort, invigorated many Orange Mound residents and Memphis community leaders to share the vision and responsibility to restore historic Orange Mound to a revitalized “shalom” district in the middle of Memphis. Red Zone hosted the all-day event and faith was renewed as evidenced in the palatable pride felt for the neighborhood. We have long needed an injection of hope. Aggravation over blight and crime has been replaced by an infusion of courage to join in solutions.

Experts dialoged and related local and federal programs which are already in place and available to Orange Mound youth, adults, and seniors. Among the many within reach are free youth camps, rent assistance, small engine repair, mental health advocacy, criminal justice liaisons, and many more. Most were unaware of the resources in place for solving our problems. We needed only to see fresh resurrecting seeds of energy and leadership.

 

To all who mourn in Zion, (and in Orange Mound), He will give beauty for ashes, joy instead of mourning, praise instead of heaviness… the planting of the Lord, that He may be glorified. Isaiah 61:3 

 Enthusiasm saturated the oxygen we breathed. The women in the audience began to sense an empowerment, even though as residents in The Mound, they are single and often without connections. Despair has surrendered to optimism and ownership. Fresh and vigorous seeds have been planted on the Mound. We are mounding up to bring shalom to the present and future generations of our families.

But some departed in doubt.

Sunday, Passover Weekend, two thousand years ago, the eleven male disciples of Jesus headed for the mountain He had reserved for their reunion. For two days prior, their despair and heartbreak had been unbearable. They had succumbed to profound sorrow and futility. Despondency over the crucifixion of their rabbi and friend, Jesus, whom they thought was the Messiah, had convinced them the health of their nation was doomed and life must return to tragedy and failure. For several it would be fishing, and for all it would be subjugation to the Romans and religious leaders who despised them.

However, the women, (Matthew 28:8-10), had reported to them that very morning that Jesus was alive indeed in a resurrected body, and He was calling a meeting with them in Galilee. It made no sense.  Why would women, weak, unvalued, and disrespected be believable? Their credibility was in doubt, their story implausible. Nevertheless, the men went to Galilee, perhaps if only to get away from the calamity in the city.

Then they saw Jesus and in that moment their hope infused the oxygen they breathed. Exhilarated, trusting, and mounding up, they sensed a new day had dawned.  They were captivated by the reality of the best news ever revealed to earth and man.

Jesus declared His plan for revitalization, purpose, and change.  He commissioned them to be galvanized into unity and community. He promised to equip them with the equivalent of one omnipotent program, which remains to this day, in the gift of His Spirit.

                Matthew 28;17b: “but some doubted”

Good news is hard to believe at first for skeptics.  Jesus is patient with them and us.  He supplies proofs as needed to encourage His followers into action. But some will never participate.

The solution for Orange Mound and the solution for what ails all of us caught in the morass of sin and doubt is the same.  Jesus is the Way and the Way Maker. Doubters, don’t miss the unveiling of the vision at hand. He lives to bring our needs before the Throne of God, whether they be personal or corporate, for Orange Mound or your family.  His will is to revive our spirit and our neighborhood. His means are inexhaustible. We need only to agree, confess, and hold on as He makes all things new.

Those who doubted that day in Galilee clearly resolved their vacillation.  Each of them established personal missions and intensified commitment to bring about what Jesus promised. He provided convincing proof for them, and He has for us. We are His and He lives to make all things new. He has quickened us to believe:

 My people will live in a peaceful neighborhood - in safe houses, in quiet gardens. (Isaiah 32:18 MSG)

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The Most Important Meal of the Day

The Most Important Meal of the Day

Breakfast as the most important meal of the day is a quintessentially American idea. In fact, Dr. John Harvey Kellogg, a physician and nutritionist, is credited with establishing this principle sometime in the late nineteenth century. Kellogg promoted eating grains, fruits, nuts to his patients and eventually invented Corn Flakes.

Since the explosion of the breakfast foods industry there are proponents and opponents with research to support their positions. Some subscribe to Kellogg’s general view, while others see conspiracy to grow a multi-billion dollar industry.

Setting aside research, opinions, and conspiracies, we know the most important meal of the day at The House is not breakfast but lunch.

For years, we have told you about the diligent and loving volunteers who provide lunch every day we are open. We include this information in brochures and grant requests because we want people to understand that beyond providing a job, we care about the physical, mental, and spiritual well-being of the women serve.

But lunch at The House is so much more.

An Oasis in a Food Desert

A report from the Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law titled, “The Roots of Food Deserts,” notes that,

In Memphis, one can drive along Poplar Avenue from downtown all the way to Collierville and find full-scale grocery stores within a one-to-two-mile radius of one another along the entire route. But…areas like South Memphis, Orange Mound, Binghampton, North Memphis, Whitehaven or Frayser… face a much more difficult task in finding anything resembling a full-service grocery store.

USDA’s Interactive Atlas shows that almost the entirety of Orange Mound is considered low income and low access to food. The median income in Orange Mound is just over $21,000, but 35% of residents make $15,000 or less according to the Census. Kroger closed its Orange Mound store in 2018 and Aldi soon followed. This left the oldest African American neighborhood in the U.S. without a grocery store.

We have often lamented the transportation woes that plague the women at My Cup of Tea. Couple this with a lack of a full-service grocery within close proximity, and the inability to obtain healthy and hearty meals reaches a near crisis point.

The daily lunches at the House are reliable. The MCOT women know that if all else fails on a given day, there will be a meal at 3028 Carnes. The daily fare may be familiar, or it may be a dish they’ve never experienced, but it will fill their bellies and almost always send them home with leftovers.

The Sisterhood of Daily Lunches

When lunch is served, almost everyone eats together around the heavy hardwood table in the center room of The House. If it’s warm and sunny, they gather on the porch and sit in rocking chairs and on the swing. The important thing is they are together.

This is the time when conversation, laughter, and sometimes tears ensue. There is plenty of camaraderie throughout the workday but depending on the task assigned and the number of customers to serve, the women are working in small groups or alone in different parts of the House. But at lunch, everyone pauses for nourishment – the physical and the kind we crave and receive from authentic human interaction. The conversations range from the mundane to the extraordinary, and within that small window of time, they can learn the latest neighborhood news, comment on the weather, and share deep, personal and spiritual challenges.

On one recent day, a woman nervously shared a secret that she had been keeping from her sisters. It wasn’t the kind of secret that was harmful to others, but it was about a past indiscretion that had reared its head again. Now, there would be some consequences. She wanted them to know because of the respect and love she had for them, and she wanted their prayers. The woman cried, her sisters cried, but no one judged or wagged a finger. Not only did they pray, but some also stepped up in immediate and tangible ways to help. We’ll write more about this in a future post.

Being Fed and Fed by the Spirit

Physical needs are met with the plate of food before each woman. But spiritual needs are met with a time of devotion and prayer. Most days, Debbie, our operations manager, or a volunteer offer a brief word of Scripture, a devotional reading, or a reflection.

The dialogue isn’t just one-way. Instead, a discussion often develops with women sharing how the truths of the lesson being discussed are evident in their lives. They offer words of genuine gratitude and acknowledge their ongoing need and desire for prayer and God’s direction in their lives.

And when the plates are empty and everyone is full, the meal ends the way it started – with prayer. The women clear their plates, move toward their work stations, and wonder about the kinds sustenance tomorrow’s lunch will bring.

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A Woman's Place is in the History Books

A Woman's Place is in the History Books

 

Editor's Note: March is Women's History Month, and we shared a version of this post a year ago. We have updated the post, but the points are still quite relevant. We hope you will read it again and reflect on the gift of these amazing women who are My Cup of Tea.

 

The Memphis weather is schizophrenic. A blanket of chartreuse pollen covers the cars left in the elements overnight. The Bradford Pears, Dogwoods, and Daffodils are robustly blooming, while teeny green buds are peeking out from the branches of hardwoods across the city. These are sure signs that spring is near, but something else important is happening too.

March is National Women’s History Month.

In 1987, Congress enacted a perpetual declaration that March would be National Women’s History Month. In 1980, President Jimmy Carter recognized a week in the month as National Women’s History Week. In announcing the designation, Carter said this:

From the first settlers who came to our shores, from the first American Indian families who befriended them, men and women have worked together to build this nation. Too often the women were unsung and sometimes their contributions went unnoticed. But the achievements, leadership, courage, strength and love of the women who built America was as vital as that of the men whose names we know so well.”

Carter was and is correct that women have made some of the most significant contributions to our nation with either delayed recognition or in some cases no recognition at all. But without minimizing the contributions of prominent women in our nation’s history, we should also remember that their achievements were built on a foundation laid by other women whose names, hard work, and dedication will never be known to the masses. These are “ordinary” women – mothers, grandmothers, sisters, aunts, teachers, church leaders, nurses, and caretakers – who invested in girls, other women, and communities.

Orange Mound Women

We’ve often told you how extraordinary the My Cup of Tea women are. Each overcome enormous personal tragedy and struggle to fight for a better future for themselves, their children, grandchildren, and neighborhood. A new addition to our family earned her real estate license and has sold four properties. Another woman walked across a stage to receive a diploma for her recently murdered daughter. Another is the primary caretaker for a special needs brother who is also diabetic. And one of our grandmothers stepped-up to gain custody of her special needs granddaughter. Still others have overcome addiction and the streets believing there is a better way. Yet, despite the challenges, they are quick to reach into shallow pockets where they always find something to give a sister in need. They’re choosing to grow roots deeper in Orange Mound, rather than relocating to other parts of the city. They are invested in the success of My Cup of Tea, not only for what it can do for them, but for how it can help stabilize their beloved Orange Mound.

East Memphis Sisters

Serving beside the Orange Mound women are their East Memphis sisters. Most of these sisters have likely had an easier existence than their My Cup of Tea counterparts. They are better resourced and financially secure. They have a network of friends, acquaintances, and experiences that make navigating life simpler. Most have skills and education that have led them to succeed in homemaking, business, or community engagement. They could have remained in the relative safety and comfort of their East Memphis enclave, but instead they answered a call to serve people whose culture and experiences are vastly different than their own in a neighborhood they have most certainly been told is unsafe. Yet, they came anyway, and are still coming. They bring lunches, plant gardens, package tea, sew aprons, refinish furniture, and donate time and money. The most important things they do are listen, learn, and befriend their Orange Mound sisters without judgment.

The Backbone

If the Orange Mound women and their East Memphis sisters are the “hands and feet” of My Cup of Tea, then Debbie is the backbone. Debbie is the operations manager and resident tea expert. It is her knowledge, work ethic, and genuine love of the My Cup of Tea women that coalesce to make the operation successful. Debbie is accounting, human resources, supply chain and logistics, and sales and marketing combined in a single human. She is fiercely organized and committed to stellar customer service. However, Debbie’s most important roles are counselor, teacher, and friend. The My Cup of Tea women know that they can bring any problem or struggle to Debbie. She listens, guides, advises, and prays for and with them. Some even call her Momma D.

The Visionary

Many of the notable women in American History were visionaries. At My Cup of Tea, our visionary is our founder Carey Moore, though she never claims the vision as her own. Carey is quick to say that the idea for this social enterprise in Orange Mound came from the Lord. Through fervent prayer, biblical wisdom, and an indefatigable spirit, Carey leads and inspires all associated with My Cup of Tea. Carey is always reading, learning, and applying new information to the mission of the organization. When a problem presents itself, Carey in undeterred by its complexity or unsavoriness. Her goal is always to resolve it with the best interests of others in mind.

Women Making History

For all the sweat, toil, and prayer of the last eight years, it is all but certain that no woman in any role with My Cup of Tea will be lauded in the annals of American, Tennessee, or Memphis history. But it is almost equally certain that there will be women in the future who will rise to the level of historical figure because of the impact of My Cup of Tea and its women. Perhaps a granddaughter or great granddaughter will achieve scientific, business, or political success because their grandmother or great grandmother broke the cycle of generational poverty through her employment at My Cup of Tea. Or maybe a young woman, because her family moved into one of the new, affordable homes to be built on Semmes Street, will have her own room where she studies, excels in school, and becomes a great American author.  Whoever she is, whatever the accomplishment, or whenever it occurs, the My Cup of Tea women are helping to make history everyday and for that we are grateful.

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A Leap of Faith

A Leap of Faith

If you’ve been distracted lately by the romance between some football player and a musician, you may not have realized that February has 29 days this year, not 28. Twenty twenty-four is a Leap Year, but besides delaying the beginning of March, what is the significance of it?

As a matter of science, the earth’s orbit around the sun is not exactly 365 days. It is closer to 365.2422 days. Over time, if the calendar is not adjusted to compensate for nearly an extra quarter of a day each year, the alignment between our calendar and our seasons becomes skewed. So, Julius Cesar with help from the Egyptians invented what we now refer to as Leap Year.

Beyond the science, the quirkiness of adding an extra day once every four years has spawned a number of peculiar traditions and observances. For example, in 5th Century Ireland, Saint Bridget convinced Saint Patrick that women should have a day when they are allowed to propose to a man. Saint Patrick agreed and endorsed women having a day to propose…once every 4 years. Thus, Leap Day became known as Bachelor’s Day.

Adding to the tradition across Europe, Queen Margaret of Scotland decreed that if the man declined the proposal from the woman, he must pay a fine of one pound up to a silk gown. It is unclear why some men paid a pound and others the excessive silk gown fine – maybe it was based in the vehemence of the rejection or whether he declined in public. To further spice up the infrequent occasion, at some point women were allowed to wear red petticoats presumably to signal to the world and the would-be husband that a proposal was at hand. And speaking of hands, in Denmark men who rejected a proposal were required to purchase 12 pairs of gloves so the women could disguise the embarrassment of not having a ring.

In Taiwan, married daughters are required to come home on Leap Day to prepare a meal for their aging parents. And the meal is just not any old meal. Daughters bring and cook the ingredients for Pig Trotter Noodles. What are Pig Trotter Noodles, you ask? Pig trotters are pig’s feet, and rice noodles are stewed in pig’s feet broth. The meal is said to be so delicious that it guarantees good fortune and health to the parents.

In Germany’s Rhineland, boys place a small, ribboned birch tree on the step of a girl they are “sweet on” the night before May Day. However, in Leap Years the roles are reversed, and the girls place the decorated tree at the doors of the boys. It is also tradition that only the girls dance around the May Pole the following day.

Right here in America, the town of Anthony, Texas hosts a four-day-long festival to celebrate Leap Year. People born on Lead Day, known as Leapings or Leap Day Babies, are elevated to celebrity status and people from all over the world visit the town of Anthony to enjoy the food, music, and activities in celebration of Leap Year.

What does all this have to do with My Cup of Tea and Orange Mound?

What all of these traditions, and others not included, have in common is an urging to do something out of the ordinary. They recognize that Leap Year doesn’t happen every day or every year, so it’s a chance to do something different. It’s an extra day to live life in a way that makes a difference for someone.

On this Leap Year, we have a proposal of our own.

Would you consider supporting the ladies at My Cup of Tea by becoming a sustaining donor?

Our sustaining donor program is called The Blend. Members decide how much they want to give, and each month that amount is charged to a credit or debit card. You can join for as little as $10 dollars per month. In addition to receiving gifts based on the amount you donate each month; you will have the joy of knowing that your money is supporting the women of My Cup of Tea in their journey out of poverty. Unlike the Leap Year proposals of old, if you decline, we won’t be looking to collect a silk gown or 12 pairs of gloves.

Doing something unique often involves a “leap of faith.” It wasn’t a Leap Year or a Leap Day, but 10 years ago, we trusted the Lord and founded this tea company and much good has come from it. We ask you to pray and consider taking a leap of your own.

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Orange Mound is Black History

Orange Mound is Black History

February is Black History Month. Orange Mound has a compelling chapter in the story of remarkable feats of Black men and women in our country. Original and resolute, the Black Memphians who worked for white Memphians carved out a section in Southeast Memphis in 1890 and built a neighborhood for themselves called Orange Mound.

Melil Powell, a local historian, said:

Orange Mound was built on the John George Deaderick Plantation. Deaderick purchased 5,000 acres of land between 1825 and 1830, and the neighborhood got its name from a local fruit called the mock orange that grew in the shrubs there. The Deaderick Plantation was sold to a white real estate developer, Izey Eugene Meacham, in 1890. Meacham divided the land and created a segregated subdivision for African Americans. Lots were created in narrow grids and sold for less than one hundred dollars each. The neighborhood originally contained 982 shotgun houses. Compared to white neighborhoods, Orange Mound was inferior, but it was still an important symbol of status among Black Memphians during the Jim Crow era. Overall, Orange Mound has faced many hardships, but continues to foster a strong sense of community and identity within a large urban environment. The neighborhood has a long history of resilience, pride, and sense of identity that continues to live on today.  

One hundred thirty-four years ago, along with the pioneers who settled this city within a city, Jesus moved in as well.  Churches, schools, parks, and economic opportunities were spawned and given life here. Though modest in scale, the bold step engendered robust pride, safety, and a strengthening of cultural values. The valiant success to preserve Black community more than a century ago is lamentably now on “life support.” Crime has created a crucible for all who live within our boundaries.

My Cup of Tea’s objective for over a decade is that The House that is our operations hub stabilize and dignify single moms and grandmoms who live in the neighborhood. Though heads of their homes, they are largely devoid of resources to protect them. Fifty years of slack economic resourcing impedes any who desires to vacate the dangerous blocks within our borders and the creep of crime along our sidewalks and streets. The progress we have imagined for their protection is still improbable, but not impossible.

Rather than capitulate, the ladies are bolstering their courage to take back the neighborhood.  Aligning with the fond memories of their courageous forebearers, the women are seizing their moment to stop the evil in our midst. God’s anointed Orange Mound founders’ ‘enterprise is at the grass root where we abide.  Our women are rising to defend our neighborhood and protect our children.  We are connecting with our local police precinct and following the guidelines of Neighborhood Watch.  Good neighborliness unifies, and knowing our neighbors is paramount to protecting our home and the block on which we live.

Nonetheless, knowing neighbors is more challenging here. Rental houses turn over frequently, front doors are intentionally unwelcoming, and sidewalks are hazardous for pedestrians and bikes.  It’s a small beginning but not one without hope.  What God is stirring within us is re-establishing a safe place for children to play, gardens to thrive, and neighbors to fellowship is in view.  The ladies have found the personal firm footing that our many volunteers and programs have offered.  Within that security, a new obligation has been realized, and with the Lord’s guidance and empowerment, they will redeem what is broken on our blocks and bring safety back to the neighborhood.  We are a ministry of equipping women to do the next thing for the Kingdom. We believe we are part of the solution for the safety of our city within the small corner we live and love. We do not shrink back from the call to do as Isaiah has prophesied.

They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined city. Isaiah 61:4

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More Than the Worst Thing We've Ever Done

More Than the Worst Thing We've Ever Done

The anxiety is almost palpable. Joyful conversations inevitably pivot in a darker direction. Demands for relief are louder than I can ever remember.

I’m talking about crime, of course.

While crime rates were dramatically declining across the nation, homicides in the City of Memphis hit a new record in 2023, breaking the previous record set in 2021. The new year so far doesn’t seem to be relenting, and rightly, we all want something done about it. We desire that criminals be punished in proportion to the severity of their crimes. We expect there to be justice.

But when people are gripped with fear, our “priorities pendulum” swings hard and fast to the side of self-preservation. We tend to forget, to quote Bryan Stevenson author of Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption that,

Each of us is more than the worst thing we’ve ever done.

At The House, we’re outraged and afraid too. Last year, a woman was gunned down on the sidewalk next door by her partner, and our security cameras captured the whole horrid incident. The daughter of one of the ladies was murdered in a drive-by shooting. And still another employee’s daughter was shot on purpose by a “friend.” Thankfully, she survived.

We plan to channel our anger into efforts to help reduce crime in our little corner of Orange Mound by getting to know the police better, engaging our neighbors, participating in the annual  Night Out, and possibly organizing Neighborhood Watch.

But what we can’t forget is that of the more than 80 women who have crossed the threshold of our tea company, well more than a majority have crossed the law at some point. From illicit drugs to theft to prostitution to gang activity, many of the women we’ve served have spent time in rehab and/or jail. But central to our model is the belief that all of these women are far more than the worst thing they’ve ever done.

Stevenson explains that one who lies, steals, or kills is not just a liar, a thief, or a killer, but a complex and broken human being with gifts and faults and not just the capacity for evil deeds, but the ability to do good too.

For the Christian, this is validated by a higher authority. In Matthew 9:13, Jesus responds to the Pharisees who question why he would dine with tax collectors and sinners. Quoting Hosea 6:6, He says,

Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.

If we fail to demonstrate mercy, which the late pastor and theologian, Dr. Timothy Keller said, “…must be free and unmerited to the wrongdoer,” then the experiment happening at 3028 Carnes fails. We instead replace acceptance with judgement, opportunity with rejection, and reconciliation with bitterness.

The My Cup of Tea ladies are benefactors of mercy too. Forty to fifty women, from completely disparate backgrounds and experiences volunteer at My Cup of Tea every year. Few have any real experience with poverty, violent crime, and surviving in the world as a racial or ethnic minority. In their zeal to serve and help, honest, but nevertheless hurtful, mistakes have been made. But so far, the ladies have heaped mercy upon us.

When we consider crime in our community, few, if any, are saying criminals should be absolved and not punished. But for the violent criminal, who may not have shown any mercy to his victim, you can bet he lived a merciless existence prior to the day he committed his worst offense. Children who are abused or witness frequent abuse are more likely to become abusers themselves. A merciless community where guns are the arbiters of disputes breeds less compassion in those surrounded by violence, not more. And a society that permanently labels its members according to the worst thing they’ve ever done produces anger, fear, and an unrelenting cycle of brutality.

Susan Monk Kidd in The Secret Life of Bees says this about mercy,

The world will give you that once in a while, a brief timeout; the boxing bell rings and you go to your corner, where somebody dabs mercy on your beat-up life.

The continuation of that poignant idea is that the bell inevitably rings again, the boxers rise and bounce to the center of the ring and proceed to beat the heck out of each other for a much longer period than the brief respite in the corner.

Maybe it’s naïve, but what if we could begin to extend the time spent in the corner where mercy is dabbed on our beat-up lives? A little more dabbing, a little extra salve for those we meet in our everyday lives might start to make a small difference in the violence that surrounds us.

Afterall, God showed us mercy in that, while we were sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
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The Gift Shift

The Gift Shift

The credit card bill from December 2023 has certified that my Christmas gifting this year was excessive. Some of the gifts I gave my family didn’t turn a head and now, sadly, seem hardly worth the wrapping paper and ribbon I used to present them. Buyer’s remorse has clouded over the light in the initial joy I had giving them. Gift giving among my beloved family members begs to be redefined with thoughtfulness on my part. The wind was not behind my sails this year, nor beneath my wings in the annual gathering of my dear ones.

However, the setting in Orange Mound was a refreshing and antithetical experience.  The apparent contrast between giving to family and giving to the poor at Christmas this year is worth noting. I haven’t counted, but I have read there are over 2000 verses about helping the poor in the Bible. As well, there are cautions in Proverbs as to squandering our wealth.

Notwithstanding God’s command to give to the poor, I have often considered why He says to do it countless times.  Beyond the obvious - ‘because they have needs, Silly, and you have resources’ - I have determined the blessing is for me, the gift giver, not just the recipient who is poor. 

The ladies who work with us in Orange Mound more than enthusiastically received Christmas gifts at our Christmas Party two weeks ago.  Much of the rapturous excitement in the room was photographed and videoed and played several hundred times among us over the holiday break with joy and gratitude. Our celebration was uproarious. Specialized, personalized, and memorable gifts from volunteers were given to eleven ladies at the tea company. A favorite couple spent an earlier day with us and shared comforting poetry about the passing of loved ones. One baked a banana nut bread loaf for each. Another made bead bracelets with a personalized charm.   Another gave personalized scripture cards to each with her own name attached to the Lord’s promise.  One of the ladies embroidered tea towels for all her co-workers. Another gave each the devotional, Jesus Calling. Never have we had such bounty and benevolence, tears, and laughter.  It made my Christmas and theirs, and I am still in the afterglow because they are still talking about the gifts and reporting their use of them.

Throughout the year, generous supporters and customers have graced us in favor, monetary donations, and various types of contributions and many have come to see the gratitude we have in receiving them. However, I believe this Christmas was exceptional since the times have been especially challenging in the neighborhood and among the ladies. None of them expected to be “seen, soothed, safe, or secure” borrowing psychologist Curt Thompson’s short list of mental health imperatives in his new book, The Deepest Place.  Much less did they anticipate a raft of presents at our ‘potluck lunch’. Each had drawn a name and brought one gift to that co-worker. That had long been our tradition and more than fun and rewarding in the past.

Who knew that giving personal and thoughtful, though small, gifts to these courageous ladies would make OUR Christmas and theirs!

There is no comparison to the greatest gift of all time in God’s incarnation and ultimately Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Hebrews says, that for the joy set before Him, He came humbly and lived among us. He gave Himself to us and His life away for us. His gift keeps giving through the gift of Himself in the indwelling Holy Spirit who guides, comforts, strengthens and reminds us of our identity, our future, and our key to the throne room of God.  We are seen, safe, secure, and soothed forever.

Ironically, the infinitesimal comparative gifts we offered on December 20th to our lovely friends has brought us immeasurable joy, though temporal. With that comes the desire to do it again, in new creative ways.  God has told us in His Word to give to the poor, and our recently discovered conclusion is He has said that to increase our joy and understanding of Jesus’s love in giving to us. For it is we who are the unmitigatedly poor in every way until we receive His personalized and specialized gift of Himself - The Priceless Gift .
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Home is Where the Art Is

Home is Where the Art Is

Three years ago, in partnership with the Orange Mound Arts Council, My Cup of Tea launched an effort to support Black artists, raise the profile of the Orange Mound community, and to grow support for our social enterprise that employs women from the neighborhood. We have been blessed with the opportunity to work with some of Memphis’ most talented artists, all of whom have their work displayed in homes and businesses across the nation. Their stunning paintings have helped us sell out of the tea boxes that display their artwork, which, of course, helps us keep local women employed.

This past Friday, just as in previous years, we unveiled the creation of the selected artist and the tea box that displays the new artwork. This year’s artist, Darlene Newman, grew up and lives just outside the borders of Orange Mound and has been a professional artist for over 22 years. Darlene’s work is bright and whimsical, but full of depth and commentary on her faith journey and lived experience.

Drive through the Memphis community, and you will find her murals decorating places like the South Memphis Farmer’s Market. Her creations have been displayed in galleries in New Orleans, Atlanta, and Nashville, and she has traveled across the country to many different states to share her work. Darlene is also the creator of “Orange Mound Bound,” an animated series that will be shown on Amazon and Roku TV.

For My Cup of Tea, Darlene painted an homage to the traditional “shotgun” homes that were once synonymous with living in Orange Mound. Those homes are less common today, but part of the rich history of this proud community. Darlene named the acrylic, “Happiness at Home.” The work is based on an actual house on Hanley Street in the Cherokee community of Memphis.

“My hope is that my artwork not only adds beauty to these tea boxes but also symbolizes the strength and resilience of the women working at My Cup of Tea,” says Darlene Newman. “Their dedication to creating a better future for themselves and their community is truly inspiring.”

We have named the tea, “Home” to recognize and honor the neighborhood where the My Cup of Tea ladies live and work, but also to communicate that the sisterhood that has evolved has made the House at 3028 Carnes and the experiences we share there feel like home.

For an experience so intense and a work of art so warm and inviting, we needed a complementary tea. Debbie Hert, our tea expert, with the help of some of the ladies and some of our customers, chose Lemon Ginger Oolong to fill the tea box. This tea has a robust and fresh lemon flavor with the warmness and spiciness of freshly peeled ginger. It is a tea that from the first sip connotes the fondness of wherever you call home.

As in past years, we have licensed a limited number of tea boxes with the artist’s work on the front. These are available for $15 until they are all sold. What is different this year is that you also have the opportunity to own a signed, limited edition canvas print of this exquisite artwork. Darlene is allowing our customers to preorder prints.

Finally, we have been blessed by the partnership without friends at the Orange Mound Arts Council, and our winning artists, Andre Miller, Danny Broadway, and Darlene Newman. However, the success of this annual event would not have been possible without our customers and supporters. Thank you for supporting our artists, buying the tea box, and sharing our mission with your family and friends.

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One Neighborhood At A Time

One Neighborhood At A Time

Last Thursday the citizens of Memphis elected a young energetic mayor named Paul Young.  His acceptance to lead in our city’s recovery, redemption, and restoration was motivating and inspiring, and he challenged us constituents without notes. 

“I want to make sure that together we go through a transformation, a transformation that’s going to take us from hopelessness to hopeful; from poverty to prosperity, from hurt to healing, from stalled to thriving, and from good to truly great,” he said.

 

There is much ahead for the transformation of our city, and many will be enlisted to join the many already engaged. Orange Mound is only one of over 100 neighborhoods in Memphis. My Cup of Tea is among several other organizations here and committed to do our part. We join with our common love for our community and a desire to see it flourish. Mayor Young’s eloquent words, in a rhythmic cadence, are similar to the call we share with the neighbors on our block.  At least weekly as we work, pray, and plan at the House in Orange Mound, we beckon our employees to work for the neighborhood’s healing.

 When we began our mission 10 years ago, the emphasis was therapeutic and self-improvement discipleship.  Extending resources to move single moms to stability above the poverty line was our goal, and we selected Orange Mound because of its proximity to the middle of the city and its reported needs. We discovered the rich history and the neighborhood pride after we bought properties here.

A decade has found us faithful to our initial vision. Now we have contextualized our discipleship beyond personal growth and piety and   have expanded our assignment beyond our fences. There is a refreshed sense of public engagement and interest in the neighborhood. The perceived stability at our address is attributed in part to friendship evangelism, devoted volunteers, and the trust and dependability of our work staff.  The safety we experience and feel here is palpable and gives us oxygen within our walls. 

Psychiatrist, Dr. Curt Thompson, in his latest book, The Deepest Place, informs that mental health is contingent on and supported when a person is seen, soothed, secure, and safe. The 4 “Ss” are foundational before one can seek and participate in the prosperity of his home, neighborhood, or much more, his city. Our ladies are SEEN, SOOTHED, SECURE and SAFE. 

Mayor Paul Young has over 100 neighborhoods to encourage and catalyze. He would do well to meet and showcase three of our ladies who are role models in the effort of improving Orange Mound.

Cool cuts yards and trims hedges for many in our neighborhood, beyond the picture-perfect state she maintains for our property. She selects a yard of the month in our zone and stakes a sign in the front yard of the winner. She also brings discarded furniture left on curbs and repurposes, refinishes, and resells it. Her mother, Ms. Pearl, delivers food from the local food banks to many of the house bound as well as for some of our employees who have no transportation.

Deborah delivers food left over from our lunches to many of the men and women she encounters on the streets on her way home.  She prays for them and checks on them again. She visits our friends in the hospital, gives many employees rides to the doctor, and stays with them.  Daily she intercedes in prayer and often with tears of compassion for our staff and employees.

Cheryl is “all in” and a model Orange Mound citizen.  She beautifies her space, walks the neighborhood as she prays for it, drives neighborhood children to school when the weather is unpleasant, and she writes letters to pastors advocating for our unchurched neighbors.  She attends all community meetings and is always informed on positive movements.  She is the first to offer hope and compassion to all who enter our front door.

Our enthusiastic Mayor needs city-wide public engagement for the more than 100 neighborhoods to realize his vision of a Memphis renaissance. In the meantime, Orange Mound’s civic-minded women and men are already active in that endeavor and doing our part in Orange Mound.

Change begins in the hearts of those who love this city. Here is a list of most, if not all, of the City’s neighborhoods.  The task is daunting for a city of roughly 620,000 but quite possible one neighborhood at a time, just like changing lives one teacup at a time.

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