The 901, especially its largest component, Memphis, is comprised of many distinct communities with their own traditions, histories, personalities, and venues. From architecture to eateries to neighborhood priorities, one can witness stark differences by simply crossing the street. These distinctions contribute to the incomparable aura that is Memphis. And if only one of these communities could be chosen as most representative of the community at-large, it would undoubtedly be Orange Mound. Yes, we’re biased, but here’s our case.
It’s been more than a decade now since the phrase Grit-N-Grind was coined to describe the style of basketball played by our beloved Memphis Grizzlies during the Allen-Randolph-Gasol era. The city and its surrounding communities embraced the slogan, not just for applicability to basketball, but because it described a way of life for many Memphians.
The median income in Memphis for an individual is $26,000 and less than $42,000 for a household. Only 31% of residents have educational attainment higher than a high school diploma. And we are all too familiar with the impact of crime on families, businesses, and neighborhoods. Making the ends meet for many is a daily grind and not for the faint of heart.
Yet, there is pride and determination in our Memphis. We’ve seen bad times before, but we won’t quit, ever. We are perfectly capable of pointing out what’s wrong, so if you’re not from here, don’t be condescending by trying to tell us how we can improve. We love our barbecue, our blues, and our basketball, and we will line them up against your best any day, but we’re so much more than just those things.
Like the city as a whole, Orange Mound’s median income and educational attainment are low – even lower than the dismal numbers citywide. Crime crept in during the 1980s and hasn’t left, and there is no doubt that putting food on the table and paying rent in Orange Mound is a gritty business.
But Orange Mound knows good times too. It was once a thriving community for middle income African Americans who owned homes and businesses. The community is the home to elite athletes and scholars. Music legends played the Handy Theatre and civil rights icons like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. patronized Orange Mound businesses. Because of these attributes and more, there is a palpable pride in the neighborhood felt most intensely in conversation with people who have lived and attended school here. This group of Orange Mound residents won’t surrender their home to the plagues or poverty, crime, and blight.
We hear the same sentiment from the women at My Cup of Tea. There is not a hint of resignation in their voices. No one has given up on the prospect of a thriving Orange Mound. The sentiment is more than “lip service” as some have purchased homes in the neighborhood, rather than moving. Others aspire to purchase a home in Orange Mound, rather than finding a way out. Each supports local businesses as often as they can, and some even volunteer for community organizations. Their goals to improve their own lives through employment at My Cup of Tea extend beyond their urgent needs to their neighbors and the Orange Mound neighborhood.
So, this September 1st, please excuse us if we celebrate the 901 with a little extra enthusiasm. We’re not bragging…much. We’re just excited for all that we know Memphis and Orange Mound can be.