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The Art of the Matter

The Art of the Matter

“Others have seen what is and asked why. I have seen what could be and asked why not.”

                                                                                                                -Pablo Picasso


The mission of My Cup of Tea has always been about supporting women in the Orange Mound community through job opportunities and authentic cross-cultural relationships. But it has also included doing our part to revitalize this once thriving community.

The resurrection of Orange Mound, or any community struggling with crime, poverty, declining property values and few opportunities for economic mobility, is complex, multi-layered and there is no single strategy that will move the needle. What many community developers and activists agree on, though, is that the arts are essential to revitalizing a community. As a Princeton University working paper put it,

“The arts revitalize neighborhoods and promote economic prosperity. Participation in the arts improves physical and psychological well-being. The arts provide a catalyst for the creation of social capital and the attainment of important community goals.”

Bill Strickland, an activist and founder of the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in inner-city Pittsburg argued in an NPR TED Radio Talk that exposure to beauty is critical to community change. He says whether music, painting, sculpting or dance, engaging with beauty on a consistent basis changes vocabularies, behaviors and raises expectations for what is possible for the community to a new level.

                “It turns out we may need beauty to survive, in the same way we need oxygen and water,” says Strickland.

We’re not sure if human beings need beauty in the same way we need water and oxygen, but what we know is that people don’t thrive without it.

Fortunately for Orange Mound, there are passionate, adept organizations and leaders organizing the community and promoting the arts. One of those organizations is the Orange Mound Arts Council (OMAC,) which manages the Orange Mound Gallery.

We have teamed with OMAC, and we are leveraging their network, expertise and energy to create a unique opportunity for Black artists. My Cup of Tea plans to introduce a new Memphis-themed tea to add to our collection, which includes favorites like Bluff City Chai, 901 of A Kind Coconut Almond and Blue Suede Shoes Organic Wild Blueberry. Collaborating with OMAC, we have issued a request for proposals seeking a professional Black artist to design the new box.

The artist’s design and personal biography will be featured on the new box. A fee of $1,000 will be paid for the design and the artist will retain ownership of the original artwork. If you know someone who might be interested, the deadline to submit a portfolio is September 1st. Please share this link: www.shopmycupoftea.com/proposals.

Beyond this single project, we envision future opportunities to empower and promote Black artists annually. One possibility is to open the request for proposal to amateur artists who would be mentored by professional artists. Whatever the next iteration, emphasizing the beauty and talent that exists in this historic community is essential to support its rebirth.

Shelby County Commissioner Reginald Milton, commenting in the Commercial Appeal on the opening of the Orange Mound Gallery may have said it best.

“Art is a way to express our fears, our passions, our concerns, our anger. Art is unique, it is a gift from God to humans.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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The Sisters

The Sisters

The many personal costs of the pandemic have profoundly impacted our friends in Orange Mound. What most of the resourced have experienced is a mere inconvenience comparatively.Reflections on our mission over the past 13 months have shown us that many of our friends and volunteers are being motivated to come to Orange Mound and do what they can to address the many wounds and gaps – some that have arisen from the pandemic and others that have long been there. We have weekly witnessed advis
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Women Standing In

Women Standing In

"As one whom his mother comforts, so I will comfort you." Isaiah 66:13

Mothers' Day is May 9th, and most of us will send flowers or gifts, treat our moms to a special meal, or schedule time for a longer than usual call. Some of us can't wait to honor our moms, while others are approaching the day with trepidation and only participating to avoid the crushing weight of guilt that comes with dodging the day. For others, this will be the first Mothers' Day without their moms, while so many have never experienced a Mothers' Day with their moms because they never knew them.

The House in Orange Mound is a microcosm of the diversity of mother-daughter relationships that exist across our culture. And the ways in which the impending holiday is observed by our team members will run the gambit. Some will spend the entire day celebrating mom. Some will be the ones celebrated. For some, that Sunday will be no different than any other Sunday. Whatever our circumstances, the need for the love and comfort of a mother is inherent. The verse above from the Book of Isaiah even compares the comfort of a mother to the comfort that comes from the Lord.

What is also true is that when it comes to love, nurture, and wisdom we still rely on or maybe never had, we all have gaps in need of bridging. An essential part of the work of My Cup of Tea is meeting each other where we are and supporting one another in ways our mothers can't anymore or never did.
Quintessential mothers are problem-solvers, both big and small. So, at the house, we offer rides when cars break down, emergency funds when personal economies turn down, and our best advice when our sisters are feeling let down. In today's families, mothers are the wage earners and the bookkeepers, so we pay a fair wage and provide training in financial management. In a previous generation, mothers typically taught daughters to sew, cook and garden, so we fill those gaps for those who want to know. The way we most often show our love for each other is in the same way mothers have expressed their love for their children for centuries - we pray. We pray in times of anxiety, fear, and sadness. But we also say "thank you" in our prayers for each other and that God has brought us together. As, Alice Walker, author of The Color Purple said, "Thank you is the best prayer that anyone could say. I say that one a lot. Thank you expresses extreme gratitude, humility, and understanding."

And so there is no confusion, the problem solving and praying is a proverbial two-way street. White women and Black women; affluent and struggling, the bearing of burdens is not limited to a single category.

No matter how we end up observing Mothers' Day or how its recognition makes us feel, it is our Heavenly Father who comforts us who matters most. Every wonderful memory, talent, or skill; every good thing we know about our mothers comes from God. And where our mothers have failed us, because after all, they are human, God will eventually wipe every tear.

Happy Mothers' Day to all of the mothers, grandmothers, the women who are standing in.

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No Easy Way Out

No Easy Way Out

She ignored the dripping faucet and avoided the inclination to examine the leak, postponed the call to the plumber, and hoped there would be minor consequences. Delay can be disastrous.  Had she called a professional sooner, she would have discovered the lack of water pressure, of which she had become accustomed, was directly connected to the rusting pipes under the house, and the leaking main to the street. A winter wonder of ice, snow and brutal cold did a “reveal” on her plumbing, which was exorbitantly expensive to repair.

In the world in which we live, there is a quick fix for almost everything.  Duct tape and paper towels are big sellers. The easy way out of a mess is often my first thought. Quick fixes are our default responses along with the notion and fantasy that things are not broken at all.

Much is way past due for repair in Orange Mound.  This historic and proud, oldest and most authentic, neighborhood of yesteryear is only a fading memory.  The original families would not recognize what it has become today.

Homes are passed down through families and often land into the grateful hands of single moms with no experience in home repairs, networks of reputable contractors, or means to address the leaks, decay, and raw wiring.  The mortgages are within reason, but the utility bills are extravagantly high due to poor insulation, holes in the floors, and water escaping along with the heat and the hope that things will ever be corrected.  Our women of great worth and dignity have had to settle for deplorable, collapsing home.  They live in a broken neighborhood in a broken city in a broken country in a broken world.

Jesus came to an identical world populated quite similarly with people like us drowning in economic and social injustice.  He lived and died as the only solution promising that the deplorable, collapsing condition in which we find ourselves would be made new again. He came with a “platinum credit card” for our payment and the private cell phone number of the Creator, Sustainer, and Judge of all the Heavens and Earth.  Jesus didn’t look for the easy way out but accomplished His work with unspeakable, inconceivable suffering so that we can call on His Father God to still our storms, comfort us in the cold of the night, feed our children, and start our cars on a frosty morning.  He has done this and countless things more for us in Orange Mound.  He meets our needs.

Scripture tells us that the poor and oppressed are loved by the Lord and are special to Him. We know the Lord’s eyes are on the women of Orange Mound and that He provides for them. He is the father for the fatherless, and the husband to our single moms. Ask any one of our ladies what He has provided, and you will find that while their budgets are stretched their hearts are full and running over. He inhabits their praises, which resound throughout The House. “Thank you, Lord,” begins every prayer, and the list is long.   Grateful hearts are contagious.

We invite you to come alongside our Father who is our “fixit man.”  Your faith and trust will be impacted.  He was a carpenter and often requests an apprentice to assist Him as He cares for us.  Perhaps you have the tools or extra time.  You will learn much about what has a lifetime warranty and what is expendable.  The bonus for His helpers is immeasurable as they get to work with Him.

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The Greatest is Love

The Greatest is Love

   “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love." I Corinthians, 13:13
Besieged with seemingly a million shades of red and pink, obnoxious ads screaming at all your senses, "Buy it if you love them," and the lingering queasiness at even the sight of a chocolate candy may have you fed up with talk of "Love." But the love we experienced at My Cup of Tea in 2020 needs to be shared both as an encouragement that the work is truly changing lives and as an acknowledgment of how God continues to demonstrate His love for us.  

When COVID's first major blow struck the Memphis community in March, we, like so many others, grappled with whether or not to close and how to keep customers and employees safe. But we knew our associates needed to work and wanted to work, so we implemented the guidelines, secured the PPE, and kept our doors open. Almost a year later, our sales exceeded 2019, despite the pandemic and a sharp decline in retail traffic at our location and the venues that sell our products. And most importantly, not a single member of our team has contracted COVID to date.

Two of our early employees purchased homes in 2020. Cheryl bought her first home and chose to purchase in Orange Mound to do her part to help stabilize and revitalize the community. Deborah purchased her new home just outside the unofficial border of Orange Mound. Both Cheryl and Deborah started with us 5 years ago and have diligently worked to achieve the stability that comes with owning a home. This is a critical part of our mission.

God has shown us His love through the blessing of you, not just as customers who buy our tea, though that is central to our ability to serve Orange Mound. In 2020, many of you have volunteered time and expertise. You told others about us across the state and throughout the nation, and we watched support for My Cup of Tea extend to 42 states and the District of Columbia. You shared our social media and associated your good name with our products. And your words of encouragement lifted our spirits.

We experienced heartache and disappointment in 2020 too. Two of our employees lost their mothers six weeks apart. Another was involved in a car wreck and was injured. These calamities were on top of the daily variety that many of the women at My Cup of Tea experience as a routine part of life. But what we witnessed was a deepening of the bond among our team members and a commitment to praying for one another more fervently than ever before.

My Cup of Tea's cup runs over with faith, hope, and love even when our struggles seem more than we can bear. We don't yet know if 2021 will be better or worse by the standards many of us use to measure. But we know we are loved by you, each other, and our God.  Just as the apostle tells us when everything else fails and disappoints there is faith, hope, and love, but the greatest is love.

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“Unprecedented” has become the buzz word for 20-21. In the past 12 months, there have been countless applications of unprecedented to never-before experienced activities.I have a personal, unprecedented revelation that has not yet been tagged in the media.Black History Month has caught the interest of our employees at My Cup of Tea as never before.  Perhaps it is unprecedented for me, because I am sharing recently compiled and researched information with our African American
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L. Cool

A product of Melrose High School in the heart of Orange Mound, L. Cool earned her unique nickname playing basketball. Because of her moves on the court, friends assigned the handle Lisa Cool, which morphed into L. Cool.L. Cool dreamed of playing basketball beyond high school, but a knee injury shattered that dream. After high school, Cool gave birth to a daughter. She attended two semesters of college, then dropped out. Much of her time was spent getting high.“I used get high right her
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A New City on the Bluff

          The current Covid-19 pandemic has assaulted our city not unlike the devastating Yellow Fever epidemic of 1878. The epidemic of 1878 was the fifth of six epidemics beginning in 1828, but by far the worst. In January 143 years ago, Yellow Fever had amassed 17,000 cases in our metro area compared to nearly 70,000 cases of Covid-19 since the beginning of the pandemic. However, there were far more deaths from Yellow Fever - up to 5000 in Memphis in the 3rd wave of t
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Rosalyn is often asked how she is able to light up the House with her ever-present, shining smile. It is not easy to always appear happy, but especially when one knows Rosalyn’s story of tragedy and struggle.“My mother always told me never look like what you’ve been through,” says Rosalyn. “Just smile and you’ll feel better. Plus, it makes you look younger,” she laughs.Born and raised in Orange Mound, Rosalyn dreamed of being an actress, but her moth
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A House on the Rock

Metaphorical and actual storms have swept through our country in 2020 and impacted us all.  In Orange Mound, it’s stormy weather all the time for a single mom.   Poor choices made, trajectory miscalculated, hopes dashed, fate cast, all add up to hard challenges in less than desirable living locales here. The hope for economic stability for a young single mom in our neighborhood is depressing. Forty percent of female-led households live at or below the poverty line. The media
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The raging storms may round us beat/A shelter in the time of storm/We'll never leave our safe retreat /A shelter in the time of storm. But for the fact that these words were written more than one hundred years before Danyelle was born, the composer, Vernon Charlesworth, could have been writing about her life.“God just kept telling me to hold on and keep the faith and continue to do your work here in this world,” Danyelle says describing how she had persevered thro
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Exercise Your Right to Vote…If You Can.

Exercise Your Right to Vote…If You Can.

Last Monday, one of our employees discovered that her voting rights had been re-instated. She brought her Voter Registration Card to show it off to us, and she flashed it around like a $500.00 bill.  There was whooping and hollering and rejoicing throughout The House.  It was as if the 1920 Women’s Suffrage Movement had marched right through our kitchen. One-third of our employees at My Cup of Tea have never voted because they have been dragging the shame and baggage of a
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