Friday, October 09, 2009
Member Of The James Gang Saddles Up For Memphis
We became acquainted with the James Gang in Iowa City, Iowa, when several of its members – Jesse Elliott, Gina McGee, Alex Johnson, Spencer Griffin, Elizabeth Azoff, and Michael Brooks - participated in the Memphis Manifesto Summit, which our company founder Carol Coletta conceived of and organized in 2003 with Richard Florida.
We were impressed then and remain impressed now. The grassroots group focuses on community-building by creating “endeavors” that connect creativity and service, and become the framework for individuals to pursue their own creativity.
Or put another way, it’s a nonprofit entrepreneurial center that works to start and grow community projects in arts, music, theater, humanities, technology, community activism, and business.
It’s an organization of smart, passionate people, as evidenced by its name in honor of William James, the father of American psychology, not Jesse James, the father of murderers as American myths.
The James Gang is known in Iowa City as thinkers, dreamers, activists, leaders, workers, and connectors. We need more of them so when we got the following email from one who is about to transplant to Memphis, we couldn’t help but smile:
My name is Zach Hoyt, and in less than a week I'll be a Memphian. I've been following your blog for the past year or so with great interest and thought you might be interested in the story of how an outsider came to the city.
A little about me: I'm 28 years old and have lived my entire life in Iowa, growing up in Des Moines and then moving to Iowa City to attend the University of Iowa and sticking around after graduation. I've worked since then as a real estate appraiser, first working as an independent commercial property appraiser and more recently working for Farm Credit Services of America, an agricultural lender.
I suppose I'm fairly typical of the creative class. I majored in film in college and have been an active participant in local music scenes since before I could drive. I'm also a computer geek who learned programming in high school and started an early community web site that went on to become the focus of the Des Moines underground music scene. For the past three years, I've also been heavily involved with community building efforts as part of a local nonprofit started by students and young professionals called the James Gang. I doubt you would remember, but Richard Florida actually brought a delegation of board members down for the Memphis Manifesto.
I first visited Memphis on a whim in 2006. My wife Amy and I had won free plane tickets to anywhere AirTran would fly, and being huge music fans had always wanted to visit the home of the blues. The trip was in many ways typical: Sun Records, Beal Street, Graceland, etc. But we also took time to veer from the tourist trail, exploring different neighborhoods from South Main to Hollywood to Central Gardens and as far out as Germantown.
The trip was over quick, but left a definite impact. We were back a year later on an impulse, this time seeing even more of the city. My wife and I were both laid off last year around the holidays and it really gave us a kick in the pants to evaluate what we were doing with our lives. We drove down for a weekend in Memphis to blow off some steam and that is when things were really driven home.
Before, we had loved the city. There were cool neighborhoods, great music scenes, awesome local restaurants and businesses and just a unique vibe to the place. We were already considering making the move when we went down for that last trip, but it was pushed over the edge when we went from seeing the things there to meeting the people there.
We stayed out of the tourist places and went almost entirely to neighborhood haunts. Everywhere we went, we found warm, genuine people who were happy to share their love of their city with us. They welcomed us with open arms, tried to help us find jobs and generally made us feel more welcome and at home than we ever had in Iowa.
So now, 10 months later, we've sold our house, quit our jobs, and are diving head first into Memphis. We came on a whim knowing almost nothing of the city, and were smitten. We came a year later and became attached. We started tuning in, following blogs and flickr streams, reading the online versions of the CA and the Flyer and becoming more and more engrained in the city.
Now we're living proof of Richard Florida's hypothesis. We aren't moving to a city for a job, we're moving to a city because we love it, and have faith that by following our hearts to Memphis, we will eventually find work in some field or another.
This came out a little longer than I had anticipated, and I apologize for that. For us however, we're basically rebooting our entire lives because of this intangible feeling for this city, and to be able to share this with someone else who obviously loves the city is exhilarating. Your blog has been inspiring and I can't wait until I can get personally involved in helping to shape the future of Memphis.