On January 29, 2015, Carolyn Michael Banks of A Tour of Possibilities, invited a few area organizations and residents on a familiarization tour to showcase and share the historical and cultural gems African Americans have contributed to Memphis, TN. At the tour’s end the primary goal of Carolyn Michael Banks, the conductor and commentator was for it to resonate with visitors and residents alike that “I am a Possibility”.
Throughout the tour Carolyn stressed the importance of knowing your history and how important it is for us to share and document our life experiences with each other. And more importantly, not to be ashamed or afraid to spark change within ourselves, families, neighborhoods, and communities as a whole.
First, we we were figuratively taken back 5,000 years to the capital of ancient Egypt – Memphis- the origins of our city’s namesake, as we journeyed past the downtown Pyramid. Then to our most prized and iconic natural resource, the Mighty Mississippi River.
If you have not seen the River from its source to the sea, you can visit Mud Island River Park and Museum’s water park, where you can literally walk along a replica of the Mighty Mississippi River.
Although the sightseers aboard had seen, driven by, or had great intentions to visit a certain site, Carolyn made our journey an eye-opening event that not only enlightened us but entertained us as well with stories of:
- the Front Street Warehousing District during slavery
- Danny Thomas and St. Jude
- the Trail of Tears
- the Slavehaven-Underground Museum
- BB King
- Dr. King
- Ida B. Wells
- Buddy Guy
- Clifford Davis
- “Boss” Crump and a plethora of other businesses, musical, political, educational, and religious icons, and sport arenas, influenced by African Americans!
In short, Carolyn skillfully shared meaningful details of these sites that would otherwise go unnoticed. Within those two hours we were taken on a historic journey from the beginnings of the Voting Rights Movement in 1818 when it was legal for blacks to vote and later those rights were revoked in 1839 due to the changes in Tennessee Law. Then on to the 1960 sit-ins at the downtown Cossitt Library and the location of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous last speech, “I’ve Been To the Mountaintop”, that he delivered on April 3, 1968, the day before his assassination at the Church of God In Christ World Headquarters on 938 Mason in our very our Soulville community in South Memphis.
Throughout listening to tidbits of the most fascinating stories of our City’s most prominent leaders we were rewarded a numbered envelope for answering particular questions correctly, like “Name that song”; “Name that artist”; or “Did you know?” However, we were not able to open the mysterious envelopes until we were headed back to the Tennessee Welcome Center. Once the time came, Carolyn surprisingly had us notice that the seven numbered envelopes were numbered poignantly after the seven principles of Kwanzaa, a seven day festival celebrating the culture and history of the African American people. Fitting, since Kwanzaa is a time to gather and fellowship with family, friends and community members to reflect upon endings and beginnings. Within each envelope a sightseer had an envelope entitled with the Swahili word for the following concepts: Unity, Self-Determination, Collective Work and Responsibility, Collective Economics, Purpose, Creativity, and Faith.
With that said, Carolyn humbly shared with us her reasoning behind the envelopes. She stated that in preparation for Black History Month, African American Heritage is not to be celebrated for just the month of February, but it is to be celebrated and embraced as a culture 365 days of the year. The edification of the Kwanzaa principles to her signify that the above concepts should not be exemplified or implemented for small amounts of time but should be engendered as a culture as well. Throughout the tour Carolyn’s narrative could not have been any clearer as she described in great detail the tenacious character of those that helped build and create our Bluff City.
Overall, the Tour of Possibilities excursion was a soundtrack narrative that gave vision to the endless possibilities of what happens when creativity is unbridled, wisdom is shared, and our minds are freed to know an individual can make a difference!
Become a River Citizen today and make a difference in your community, town, or neighborhood. The Mississippi River is in trouble and your contributions as River steward/caretaker make the possibilities endless as to what more the Mighty Mississippi has to offer to future generations!
Karen Thornton, 1 Mississippi Tennessee Outreach Assistant