The Commercial Appeal | Waters: Keeping faith with our fellow Memphians

My friend Harry asked me the other day why I’m generally so upbeat about Memphis.

Harry lives here. He reads the paper. He watches TV news. Like all of us, he gets discouraged about our city’s distress.

“I see and hear so many negatives; I want to just stop caring,” Harry said.

He doesn’t, though. Neither do hundreds of thousands of other Memphians.

They show how much they care about the community countless times every day, in countless ways that rarely make news but always make a difference.

Two of the most common ways are the community prayer service and the community service project.

Memphians are always praying with each other. If you haven’t been to a prayer service in Memphis, you’ve been invited to one.

Our first response to a problem or crisis or tragedy that effects the community might be to grumble or grieve or makes plans to leave.

Our second response, generally, is to gather in prayer.

Thursday evening, about a hundred Memphians took part in a prayer service at First Baptist Church of Memphis.

It was organized by World Relief of Memphis, the evangelical Christian agency that rescues and resettles refugees from around the world.

World Relief wanted to provide some welcome Memphis-style relief to refugees and immigrants who are feeling less than welcome these days.

“There’s a lot of political confusion about immigration and how to handle it, but there’s no confusion scripturally,” Rev. Todd Erickson of Second Presbyterian Church told the gathering.

“God instructs us to welcome the stranger, the sojourner, the foreigner, to love them, serve them, defend them. One of the most powerful ways to do that is to gather together in prayer.”

Among those gathered Thursday evening was Thi Mitsamphanh, a refugee from Laos.

“We can’t tell you how much it means to us that you are standing in solidarity with us,” Mitsamphanh told his fellow Memphians on Thursday evening.

Mitsamphanh spent two years in a refugee camp in the mid-1980s after his father was sent to a Community re-education camp in Laos.

World Relief rescued him when he was 4 and brought him and his family to Tennessee.

Now he’s rescuing others.

He’s pastor of First International Baptist Church in Memphis, whose members include refugees from Nepal and Butan.

He also works as a church mobilizer for World Relief, serving others who have been rescued.

Memphians are always doing for others.

If you haven’t participated in a service project in Memphis, you’ve been invited to one.

That’s generally our third response to a problem: service.

Saturday morning, about 30 people — including about two dozen teenage boys — took part in a neighborhood cleanup project in the Douglass community in North Memphis.

It was organized by Clean Memphis on behalf of the Memphis Kings, a youth basketball organization that teaches boys to care on and off the court.

“One of the way you love your neighborhood and community is by helping to keep it clean,” Sam Davis, founder of CEO of the Memphis Kings, told his young recruits. “You change the world by changing your world.”

Davis has changed his world drastically.

He went to prison when he was 17 for robbery and assault. While he was serving a 13-year sentence, his younger brother was killed in a street crime.

“My brother was trying to act like me,” Davis said. “That’s when I changed. I couldn’t save him, but I can save other young men like him.”

Davis started Memphis Kings in 2005 with four boys. Now the nonprofit organization works with more than 200 across the community.

Community service is as much a part of the program as competitive basketball.

“We use basketball as a hook, but this program is about developing young men as role models and leaders,” said Ernest Strickland, a volunteer mentor for the organization.

Strickland, a Hamilton High graduate, is a senior vice president for the Greater Memphis Chamber.

He’s also the man behind the Memphis Kings newest community service project: the #MemPost228 challenge.

Mem is short for Memphis. Post is an acronym for Positive Occasions Showcasing Teens. 228 is the record number of homicides recorded last year in Memphis.

“I got discouraged by all the violence, but also all the negative reaction to the violence, especially on social media,” Strickland said.

“So many people were demonizing all our youth for the actions of a relative few. I wanted to find a way to counter all the negative images with positive ones to change the narrative.”

Strickland challenged his young kings to post and share photos and videos of the countless positive things youth are doing every day in Memphis.

The entire organization picked up the challenge and turned it into a service project for each of February’s 28 days (2/28).

“We all tend to focus on the negative things happening in Memphis, but there are so many more positive things happening every day,” said Strickland, one of our fellow Memphians.

Harry, that’s why I’m generally so upbeat about Memphis. It’s full of Memphians.

Read more at Waters: Keeping faith with our fellow Memphians.