My Day In Memphis With President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance » VSB

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My Day In Memphis With President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance

While riding in an Uber last week — traveling from Memphis International Airport to the hotel I was staying in — I asked the driver if she, a 60-something Black woman and life-long Memphian, had any recommendations on which BBQ joints I should sample during my short stay in town. To my dismay, she suggested Rendezvous — the same touristy and homogenized place Alex Hardy was specifically told to avoid when he traveled to Memphis two years ago. Which made me wonder if this was some sort of elaborate rouse to see if I’d bite. Or, even worse, if she took one look at me and surmised that I’d appreciate Rendezvous more than the real. Like a stamp reading “This nigga wants some bland shit” was etched into my forehead.

After checking into the hotel, I linked up with my man Raymar — a deputy director at My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) — who invited me to Memphis. Thursday, MBK planned to host approximately 500 16-to-29-year-old Black men and boys at the Cook Convention Center for Pathways to Success: Boys and Young Men of Color Opportunity Summit — an event providing opportunities to interview with employers for on-the-spot hiring, access to community resources and social services, and career preparation and leadership development training. I was there to moderate two panels that afternoon. But again, that was Thursday. I needed some iconic Memphis BBQ in my belly immediately. Fortunately, Raymar shared that the entire MBK team was planning to eat at Central BBQ later that evening, and I excitedly tagged along.

At 7pm, we — me plus the dozen or so MBK team members in town for the event — hopped in a few rentals and made the 10 minute drive there. We parked in the lot beside the building. I jumped out, ready to gain somewhere between four and eight pounds of swine fat, and then HOLY FUCKING SHIT. Sitting right in front of me was the Lorraine Motel. Where Dr. King was assassinated 49 years ago.


I knew that Dr. King was murdered in Memphis. I knew about the Lorraine Motel, and I knew that the National Civil Rights Museum was attached to it. But this knowledge existed in an abstract sense; a theoretical and academic and ultimately limited understanding derived from the hundreds of books I’ve read, shows I’ve watched, and conversations I’ve had about it. The Lorraine Hotel was in Memphis, but it might as well as been on the moon. So while I was keenly aware that this city was the last city Dr. King would draw a breathe in, I still wasn’t prepared for the jolt of actually seeing the spot he stood when shot by James Earl Ray.

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This surreality was shared by several other members of MBK, who hadn’t realized Central BBQ was right next to the Lorraine. We all walked over there in a collective trance, completely transfixed by the hallowed ground and the still resonate spirits of Dr. King and the rest of our forebearers who stood on that ground, walked before and with him, and either died or were willing to die for the same cause. It was a too pertinent reminder of the necessity and the responsibility and the privilege of building on that legacy.

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And then, after we’d consumed enough sights, touched enough bricks, felt enough chills, and shed enough tears, we finally ate.

Back at the hotel later that evening, I had a few drinks with the homie Shahidah Jones — known to VSB as Shay-d-Lady — who naturally told us that Central BBQ was some touristy shit too. (For the record, I thought it was amazing. But I’m a Pittsburgher so my BBQ bar is quite low.)

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Thursday began with a breakfast where Bakari Sellers (who you probably recognize as “that guy who tells White people about themselves on CNN”) shared a stage with Mo Bridges — the 15-year-old wunderkind behind Mo’s Bows — and Mo’s mother (Tramica Morris) to discuss his path, their plans, and his lucrative new deal with the NBA(!!!). From then it was onto the main space in the convention center. Dozens of businesses and corporations, from FedEx to the Memphis Grizzles, had stations there ready to interview and hire. Another section of the space had a hundred or so desks and laptops available for young people who needed to work on their resumes, with mentors helping them through each stage of the process.

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They even set up a makeshift barbershop, with a dozen barbers ready to cut anyone who wanted to look fresh.

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My favorite part of the room, however, was the tie tying station. There, the young men and boys who didn’t know how to tie ties got on the spot tutelage from one of the several men there, as well as conversation about who they were, what they wanted to do, Kevin Durant, the best Memphis BBQ spots, whatever. I spent much of my time over there, and I was joined by Raymar, Bakari, and actor Lamman Rucker — who actually was my teammate in the Connie Hawkins Summer Basketball League in 1999. (I knew him then as “L Ruck.” And he was known for his tomahawk dunks — approximately 5% of which he’d miss but would attempt with such force that the ball would bounce off the back rim to half court. He’d dunk like the rim owed him and rescinded promised BBQ.)


The first panel I moderated featured Shay, David Rose (Founder and Executive Director, Inner L.I.G.H.T.), DJ Vaughn (Snr. Communications Specialist, FedEx Corporations), and Rolanda Gregory of the Memphis Grizzles, and they told the young people how they utilize social media with their respective jobs — a conversation that eventually segued into a discussion about internet dos and don’ts. (Considering the audience, much more focus was on the don’ts.)


My day concluded with a panel on the value of mentorship — featuring Lamman, Mo Bridges, FedEx VP Donald Comer, and Kevin Woods (executive director of Workforce Investment Network) — that was supposed to last an hour but stretched to 90 minutes because the conversation was so engaging.

Throughout this entire event, the influence of President Obama loomed over us, as MBK is his baby. He wasn’t there physically, but either his name or his picture was on nearly every flyer — including the image providing the backdrop for the main stage — and he was referenced countless times. With this event existing in Memphis, there’s an easy and natural connection between King’s legacy and Obama’s presidency. And before 2016, one could make the argument that Obama’s ascension and position was a natural progression of King’s work. (It wouldn’t have been a complete or correct argument. But at least it still could have been made.) Today, however, with our status as citizens and the protection of our personhoods under a clear and constant and unambiguous assault, the necessity of this work — and the mountains of progress that still needs to be made — has never been more evident. And sometimes, although I know that the writing that I do and the platform I created matters, it’s so abstract and removed from the day-to-day minutiae of surviving while Black in America that it doesn’t feel like it. Last Thursday, however, after seeing and interacting with the hundreds of Black men and boys there and the dozens of volunteers committing their time and resources and attention to helping them stay alive and thrive, it felt like it.

Damon Young

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB. He is also a columnist for And he's working on a book of essays to be published by Ecco (HarperCollins). Damon is busy. He lives in Pittsburgh, and he really likes pancakes. Reach him at Or don't. Whatever.

  • Very nice, Mr. Young. I had my reservations about MBK because it seemed to teach young black men (women need this as well) how to deal with America’s BS but not confront the BS itself. I could get behind something like this, though.

    • TheUnsungStoryteller

      We have to do something though. This is something. I understand what you mean though. I think trying to solve the institutionalized, brutal police department may have been bigger than Obama could handle.

    • Gibbous

      . . . Or the proposed school classes for children on how to interact with the police – because the ADULT police are too “scared for their lives” to properly interact with black children.

  • Glo

    I got chills just looking at the pictures of the Lorraine. I can’t imagine being there in person.

    My grandma was born and raised in Memphis (as were her parents and 8 siblings), but they all moved out to SF area when she moved out here for college. I know I don’t have much family there anymore, but I’ve been trying to convince my grandma to go on a visit with me and show me her old home. She refuses because she says Memphis is too damb hot and she doesn’t miss it at all (she misses black people, tho.)

    • Darkchloe144

      I think I went there before after a choir performance in middle school. I don’t remember much about that visit other than weight and discomfort.

    • grownandsexy2

      I was in Memphis a few years back with my ex at their annual real estate convention. Since the schedule didn’t permit him to get out of the hotel for the first few days, I went to the Lorraine by myself. On a walk-thru, you could see MLK’s room where he spent his last night.

      Next stop was the Civil Rights Museum where you could either go thru with a tour guide and group or alone. I chose to go alone instead of a group in case some white person said something out of pocket. I was told we were lucky to come when we did as the previous week was 3 digits temperatures. And since I hate hot weather, the 90 + degree heat was even too much. Your grand mom was correct about the heat. Shout out to the Black cooks in the kitchen of the hotel who hooked me up with extra biscuits and gravy. lol

      • Kas

        What type of real estate convention?

        • grownandsexy2

          It’s a yearly convention whose focus is empowering home ownership for Black folks. The name of the organization is NAREB, started in 1947 because like everything else, we were shut out. It stands for National Association of Real Estate Brokers and is comprised of predominantly Black real estate professionals, but a few years ago, the Asian and Hispanic organizations were trying to partner with the Black organization. They have their own organizations.

          When the recession hit and I was out of work, I used to tag along to all their events and conventions.

          • Kas


            • grownandsexy2

              It’s a beautiful thing Kas. Black real estate professionals from all over the country.

              • Kas

                I bet

          • Kas

            Convention is in New Orleans during my birthday. Hmmm

            • grownandsexy2

              Yeah, we were talking about it yesterday. My ex and I are still friends. But me and my granddaughter are going to New Orleans this Saturday on vacation

              • MsSula

                I absolutely love your relationship with your granddaughter. So sweet!

                • grownandsexy2

                  Thank you. Somebody got to spoil the chirren. lol. We’ve been close since her birth. Due date was my birthday (we’re Pisces), but she got here a day early which is just as good so we always celebrate together. But we vacay anytime we can get away.

  • Brooklyn_Bruin

    Y’all see anyone get hired?

    • Wizznilliam

      Right… Especially with this being president Obama’s big, “See I do actually do real stuff for the black community besides look good and tell yall to take care of your kids”, thing.

    • cdj

      I’m curious to know if they were open to hiring people with criminal records. There are a lot of people in the city needing a fresh start, but their record keeps them from being hired.

      • Mr. Mooggyy

        That’s one of the main reasons folks go back to jail once they get out! Just can’t get any work. It’s a fucked up system.

        • Brooklyn_Bruin

          The corner is the job! That was one of the points of The Wire. When them white boys could no longer work the docks, a few started to look at the corner as well. *Backs away from smartphone rant*

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        I’ve been involved with these type of events before, and criminal records keeps a lot of people out.

        I also know folks who get hurt working FedEx/UPS jobs too.

        I’m just gonna stay verklempt for now. Gotta dispel that Bruin is always hating rep.

        • cdj

          I don’t know about UPS, but FedEx seems to be big on safety in their hub. It’s definitely not a job to do until retirement, but I think for 18-29 year old it would be fine for awhile. It’s probably just as safe as cutting grass, being a handyman or shadetree mechanic (just mentioning these bc I see guys doing this when they can’t find other work).

          • Brooklyn_Bruin

            There is more heavy lifting in the delivery/warehouse business than those, and those other three lean into skilled trades and running your own business. 3 years of shade tree is valuable, desk duty at ups is not.

            I got a lot of glares when I used to work at non profits because all these people with good intentions were doing my folks bad even if they couldn’t see it.

            • cdj

              I’m not very handy, and the only grass I cut is my own. I did work a FedEx sort during college breaks, unloading trucks. You have to lift 75lbs by yourself, so it is tiring, but if you follow the rules, you should be okay unless something falls on you. That’s why I said it’s about as safe as those other jobs I mentioned.

              I guess I just don’t see how having no job is better than getting hired from this job fair. The unemployment situation for our young men here in Memphis is dire. There would be plenty of people happy to get a desk job at UPS.

              • Brooklyn_Bruin

                Lifting boxes puts your back into play on a regular basis.
                Plus them spots are often in a hurry.
                It only takes one bad pull @ 4pm close to the end of your shift to wreck you for years.
                And unemployment for a time is better than injury and worker’s comp benefits.

                Wrenching, Handyman, (all blue collar work) etc is also tough on your body – but it’s a different level of risk compared to warehouse work.

                But no job vs warehouse work is a false dichotomy they tell folks. That mentality is super common at these types of events. Here are your options, A-D, E is jail or death.

                Often times you can’t really reason with the “community” activists that jawbone these city officials and multi-national corporations though. It’s funny, lots of these events aren’t too keen on having military recruiters, but no problem with some of these other spots.

                • cdj

                  I don’t know if you’re just being contrary, or if you’re serious. Never mind about the risk of injury doing different types of manual labor — we’ll have to agree to disagree.

                  Regarding unemployment — When I was laid off in 2013, the maximum amount you could get in TN was $275 a week. For 26 weeks only. It took 7 weeks to get the first payment. I doubt this has changed.

                  In order to get the max amt, you had to have earned over a certain salary at the job you just lost. If it was less, the weekly benefit decreased. To get the benefit, you had to have been: 1.) Working 2.)Laid off (not fired) 3.) Formerly employed by a business that had been paying into the UI system for employees. So how is a guy who worked off the books, quit their job or got fired, never worked, or was doing illegal stuff supposed to get unemployment (and live off it)?

                  How is no job better than honest work? These guys should stay home taking handouts from their mother, sister or girlfriend until the “right” job comes along?

                  As far as I can tell, the “community” activists in this case, are walking the walk and talking the talk. They didn’t just give these guys a list of employers and say, “Good luck”. They’re helping these young men look the part and present well. The corporate partners are doing what they ought to be doing, giving back to the community instead of just taking (cause I bet they don’t pay their fair share of taxes).

                  I’m not even gonna get started on military recruiters, because I need to go to bed. I wouldn’t want any around my son.

                  It sounds like you have been fortunate enough to be able to be selective about the kind of jobs you take, which is great. Many people in Memphis don’t have that option. There are young black men (and women, and kids) dying here every day. Not just criminals, but people who aren’t involved in street life. If this event leads to even one young man getting a job, and spending time in a different environment, and changing their life trajectory, it’s a success.

                  • Brooklyn_Bruin

                    1) The stats on overexertion job injuries don’t lie.

                    2) Teenagers in school don’t get unemployment checks, because they’re not typically in the workforce. The question that folks don’t ask is how are the older guys eating and paying rent. Chances are high that they are living with family.

                    3) How is no job better than honest work?

                    If that “honest” work has a good chance of crippling you for life, and spending your days fighting for worker’s comp or Social Security disability checks – it was a better move to stay on the couch longer.

                    I worked in this area (getting young people jobs and education) when I first got out of college. For this specific demographic (young able bodied men), training in the trades is better than unskilled labor.

                    Not that life in the trades is perpetually great. Most of the red states are trade heavy, and there’s still a rust belt.

                    4) You don’t know anything about me.

                    • cdj

                      1) Like I said, agree to disagree.
                      2) Age group for this event is 16-29. Most men with some pride and dignity don’t want to burden anyone, especially family. Who are you to say they shouldn’t take advantage of this opportunity?
                      3)You sound very dramatic. These jobs can lead to a move up in the organization. I could fall down the stairs at my office job and end up on disability. An electrician could get electrocuted. A contractor could fall off a roof. Maybe none of us should work anymore, just in case.
                      4) No, I don’t know you. I was talking about how you sound, talking about what kind of jobs unemployed people shouldn’t take. I do know that you haven’t lived in Memphis for any significant period of time, because if you did you would surely change your tune.

          • miss t-lee

            It is definitely hard work. A good foot in the door, but you definitely can’t do that forever.
            I know folks who have been with both companies for a while and have moved up. I know a few who have stayed on and retired.

            • cdj

              I met a guy whose brother has a Masters in English, but drives a tug at the FedEx hub. He took the job because he couldn’t find work in his field. Now, 15 years or something later, he is still driving the tug, because with overtime he makes way more than he would if he was using his degree.

              • miss t-lee

                I believe it. Them dudes make mad money.

      • I_AmU

        Many states support Ban The Box – prohibiting employers from inquiring about an applicant’s criminal history until after the job offer is made

        • Val


        • grownandsexy2

          Pennsylvania supports Ban the Box, specifically Philly. Awhile back, a guy with a record asked me about work and I found a list that was two columns long and printed it out for him. I was mildly surprised. When my granddaughter was working at Chili’s, she said most of the cooks in the kitchen had records.

      • Kas
      • Tam

        Is it all persons or some persons?

        • cdj

          Did I miss something, or are you just correcting my grammar? :-)

          • Tam

            Lol. Nope. I am wondering if the background checks matter for all persons or rather “some” persons, even if they look into your background

            • Kas


            • cdj

              I think there was a study a few years back that showed that white candidates with a conviction would get hired before black candidates with clean records. Hopefully since this event is focused on young black men, this won’t be an issue.

              • Mary Burrell

                That was mentioned in Deray Mckession’s podcast.

    • Omolola Adele-Oso

      300 got jobs and there were resources on record expungement on site. The Mayor’s office has a program to help those who can’t pay the $100 fee.

  • cdj

    Wow! What an awesome event! Our local news mentioned it, but didnt say anything about the resume help, the tie-tying station, or the other things you mentioned >:-(

    I think Central BBQ is gross. Did anyone suggest Payne’s? Interstate? Or even Tops, for a pulled pork sandwich (jumbo white). Corkys is better than Central, too.

    • Mr. Mooggyy

      I know who to ask when/if I visit!

      • cdj

        Always glad to help, especially if it involves food!

    • KeciB

      This is good info. I make a stop in Memphis when I drive to Louisiana. I’ve only been to Corky’s.

      • cdj

        What did you think of Corky’s?

        • KeciB

          We enjoyed it. It wasn’t spectacular but it was good. I’d eat there again.

          • cdj

            That’s how I feel, too.

    • Wise Old Owl

      You really like Interstate? I didn’t like it. I like Paynes and Corkys better…

      • cdj

        I haven’t had Interstate in years, but when I had it, it was good. Has it gone down?

        • Wise Old Owl

          It was bad in 2013 the last time I ate there…my wife claimed the ribs were baked….

          • cdj


  • KeciB

    Events like this show how many young black men out there do want something more in life. There should be organizations like this in every city in America for both young men and women.

  • Darkchloe144

    This post makes me so happy, my hometown men taking care of business. Sounds like an amazing experience.

    • LMNOP

      This post made me so happy too!

  • WenzelDashington

    I missed the event but next time let a playa know you in town.

    • Cheech

      We could use a Pittsburgh eats post.

      • Val


        • Cheech

          Cuz it’s a fun place to visit, and one’s gotta eat.

  • Mr. Mooggyy

    I really dig this post! If it only reached a handful of those in attendance, it was a success!

    Also, I am taking notes of places not to go to for BBQ, if I ever visit Memphis!

  • Adrienne_in_MTown

    I woulda told you to go to A&R or Cozy Corner. Both in the hood.

    Secondly, I heard the event was a success. My friends were volunteering the library. I hope they come back. There are so many more boys and young men who could benefit.

    • miss t-lee

      Never been to Memphis, but I’d definitely hit up the hood spots you suggested…lol

      • Brooklyn_Bruin

        Where do you go in Central Texas?

        • miss t-lee

          City Market-Luling
          Southside Market-Elgin
          Stiles Switch/LA Barbecue-ATX

          All my picks and where I take anyone when they come from out of town.

          • Brooklyn_Bruin

            All but Stiles and Snow’s

            Snow’s worth that drive and wait?

            • miss t-lee


          • B B Q
            R o a d
            T r i p !

            • miss t-lee

              Hey…if you’re ever in this neck of the woods let me know. I love taking folks for Que and watching them lose their minds…lol

  • miss t-lee

    Looks like a cool event.
    I’ve seen the young man from Mo’s Bows on Shark Tank, and I knew he was doing places.
    Love the booth teaching how to tie a tie. That’s awesome.
    A Shay sighting!!!!
    Lorraine Motel. Even from the photos it seems like a very solemn place, I can only imagine that feeling was intense in person. Especially looking up at that balcony. :(

    • Cheech

      The Lorraine must be solemn and intense. That has overcome another piece of its history: before that, it was also the main hangout for the Stax crew when they weren’t working. The Lorraine pool was one of the only places an integrated bunch of musicians could hang out together and not be bothered.

      • miss t-lee

        Hmmm. I did not know that about the Stax crew.
        That’s another museum I definitely wanna hit up.

        • Cheech

          Me too!

          • miss t-lee

            I’m surprised you haven’t been.

            • Cheech

              I’ve only ever passed through for work or on a move. Never made it a destination with time for exploring.

              One of these days I want to do a Delta/bbq road trip that ends up in Memphis.

              • I heard Kansas bbq gets a nod too

                • miss t-lee

                  I am curious about their ribs. Even though I’m not a huge fan of bbq sauce.

    • I’d probably go there, touching shid as usual. I remember going to the King house, sitting on the steps, looking in closets, smh.

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