I'm writing this on one of those magically beautiful spring mornings in Memphis. Azaleas, dogwoods, and redbuds are glowing in the early sun. The sky is a clear and cloudless blue. A little chill hangs in the air. Birds are singing. The city seems washed and new. The day seems full of possibilities.
The day before — Monday — we were hit by a brief but violent storm that left trees down in parts of town and power outages in several neighborhoods. This morning, Mother Nature seems to be saying, "Sorry about that. Today will be better."
And that's the way life is. Storms come and go. We persevere. We clean up, rebuild. Beauty reemerges. Possibilities remain — to grow and learn and create something better.
People come and go too. Larry Finch came along after the storm of the sanitation workers' strike and Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination had left the city divided and angry. He and the Memphis State basketball team became a focal point to help heal that divide, and Finch became a living symbol of the possibility of a better day to come, a better city. His passing marks the end of an era. This day is ours, no longer his. What are we going to do with it?
Memphis still has issues, but we are miles farther along than we were in 1973. In his column this week, John Branston enumerates some of our civic accomplishments of the past 20 years, and they are many and impressive. And all over town, people are working to make our food better, our environment greener, our arts more vibrant, and to improve our neighborhoods and preserve the city's historic buildings. Our crime rates have fallen dramatically. We have put an end to public housing, the government "reservations," built for the disadvantaged.
But the interlocked problems of poverty and education remain our biggest challenges. The maelstrom of controversy over school consolidation has left wounded feelings and damaged relationships in its wake, but it also presents us with a fresh start of sorts, a new day.
There is untapped potential in Memphis and Shelby County, if we are willing to pull together, to realize we're on the same team. Those tasked with reimagining our new public school system would do well to remember the lessons of Larry Finch's exemplary life and to embrace the opportunity to rebuild after a storm.