As children, especially those who were raised in religious homes, Sunday school taught stories of Biblical heroines such as Esther, a young girl crowned queen in her youth who rescued her people, the Jews, from a brutal genocide planned and signed into law by her husband, King Ahasuerus (Xerses).
Esther did not know that one day she would be queen, let alone know that she would have to preside and persuade the people who had cast her family into exile to spare her race from a massive killing. One can even assume, before becoming queen, Esther hated the place she lived and awaited the day that God would move her somewhere else--sharing a characteristic of many native Memphians.
Memphis. A seemingly unpopular place to live that wrestles against crime, poverty and for many, a lack of opportunities. Such hindrances have been the bane of the city’s existence, especially during a period where recruiting young talent into Memphis is a tedious feat.
In 2013, the Memphis Business Journal noted that Memphis is not a strong competitor when it comes to recruiting new talent against cities such as Houston, Atlanta and Charlotte. Some Memphians cannot go a full day without hearing another Memphian grumbling their loathe for living in the Bluff City, and how they are looking, hoping, wishing and/or praying to move.
Such attitudes have influenced strategic organizations to strengthen their recruiting efforts to attract new talent to the city. The New Memphis Institute and the social media recruitment campaign, Choose 901, have been strong influences throughout the city, partnering with government officials, professionals and entrepreneurs in organizing to increase attracting and retaining new talent in Memphis.
However, the talent born and bred in Memphis should not go unnoticed.
London Lamar, 23, left Memphis for Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Ind., after graduating from Central High School in 2009. After graduating from college with internships from Washington, D.C., to New York under her belt, she did not intend to return to Memphis.
“My goal was not to come back to Memphis. I always thought of this city as a jobless and boring city for young professionals,” says London. "So in the process of job hunting, I picked up an internship with a local political strategy firm. Through the internship, I was able to get back in touch with the Memphis community and saw potential in the city; from then on, I’ve been here.”
London was not (and is not) the only native who did not see hope in Memphis. To be from Memphis and to dislike it is popular. Many non-natives do not understand why natives can not see the progression that the city is steadily making.
“I wanted to stay in Memphis to decrease the brain drain that’s sucking the life out of the city,” says Joya Smith, 25. “The best and brightest are educated here, but they take off as soon as they finish school, and no city can thrive that way.”
Smith is a native of Nashville and a graduate of The University of Memphis with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. She chose to stay in Memphis because of its potential and the numerous relationships she had built here while completing her undergrad. She believes the media contributes the amount of negativity associated here with the constant portrayal of crime and poverty.
"It’s almost as if Memphians are being told how to feel about our city," says Smith. "Then, bashing the city just seems like the thing to do here. Almost all the natives do it, and I think it’s a learned behavior."
Native Memphian, Gavin Mosely, 23, argues that Memphians are disappointed.
“I think many Memphians have become disgusted with our town because of what it has become known for compared to what it used to be,” says Mosley.
In 2006, Memphis's only amusement park, LibertyLand, officially closed. Despite the park’s board of directors claiming financial losses, the closing of every child’s highlight of summer vacation did not rest well with residents.
Two historic rides were sold, including Elvis Presely’s favorite roller coaster, The Zippen Pippen. The park’s closure was followed by the closing of The Great American Pyramid in Downtown in 2005, one of two pyramids in the United States (with the other in Las Vegas). In 2003, the Mall of Memphis closed after 22 years due to an increase of violence surrounding and within the mall.
Lastly, A&E television network hosted Memphis as one of its spotlight cities in the documentary TV show First 48 which gave an inside look at Memphis Police Department and detectives solving homicide cases. Many Memphians were outraged at the bad light that was being shined on the city, giving the nickname "Murder Capital." Consequently, the Memphis Police Department did not renew their contract with A&E in 2005.
Memphis Millinnials remember these events explicitly, which has led for some to grow up resenting the lack of educational and recereational activities for young people. Ultimately, this led to the exodus of many young Memphians after high school and those who desired to stay away after college.
Nevertheless, Memphis Millinnials are eager to contribute to the rebranding and remodeling of their hometown for themselves and for the next generation.
"I came back home because I felt that their was a deficit of young, talented minorities in our city and that I wanted to subtract from the problem instead of add to it," Mosely said. "I'm still here because I love everything about our city; it's rich history, it's culture, the people, and most importantly, its location."
Mosely is a graduate of Middle Tennessee State University with a degree in political science. He is seeking to run for Shelby County School Board in this year's midterm election. Currently, he is the youngest candidate on the Tennessee ballot.
Recruiting new talent encourages economic growth, which leads to development within any city, and Memphis is no different. Yet, there are a number of talented, optimistic young natives from one of the top enterprising cities in the United States who are eager to put their city back on the map.
Lamar will not stop looking outside of Memphis to expand her career, but she is not hesitant to say that she is looking to return. In the meantime, she is seeking to encourage fellow native millennials to get involved to make Memphis better, not just for outsiders, but for themselves and their families.
"Challenge yourself to do something different. Go to a new place. Don't follow the crowd," says London. "Register and vote. It is not that difficult to keep up with local politics. Read the newspaper or watch local news. Volunteer with schools, non-profits or campaigns. Make an active effort to be involved with other Memphians."
The Queen (and King) Esthers may not understand now why they have been chosen to stay in Memphis, a seemingly desolate place. However, in due time, maybe the divine appointment and promotion for native Memphis Millennials will be revealed.