Day 4 – Memphis
By Matthew Levine
Our day started off with a four hour ride to Memphis. To break up the long ride, we stopped off at Elvis Presley’s birth place in Tupelo, Mississippi for lunch. After many of us purchased stuff at the gift shop, we ate Subway outside enjoying the wonderful humidity of the South!
Upon entering Memphis, we got to hear the story of a former Ku Klux Klansman named Scott Shepherd. He spoke about his experience with the Klu Klux Klan until he eventually hit rock bottom where he “saw the light” and changed his former ways. Shepherd credits a few people, all African-American, that helped inspire his change: his public defense lawyer Handel Durham, his fellow rehab patient Michael Robertson, musician Daryl Davis, and his caretaker growing up, Becky.
Daryl Davis is a famous African-American R&B musician from Maryland who builds relationships with Klansmen in an attempt to show them their views are racist and wrong. Davis was persistent in his pursuit to help Shepherd free himself from his past. In 2008, after Shepherd had a severe stomach operation, time in the hospital allowed him to reflect on his past and recognize the terrible things and organizations he was apart of. After Shepherd was discharged from the hospital, he reached out to Davis via Facebook where Davis was compassionate and helped Shepherd use his past to help teach tolerance and understanding of all people.
Hearing Scott Shepherd’s story was a true privilege. Not many who unfortunately join the klan and other hateful organizations come out of it, and his story shows that there is a light in everybody despite their past decisions. The director of the Equal Justice Initiative that we visited back in Alabama, Bryan Stevenson, summed it up in a Ted Talk that we watched on Monday when he said “I believe everybody is more than their worst mistake.” I believe that there is good in everyone and people do deserve a second chance.
After speaking with Scott Shepherd, we had the pleasure of visiting Sun Studios, the small recording studio in Memphis where Sam Phillips discovered and made artists the next big thing. As a music lover, I was in awe at everything the museum had to offer. We learned the stories of Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash – to name a few. We heard our tour guide play the piano like there was no tomorrow, and we also learned Johnny Cash’s trick to make the guitar sound like a snare drum— just loosen the strings and put a dollar bill in the fretboard!
After Sun Studios we had a little bit of free time before dinner and our dance party at Alfred’s Blues Club. For free time, I went to Memphis Music and purchased a Pearl Jam poster. At Alfreds, we danced to songs by Elvis, Tom Petty, and more. After the house band’s first set, we had the opportunity to perform songs of our choice. It was a great night of music, fun, and dancing!
Finally, to wrap up the long day we had a framing discussion about abortion ahead of our talk on Friday with Pro Life Dallas. We discussed the multiple sides of Pro Life and Pro Choice as well as the recently passed “Heartbeat Bill” in Alabama. All around, it was a packed day with a lot of interesting discussions and music in Memphis!