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Fusing history with space for reflection makes for a healthier, stronger Memphis

Originally published in The Daily Memphian, October 2023

As a Memphis resident, I’m fortunate to visit the National Civil Rights Museum (NRCM) several times a year. Sometimes, I’ve been there for an event through my work with the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis (WFGM). But the trips I value most are those with my grandchildren annually.

These visits are part of a full day we call “the Grammy experience,” where we walk downtown trails, eat at Black-owned restaurants, and experience the weight of the history, the contributions and the life of Martin Luther King, Jr.

No matter how many times you tour the museum, you walk away from it — as I often have — with the need for reflection.  There’s a need to process everything you’ve seen, and sometimes you need to re-center yourself. I feel this aspect of mental health is part of my everyday work, as well. 

An intentional approach to health for the whole person

At the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, the goal is to be a thought leader and supportive community partner, and to do so by being a people-centered agent for social change.

That can take many forms, from financial health to physical health. But recently, we’ve seen the need for a greater emphasis on caring for the whole person, including their mental and emotional health.  This is especially crucial in our underserved community, and I’m excited to see us making strides in creative ways.

Take, for example, the BlueCross Healthy Place at Founders Park. The NCRM currently has an adjacent, beautiful but underutilized green space. By partnering with the BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee Foundation, together they are creating a meaningful space for contemplation tailor-made to meet the needs of Memphians.

This area will be more than just a park.

We know how important opportunities for activity are for ensuring healthy communities, but the BlueCross Healthy Place at Founders Park will bring people together through a new kind of experience.

Its infrastructure will include seating, lighting, artwork installations and water features, all designed with solace in mind.

By being intentional and creating safe space to self-reflect, the BlueCross Foundation has added an important agenda item for a museum visit, one that encourages us to engage with each other, to digest and truly feel what we’ve experienced — new learnings.

The revitalized space at Founders Park will help us process and change the profound sadness we might experience to appreciation for the work of so many Civil Rights pioneers. Visitors will have a destination that provides an additional setting to consider the contributions and lasting impact of Dr. King, Robert Church, Ida B. Wells, the list goes on. It will lift people up, and it will bring more visitors to the museum. 

An opportunity for unity

My hope is that we’ll see greater levels of community connection from this space — the type of connection that the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis has fostered through its place-based holistic manner of support.

I see the BlueCross Foundation commitment to a healthier Memphis — not only in Founders Park, but with their Healthy Place projects in Whitehaven and Foote Park — as a welcome alignment with our efforts. I am optimistic that this latest project will result in awareness about the museum, engagement and experiences that are educational, fulfilling, and accessible. If you don’t know it’s there, you can’t appreciate it.

Cultural development, economic development, and health and wellness are all central aspects of strong communities.  Resources bring people together, whether they’re natural — as humans, we’ve always utilized walking paths or blazed our own trails where there were none — or intentional. And when you commit to community, you’re committing to families.

Following through on that level of dedication in Memphis shows that, like the WFGM, the BlueCross Foundation wants to help build stronger and healthier communities. They’re doing more than providing access to services through their business. They’re helping create long-term wellness and betterment for future generations.

Part of demonstrating a higher level of caring for people is by helping usher in a sense of pride among communities.

The BlueCross Foundation, through its partnership with the NRCM and Founders Park, has developed this Healthy Place for Memphians to take ownership of — it belongs to the community itself.

I look forward to adding the new destinations to the adventure of our Grammy Day experiences there — and to seeing you, your loved ones, and our visitors there, as well.

About Ruby Bright, Immediate Past President of the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis

A photo of the authorThrough her work with the Women’s Foundation for a Greater Memphis, Ruby seeks to align people and resources and coordinate community-based services through a two-generation approach to break the cycle of poverty.

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