Don’t put away those Grizzlies’ yellow growl towels just yet.
We need to bring that same level of energy, determination, and civic pride to improve the lives of the youngest children in Memphis.
Imagine what we could get done with everyone cheering on early childhood programs. Imagine the responses from children who have a city brimming with fans urging them on. Imagine the results from parents who know the city is pulling for them to be heroes and role models.
The Memphis Grizzlies season that just ended produced more positive national media coverage about our city than anything in recent memory.
Sportswriters across the country wrote about the special spirit they found here and the gritty determination of a team and a city with a big heart that leads them to do the unexpected. The media wrote about players who were considered lost causes and unwanted, but who, when given the chance, developed the skills to succeed in a highly competitive environment.
The analogies are obvious when it comes to many of the children of Memphis. Some people have written them off and think the game is over for them. It is all about simply running out the clock. It’s an attitude that sends the most malignant message of all to these children: their own city doesn’t value them.
Tens of thousands of children start out with the odds stacked against them. Thirty percent of Shelby County’s children live in poverty, and half of that number lives in extreme poverty. Pervasive stress is a constant companion, shaping their lives and creating risks that become hurdles to their futures.
And yet, in Memphis, we battle for the underdog. Because of it, none of this means that these children’s futures are preordained. In fact, despite problems and challenges, it is impressive how many of these children rise above the harsh realities of their lives to take their places as successful citizens of Memphis and Shelby County.
When the Grizzlies took the court and surpassed all expectations, it was in large measure because of their coach, and the same is true for children. Parents are the best coaches children can have, because it is nurturing, supportive parenting that can reduce the effects of poverty and other risks.
There’s nothing more important than a positive home environment, because it becomes the home court advantage for children’s healthy brain development and for better outcomes in the long term when it comes to high school graduation, employment, and earnings.
As a community, we did not sit idly by and quietly watch the Grizzles’ games. Rather, we became the sixth person on the team, and numerous reporters credited the level of support in the stands as a reason for the success on the court.
The same is true for our children. We can’t sit on the sidelines and merely hope that they beat the odds. We have to become cheerleaders and the active support team they need to make it happen. The good news is that we know what works. All that’s missing is a citywide commitment to creating a winning game plan and to pursuing it fearlessly.
That’s the kind of headline that says volumes about who Memphis really is, because success with our children is all about heart, grit and grind.
Previously posted as The Urban Child Institute’s Perceptions commentary. You can register to receive this and other information from The Institute by clicking here.