"The people are the heart": Memphis transplants reflect on life in a new city


Memphis transplants who came to the city later in life bring a fresh perspective about the city's place in civil rights history, its faith community and what moves Memphis forward as a "big-small" city in the Mid-South.

Sacha Simmons

Age: 42

Occupation: Business owner [Simmons is CEO of The Serenity Healing Center, a mobile massage service for women who are pregnant]

How long have you lived in Memphis? Since 2016

What part of the city do you live in? Cordova

Where did you move from? Houston, Texas

What did you know about Memphis before moving here? The crime and poverty rates. Oh and "The First 48".

How has your experience been so far? I love Memphis! It's nothing like what I was warned about. Well, some aspects are, but for the most part, the city, the people and the things going on in the city are really great. I'm happy I didn't listen to the naysayers.

What's your favorite part of living here? I love how supportive the city is to entrepreneurs. There are so many programs and organizations here created with the intent to help your business succeed; it's wonderful.

If you could change something about Memphis, what would it be? The racial economic disparity. Although I am able to see the wonderful sides of the city, it's also very apparent that this city has an issue with resource disbursement, and it's clear that areas of color have had minimal access to resources that others have been afforded. I would think that in the city where Dr. MLK was murdered, the city would've made efforts to do more to improve the quality of life of all of the people living here, especially the Black and Brown communities.

If you're showing out of town friends or family Memphis, where would you take them? I would take them on "A Tour of Possibilities" first. Then for lunch, I would take them to Zaka Bowl or Julles Posh Food Co. Then we would have to go to the Orpheum Theatre to end the night.

How long do you think you'll be in Memphis? I think I will be here for least the next 5 years. It's a great city, and I plan to help create the change I want to see.

Trey Easter

Age: 29

Occupation: IT manager and freelance wedding photographer and videographer

How long have you lived in Memphis? Since 2007

What part of the city do you live in? Cordova

Where did you move from? Columbus, Miss.

What brought you to Memphis? Entered school at the University of Memphis in 2007

What did you know about Memphis before moving here? Not much other than BBQ and the blues

How has your experience been so far? So far it has been better than great. The people I have met and the relationships I have built have been enough to keep me here and excited for the future of the city.

What's your favorite part of living here? I enjoy the people. I work with youth at New Direction Christian Church, and it's where I spend most of my time.

If you could change something about Memphis, what would it be? I would get more people excited about the city. There are so many talented people with amazing ideas and more here. If we could all pull our ideas together and help one another accomplish them for the betterment of the city, I'm sure we would all be surprised at the outcome.

If you're showing out of town friends or family Memphis, where would you take them? Although I'm pescatarian, I would take them to one of my favorite BBQ spots in Germantown which is the Commissary, then Downtown to Gus's Fried Chicken. Of course everyone wants to see Beale Street so that would be one stop, but there would be tons of other places not many people visit, such as Crystal Shrine Grotto in Memorial Park Cemetery, Memphis Botanic Garden and Dixon Galleries, The University of Memphis during a SAC [Student Activities Council] event on campus, the Memphis Zoo on any day outside of Tuesdays, ride Bird Scooters Downtown and see the Pyramid and Riverside Drive, ride the monorail to Mud Island and play in the carved out Mississippi River that flows through the park, catch a show at the Levitt Shell and walk through Midtown, eat at Young Avenue Deli in Cooper-Young District, and finally stop into youth church at New Direction for Sunday service so they can experience the next generation in true worship!

How long do you think you'll be in Memphis? Maybe for the next four to five years.

Chris Brunt

Age: 35

Occupation: Writer and professor

How long have you lived in Memphis? Since July 2017

What part of the city do you live in? We live in Vollintine-Evergreen.

Where did you move from? Houston, Texas

What brought you to Memphis? My wife and I moved here to teach at Rhodes College.

What did you know about Memphis before moving here? We had visited a couple times and loved it, but honestly, most of what I knew about Memphis came from Arthur Rickydoc Flowers, professor of creative writing at Syracuse University in New York, where I did graduate work. Arthur is a Memphis legend — literary elder, bluesman, practitioner of high hoodoo. He's written novels that I love about this city and speaks of it with deep reverence and pride. So I came in biased, ready to fall in love with it.

How has your experience been so far? Memphis has been very good to our family. My wife and I both love teaching at Rhodes, our son is in a great school and we've made some amazing friends here. As the parents of a soon to be three-year-old, we spend a lot of time at Crosstown [Concourse]; the Memphis Zoo; in Overton Park; at two great bookstores, Novel and Burke's; and just walking around our neighborhood. Also, being a native of Houston, I still can't get over how easy it is to park in this city. You can drive up to the front door of the Brooks Arts Museum and leave your car there for free. In most places, they don't allow that kind of thing.

What's your favorite part of living here? Memphians. The people who are here now, and the people who made this place what it is. I have a compulsion to learn about history and I love that in Memphis you can drive around and still see the bones of the old city or take the tour at the Slave Haven Underground Railroad Museum or you can talk to somebody's grandma at a birthday party and she'll tell you vividly what it was like on her block when she was growing up. Being here for MLK50 was deep and humbling and bracing. I love the legacy of activism in this city and the organizing that's happening right now. What else? We have an energetic dog, so Shelby Farms.

If you could change something about Memphis, what would it be? I'm new here so I should probably take a pass on this question. But I really don't understand why the Pyramid is a sporting goods store.

If you're showing out of town friends or family Memphis, where would you take them? I take them Downtown to the river of course and then to the National Civil Rights Museum. Also required is Overton Park, a visit to the gorgeous Rhodes campus and a tour through the older neighborhoods. When it's time to eat, we're going to the Bar-B-Q Shop on Madison, run by my friend Eric Vernon and his family. Unless they're vegetarian, in which case it's across the street to Kwik Check for the bibimbap.

How long do you think you'll be in Memphis? I can't predict the future, but this is the only city I've ever bought a house in. We're here for real.

Melvin and Tamara Smith

How long have you lived in Memphis? Since 2015

What part of the city do you live in? Oakland

Where did you move from? I, Melvin, moved from Delaware. My wife, Tamara, moved from Toronto, Canada.

What brought you to Memphis? Work

What did you know about Memphis before moving here? We knew it’s the home of Elvis Presley, the city where MLK Jr. was assassinated, that COGIC started at Mason Temple in Memphis, Gilbert E. Patterson is from Memphis and Memphis is the home of the blues.

How has your experience been so far? Living here is very different and quite an adjustment. We are thankful for our church family.

What's your favorite part of living here? We like the mild weather during the winter, not much traffic and cost of living is lower.

If you could change something about Memphis, what would it be? We’d like to have more things to do.

If you're showing out of town friends or family Memphis, where would you take them? Bass Pro Shops at The Pyramid, National Civil Rights Museum, Memphis Zoo, Beale Street, Main Street.

How long do you think you'll be in Memphis?

Not really sure.

Valerie Ellison

Age: 43

Occupation: High school French teacher

How long have you lived in Memphis? Since 2010

What part of the city do you live in? Raleigh-Bartlett

Where did you move from? Fort Lauderdale, Florida

What brought you to Memphis? I moved to be closer to family.

What did you know about Memphis before moving here? I visited once prior to moving. The only thing I knew about Memphis was that it was deeply related to the civil rights movement because of the significance of the Lorraine Motel.

How has your experience been so far? It took about five years for my perspective to adjust. Living in South Florida had given me an unrealistic view of what life should be like here in Memphis. It took me several years to stop comparing Memphis to Fort Lauderdale and truly begin appreciating it for its own unique qualities. In the last three years, I have joined a church and reconnected with my passion for salsa dancing. Being connected to my community gives me the diversity and relationships I need in order to experience the beauty of Memphis.

What's your favorite part of living here? My favorite part of living in Memphis is that there is always something new happening. From blossoming local businesses to the rehabilitation of older buildings. Memphis is filled with culture and small gems, you just have to train your eye to find them. What makes Memphis are the people who believe in it, the festivals, the mixers, the 5Ks and all the other community outreach events. It's a small-big city. The people are the heart of Memphis, and that's what makes it so special in my eyes.

If you could change something about Memphis, what would it be? If I could take away the deeply rooted scars of history, that would be the first thing I'd do. I'd heal the relational wounds that slavery has left in Memphis. I'd replace it with love and compassion for our fellow man. Love and compassion is something we can all pour into one another for free. We cannot change the past, but we can bring healing in order to make our future better for our children.

If you're showing out of town friends or family Memphis, where would you take them? Downtown is always the first place I drive through to showcase Riverside, the Pyramid, Beale Street and the Civil Rights Museum.

How long do you think you'll be in Memphis? Although I cannot answer that question, my goal is to thrive and enjoy every moment that I am here to create amazing memories that I can reflect on when I move again.

Read more articles by Brandi Hunter.

Brandi Hunter is a native Memphian and freelance content creator. She writes and podcasts about Memphis, faith and entrepreneurship for local and national publications, and leads a creative media assistance studio based in Memphis.
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