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June 10, 2017: A Whirlwind Photo Tour of 4 Shalom Zones

Last Saturday, I needed to do the impossible. I needed to be in four places at once.

Four Shalom Zones had events taking place at roughly the same time that day, and I had committed myself to attend each one. While I couldn’t actually be in four places at the same time, I could try to make it to each event (even if just for a few minutes.) So my day turned into a whirlwind tour of 4 Shalom Zones. Here are some of my favorite images from the day:

Stop 1: McMerton Gardens

I started at the Shalom Zone closest to home: Binghampton. I had volunteered to help in the McMerton Gardens – a collection of community gardens on otherwise vacant lots scattered throughout the neighborhood. Nestled behind a house on North Merton Street, just down the road from The Commons, the McMerton gardeners cultivate a quarter-acre lot they call their “Perennial Garden,” where they grow figs, asparagus, and blueberries, and where Billy Vaughan keeps his beehives. The Perennial Garden also features four long rows of their star crop of the summer: blackberries.

At the peak of the season, you need to pick blackberries every day, so I got up early, poured myself an extra-large cup of coffee, and made the short drive to the garden. When I arrived, I settled in with a bucket and began picking any ripe berries I could find. This was the quietest part of the day, and I enjoyed having the time alone, walking up and down the rows, admiring all the hard work that went into creating and maintaining such a beautiful (and fruitful) community space. Billy stopped by to grab a few quarts of berries for his neighbors, and we chatted about gardening and beekeeping while he helped me load the remaining berries in my car.

Then I set off to the Cooper-Young Farmers Market, where I delivered 25 quarts of fresh blackberries to Nathaniel Davis, a local gardener who helps market and sell McMerton’s produce. Before I could even finish setting the blackberries down, Nathaniel had sold two quarts. By the end of the morning, he would sell out – bringing in nearly $200 to help pay the Binghampton youth who work in the gardens each weekend.

Stop 2: The Samaritan Community Reading Project

But I couldn’t stay long at the market because I needed to get going. I was off to the next Shalom Zone: The Us Making It Happen in Southeast Memphis Shalom Zone (UsMIH).

Just east of Hickory Hill, UsMIH sponsors several youth programs throughout the year. This summer, they partnered with the East Shelby Branch Library to offer an intensive reading program for children and their parents called the Samaritan Community Reading Project (after the biblical story of the Good Samaritan). The project is the brainchild of Autura Eason-Williams, a long-time Shalom Zone leader and the pastor of Capleville United Methodist Church. As part of the project, Autura has spent the last 6 Saturdays coordinating a diverse group of community volunteers as they read to the youth participants, work with parents, and distribute free books.

The program takes place in the youth room at the library, and when I arrived the group had just finished reading for the morning and was transitioning to their closing activity – a combination of musical chairs and hot potato, where the penalty when you “lost” was that you had to share about something you were grateful for. I watched as the group played several rounds of this game – dancing, laughing, and sharing gratitude – until Autura announced that it was time to go. She made some closing remarks, speaking through a translator to accommodate Spanish-speaking parents, and volunteers passed out books as the families filed out of the room.

As I made my way back to the car, I noticed that many of the families were still in the library. Children and their parents were huddled together around books and computer screens, reading together and taking advantage of the resources offered by their local library. Recently, Danyelle Carnes, the head librarian, told Autura that the project has brought new life to the library on Saturday mornings.

Stop 3: The Manhattan Urban Farm Summer Internship Program

Back in the car, I headed towards my next stop: The Corners of Highland Heights Shalom Zone. Saturday was the start of a new youth internship program with the Manhattan Urban Farm, and I wanted to drop by to see how everything was going. The Manhattan Urban Farm is an urban agriculture project founded by Sydney Johnson, a longtime neighborhood leader and member of the Hillcrest/Mitchell Heights Neighborhood Association. This summer, The Corners teamed up with Sydney to help him hire youth interns to work on his urban farm project, as well as support several other community gardens in the neighborhood.

By the time I arrived, it was almost noon. The team had been working in the heat all morning, so I expected them to be exhausted. The did look exhausted, but that didn’t stop them from jumping up to greet me and show me everything they had accomplished that morning – weeding and mulching the vegetable beds, watering them, and learning about plants and healthy eating in the process. In addition to the four interns, the program had become an occasion for neighbors to gather. Community members of all ages were there to volunteer alongside Sydney and his new interns, and a few of the adults were working at a nearby grill to prepare hotdogs and hamburgers for lunch.

Stop 4: The 4th Annual South Memphis Shalom Zone BBQ Cook-Off

I have to admit: This is one of my favorite Shalom Zone events of the year. The South Memphis Shalom Zone’s annual BBQ cook-off. I love it because I get to have some of the best BBQ anywhere (for free!), but also because of the atmosphere. It’s a true community event where people come together for the fellowship as much as the food, relaxing under clouds of BBQ smoke while they wait for the judges to announce the winners.

This year, I was a little worried because the event had been rescheduled and relocated at the last minute. South Memphis was severely impacted by the storm that swept through Memphis on Memorial Day weekend, and many people had gone without power for more than a week. Plus, the original venue for the cook-off – a shady field by Christ Quest Church – still had several large trees and limbs down. I wasn’t sure what to expect – concerned that people may not have been able to change their plans on such short notice.

I shouldn’t have worried. This was one of the best SMSZ BBQ cook-offs ever – dozens of families, churches, and neighborhood associations gathered on the lawn outside of Greater White Stone MBC to share in the food and fun and celebrate their community. Four BBQ teams competed, submitting their best ribs, pulled pork, and chicken for judging while serving anyone and everyone who stopped by.

I arrived just in time for the judging, and I'm glad I did -- after several years of sweeping the competition, the team from Christ Quest gave way to the teams from Greater White Stone MBC and Evening Star MBC, who took home trophies for the first time. I am sure that the team from Christ Quest will be back next year, looking to reclaim their title.

After eating waaay too much BBQ, I stumbled back towards my car, knowing that I had one more stop to make that afternoon.

Stop 5: Back to Binghampton – The Really, Really Free Market

My last stop for the day: the Really, Really Free Market in Binghampton. This is a monthly event sponsored by the members of Binghampton United Methodist Mission, one of the congregations that worships at The Commons. The Really, Really Free Market (RRFM) is like a giant yard sale, except everything is free. People from the community are invited to drop off things they want to give away, and take home anything they want to take.

I arrived just as the RRFM was closing down for the day, but I had time to visit with Barbara Vann and Michael Anderson – the two “doers” who make the RRFM happen every month. Barbara shared that this month they invited community members to share their knowledge, as well as their stuff, and that I had just missed one neighbor finished giving a workshop about how to make your own body scrubs. Barbara was really excited about how well-received the workshop was, and plans to make free learning opportunities a part of the RRFM in the future.

Stop 6: Home

And finally, I headed home. My day wasn’t quite over – my own neighborhood association had a community event planned for that evening, and I had volunteered to help with set-up. That afternoon, working alongside my own neighbors, I reflected on how much my energy and attitude were inspired by the images of shalom I had experienced throughout the day. I hope some of these images have inspired you, too.

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