By Robbie Johnson Weinberg, Owner
Mike and I had the privilege of attending this year’s Mojo of Midtown Awards Bash at Circuit Playhouse, hosted by The Midtown Memphis Development Corporation on March 28. This awards show has been around four or five years now, and it continues to deeply inspire us to do what we do every day.
Our fundamental purpose at Eclectic Eye is to strengthen our community by passionately building our team and our business! There is no better place to get inspired by other Midtowners around us than at the Mojo Awards Bash. The goal of the Mojo of Midtown Awards is to “recognize businesses, organizations, neighborhoods or individuals who have, through their talent, motivation, innovation and mojo, made a significant difference in promoting and preserving Midtown Memphis.” One of my favorite aspects of the awards is that Karen Bottle Capps creates the awards in her signature, funky and folksy Midtown style. Here is an example of one she created for Memphis Heritage last year. And, you can even see a video of her producing the first awards a few years ago here.
This year, Corey and Cheryl Mesler from Burke’s Book Store were honored. Talk about being intrinsically important to the fabric of our neighborhood. The Mesler’s have figured out a way to “eek out a living” according to Corey, who accepted the award in an “environment that inspires them every day.” His speech was heartfelt, genuine and the essence of a Midtown small business. I feel so fortunate to have them as street neighbors and community advocates. Glen Weakes of 1910 Frame Works and Gallery accepted his Mojo and told us that he and his family are happily retiring after almost 50 years in business. How inspiring! Margot McNeely and her baby, Project Green Fork, were celebrated this year. Clean Memphis runs PGF now, and they continue to significantly reduce the gallons and pounds of waste from the restaurant industry in our area. All of this impact is because Margot loved to eat out and got inspired to come up with a system to help restaurants create a more sustainable program.
Crosstown Concourse was presented a Mojo that Todd Richardson and McLean Wilson accepted on its behalf. It is absolutely no surprise that Crosstown Concourse has reinvented what it means to repurpose an early 20th-century art deco monolith into a green, sustainable, creative space for living, working and playing. McLean made mention of the fact that we were sitting in the theatre (Circuit Playhouse) that his grandfather sold popcorn in many moons ago. A fun fact, for sure. I, too, have many memories of Circuit when it was The Memphian. I saw Star Wars at that theater when I was a kid. I continue to be grateful that Todd Richardson, McLean Wilson and Scott Morris with the Church Health Center, to name a few, had the vision to do the impossible with the old Sears Building. It is unbelievable in so many ways, and we have yet to see its full impact.
Gordon Alexander was another Mojo winner this year with his organization Midtown Action Coalition. He started this organization eight years ago, when it was suggested that Overton Square be simply torn down. Can you imagine what Midtown would be now without Overton Square? It’s true that Overton Square was a ghost town for the better part of 20 years. Through Gordon’s opposition, a wider and smarter vision unfolded for the Square. His grass roots Midtown Action Coalition has become a fixture at Memphis City Hall and Land Use Control Board meetings. His group calls out on their Facebook page to, “Join us as we advocate for: the preservation of unique architecture, good urban design and adaptive reuse and future development that coincides with the interests of our neighborhood.” I know this to be true, as I have seen him at every council and community meeting that I have attended, whether it be for Saving the Greensward and Overton Park or for an inappropriate infill development sought in any one of our Midtown neighborhoods. He does the hard work all day every day and is truly inspiring. Follow and join his organization here. He closed his acceptance speech with one of my most favorite quotes by Margaret Mead, “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” He lives this example every day, and I am glad he is in our community making a difference.
And finally, Ward Archer accepted a Mojo award for Protect our Aquifer. This is an organization he started a little over a year ago in response to TVA initiating an attempt to drill into our aquifer. Their mission is simple, “Protect Our Aquifer is a nonprofit citizen group formed to support the conservation and protection of the Memphis Sand Aquifer for the benefit of present and future generations.” Ward obviously feels incredibly passionate about the legacy we are responsible for leaving our families long after we are gone, and it showed in an emotional acceptance speech that had many of us crying with him.
I must also give a big shout out to Joe Birch, who emceed the event again this year. Joe deserves his own Mojo award. He truly is a quintessential Midtowner, who has lived in four of our neighborhoods, been an anchor on WMC TV Action News 5 for 40+ years, has shopped, dined and known everyone ever given a Mojo. It’s refreshing, fun and adorable.
Last year, Central Gardens Association was honored for its hard work over the past 50 years in creating a working volunteer neighborhood association committed to preserving the community that was built in the early 1900s. New Ballet Ensemble has been honored. Thomas Boggs has been honored posthumously for his commitment to our community. The awards give us the opportunity to remember that there are many, many organizations, people and businesses deeply invested in our Midtown community every day. There is a saying that goes something like “the days are long, but the years are short.” This is 100 percent true in small business. Sometimes I look around after a particularly stressful day and have to remind myself of this very thing. At the Mojos, the years are applauded, and we leave reinvigorated, renewed and restored. It’s like a shot in the arm of passion and hope.
At Eclectic Eye, we are driven daily by our purpose, which I mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. We want to strengthen our community by passionately building our team and business. To achieve that purpose, we have seven core values that help facilitate the success of living out our purpose. One of our seven core values is Engagement in our Community.The Mojo Awards are reminders that we are not operating in a vacuum. There are many others dedicated to purposefully affecting positive change all around us. The winners reflect many hard-fought battles that ultimately have brought success to our community. Seeing their success, enthusiasm and emotion further deepens my passion to live our purpose.
Thank you to the Midtown Memphis Development Corporation for recognizing the importance of acknowledging these people and the organizations that are making it happen every day. We are all the beneficiaries of their hard work.