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The Shadows of the Valley of Parkway

SOUTH MEMPHIS — We were Number One for a while. The Number One most dangerous zip code in America. At least that’s what statistics told us. That’s what the news said.

Everyday, for over a thousand days, I made the short drive down to America’s most dangerous zip code. A few times, I caught a ride down. Once, when my car was broken, I rode a bike. So for over a thousand days, I guess you could say I was in an unsafe place.

But the truth is that I rarely felt that way. You get used to the neighborhood over time. The bizarre sights — grown men with 6-foot pythons wrapped around their necks, toddlers walking through thick weeds unattended, human zombies dragging their feet to the liquor store — they all become normal after a while. And they don’t feel so dangerous.

I was happy working here. I loved South Memphis, and I felt like South Memphis loved me. I was a part of the neighborhood, a permanent fixture marked by a daily routine and a photo on the wall of Memphis’ Best Soul Food, right beside Samuel L. Jackson. More than South Memphis, though, I loved the place where I worked, the place where I designed t-shirts every day for years: Parker Prints.

The people there are still family. They always will be.

During the long come-up back from the bottom, when I flunked out of college and scratched out a living delivering chocolates and pizzas, trying to somehow grow a basketball blog, Parker Prints gave me the boost I desperately needed — a solid, $12/hour job where I could be a part of something. I could draw art for the Grizzlies, or the Tigers. I could work with musicians like Yo Gotti, or Beale Street fixtures like Tater Reds Lucky Mojos and B.B. Kings Blues Club.

I loved it there.

But when the bullets started flying, one summer day in 2012, the streets of South Memphis changed me. Forged in their fire, I finally decided that life in 38106 was hot enough.

Within a few weeks, I ventured out. I walked away from graphic design and back towards the world of writing. It wasn’t glamorous at first — there were heartbreaks and pitfalls along the way — but, with a lot of help and even more luck, I made my way with a pen, a pad, and a camera lens.

That’s how we arrive here, today. With a video look back at the place that gave me enough love to believe in myself again, and enough pain to venture out on my own.

This one’s for you, Soulsville.

Editors Note:

Souled Outside is selling hand-printed t-shirts from Parker Prints to help cover the cost of SouledOut Europe. To reserve your first edition Souled Outside shirt, make a $40 donation to GoFundMe.com/SouledOutEurope and leave your shirt size in the comments. As a bonus, you’ll be automatically entered to win gear like travel bags, cameras, koozies and apparel from Souled Out gear sponsors.

Editors Note:

Souled Outside is selling hand-printed t-shirts from Parker Prints to help cover the cost of SouledOut Europe. To reserve your first edition Souled Outside shirt, make a $40 donation to GoFundMe.com/SouledOutEurope and leave your shirt size in the comments. As a bonus, you’ll be automatically entered to win gear like travel bags, cameras, koozies and apparel from Souled Out gear sponsors.

Written by

When an urban developer bought my apartment building in 2016, it pushed me out of the soulful streets of Memphis, and outside, into a life on the road. I soon found out that travel was both a cure and an addiction. And I plan to keep going, with readers alongside, for as far as this road can stretch.

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