The Nicest Place in Tennessee: Nashville

NICEST PLACES IN AMERICA 2020 FINALIST
"Teens Organize"

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Teens lead the way in the fight for racial justice.

Nashville resident Jeanne Hall shared this beautiful thought when she nominated Nashville to be the Nicest Place in America:

“Life often changes its direction without notice or any advanced warning. If you have lived long enough, you know this to be true. One must be prepared for but not fearful of these events. It is heartbreaking to see all the suffering, agony, and loss that is currently all around us. And yet, I am finding also that there is great goodness, compassion and love encircling the planet. I am finding the goodness in the simplest of ways.”

What prompted this sentiment was a simple trip to the local post office in her city of 700,000.

At the end of last year, Hall, 76, had a mastectomy, and she was still in recovery when COVID-19 hit. She knew her age and pre-existing condition made trips to public places risky, but a pressing package demanded her attention. After finding the parking lot of her local branch sufficiently empty, she dared to enter. Only two other people were inside, already at windows, conducting their business. Soon, it was her turn—and what happened next is best told by the person who experienced it:

“I am called to the window. I can see that the postal clerk is aware of the fear in my eyes. She quietly steps back from her station and motions me to come forward. I step up to the counter and place my package on the scale. She then motions me to step back. I move away and she begins the process of weighing it and determining the proper postage. She tells me the price and motions me forward as she takes a step back. Again, I believe she saw the terror in my eyes and said, ‘One moment, ma’am.’ She leans under the counter and picks up a Lysol wipe. She thoroughly cleans the credit card machine and the entire counter around it. She then steps back and again motions me forward. As I insert my card, tears start to roll down my cheeks. I was so moved by the care with which she accomplished this usually very simple task. When I had completed the transaction, she again motioned me back as she stepped forward. She took the receipt, wiped it down and lay it on the counter. Beside it, she placed a clean tissue as she could see my tears were still streaming down my cheeks. She again stepped away from the counter. I picked up the receipt and took a step back. In gratitude, I bowed to her. She bowed to me with equal respect. Such a normally simple task had turned into a beautiful experience with an unknown, unnamed clerk in my local post office. A little bead of joy added to the bracelet I am building with my life. I am beyond blessed.”

When folks in Nashville show they have a need, the people around them respond. Nashville is big and transient enough to not be easily summed up, but its reputation as welcoming and caring to all-comers is growing even as it does. And Hall is not alone in marveling at its response to COVID-19 and especially the Black Lives Matter movement.

Indeed: In response to the death of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, six Nashville teens organized one of America’s most extraordinary protests.

teens lead protest in nashvilleAlex Kent
The teens lead the protest with confidence. From left: Kennedy Green, Nya Collins, Jade Fuller, and Emma Rose.

The six, Nya Collins, Jade Fuller, Kennedy Green, Emma Rose Smith, Mikayla Smith and Zee Thomas, met on Twitter, where they discussed how “desensitized” people were to the killing of Black people by the police, as Thomas put it. Nashville at that time faced not only the pandemic, but brutal heat and negative sentiment from past protests where people saw Nashville’s city hall and courthouse left in flames. Yet the group of girls, aged 14 to 16, resolved to muster as many people as they could to support the cause in a new march.

Like a lot of quirky efforts, it could only start small.They recruited their siblings and friends into group chats and video calls. Then they started an Instagram account. Soon, others in Nashville noticed what the kids were doing and moved to support them. A local Black Lives Matter organization, among others, reposted their flyer. Others followed.

“It was basically just social media people reposting it and spreading the word,” Fuller recently told thecut.com.

On June 4, five days after they started to organize, the teens found themselves leading a protest some 10,000 strong, according to the police. The Nashville Tennessean declared it one of the largest civil rights marches in the city’s history. Mostly teens and 20-somethings held banners, chanted and spoke. And, by some accounts, authorities are listening. Mayor John Cooper has said that Nashville police officers will soon begin wearing body cameras, a move with broad local support that had been long delayed.

crowd of protestors in nashvilleAlex Kent
A view from above shows strength in numbers.

Hall, fresh off her emotional trip to the post office, is inspired by what her much younger neighbors have accomplished.

“I’m very hopeful,” she says. “It was lovely to see that at this time that everybody recognizes finally that this is the moment. It’s encouraging to see people march and to see them want to make the change. This time it feels really different. We have got to get this right and this is the moment.”

The Nomination

Going to the post office is usually a weekly event for me. I rarely give it any thought other than to drive there, go inside and drop off my letter or package. However our world has changed and now I must give careful consideration to this journey as my age and a pre-existing condition puts me into the “vulnerable” category. There are decisions that I need to make. Is this a package that must go out now? I conclude that it is. Is there anyone else who can take the package for me? I conclude there is not. So I have made two decisions already. Next I must determine which of the two post offices closest to me would be the easiest one to accomplish my goal. I realize the larger one would be my best choice. Three decisions made!

On the drive over, I determine that I will look to see the number of cars in the parking lot before I make my decision to go in. Upon arriving, I conclude the car population is small enough so I pull into an empty space. My next thought is, “perhaps I should wait for someone to come out and ask them to take my package in?” Then I realize, I will be making contact with a perfect stranger and what is the difference between talking to that stranger and just going in and talking to the clerk. Next decision made, I walk inside. There are only two people and both are standing at the counters making their transactions. I walk to the front of what is normally a very long line. I am standing alone, waiting my turn. Shortly, I am called to the window. I can see that the postal clerk is aware of the fear in my eyes. She quietly steps back from her station and motions me to come forward. I step up to the counter and place my package on the scale. She then motions me to step back. I move away and she begins the process of weighing it and determining the proper postage. She tells me the price and motions me forward as she takes a step back. Again, I believe she saw the terror in my eyes and said, “one moment, Ma’am.” She leans under the counter and picks up a Lysol wipe. She thoroughly cleans the credit card machine and the entire counter around it. She then steps back and again motions me forward. As I insert my card, tears start to roll down my cheeks. I was so moved by the care with which she accomplished this usually very simple task. When I had completed the transaction, she again motioned me back as she stepped forward. She took the receipt, wiped it down and lay it on the counter. Beside it, she placed a clean tissue as she could see my tears were still streaming down my cheeks. She again stepped away from the counter. I picked up the receipt and took a step back. In gratitude, I bowed to her. She bowed to me with equal respect.

Such a normally simple task had turned into a beautiful experience with an unknown, unnamed clerk in my local post office. A little bead of joy added to the bracelet I am building with my life through this planetary cleansing. I am beyond blessed.

I am 75 years old and recently diagnosed with breast cancer so I suppose I fall into the “vulnerable” category on two counts. Certainly, there is much fear to do the simplest of outside activities. Nashville is a lovely larger city with a small town feel. Because our county is a hot spot, we have basically shot down all businesses except grocery stores, fast food drive throughs and the post office. I do make a point to get in my car everyday and “ride the neighborhood.” I listen to my favorite radio station and drive to all the places that normally are filled with people. Now the parking lots are empty but it gives me a feeling of calm to see that although everything is different right now, my neighborhood WILL return.

I do believe my neighborhood is a kind community with or without a pandemic, however, the kindness is on full display by everyone. People are more polite, generous, patient, and kind. Sometimes with our busy schedules we scurry about unaware of our surroundings. I find now that people are taking that extra moment to acknowledge each other or give a warmer smile. It’s amazing to see that a smile can be seen even through a mask. I would have to say that our kindness and generosity is on display now. There is a recognition that we ARE all in this together.

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