Death and Birthdays

Yesterday I celebrated a birthday. The beginning of a new year of life; and I am grateful. But ironically, what has moved me most this week has been death. A reminder that life is fragile - not promised. And that sometimes death doesn’t seem fair.

How Can I Be Down: Execute

Once you are asking the right questions, believe, commit and think with your leaders, there is only one thing left to do – Execute! At the end of the day, it’s the results that matter.

Your Idea is Not Crazy

During a recent panel discussion on entrepreneurship I was asked the question, “What do you know now that you wish you’d known then?” It took me a while, but then I realized that one of the best insights I had was simply that “your idea is not crazy!”


One of the most profound experiences of my life came when I was a college student and found myself in a bit of trouble. My dad was summonsed from a west coast engagement to Atlanta, where he met me in a prominent attorney’s offices. After a couple of uncomfortable hours, I was told that I could go and the incident went away.


Henry Longfellow's words from The Ladder of St. Augustine ring clearly in my mind - not beacuse of an impactful English literature class, but because my grandfather recited these words to me more than 10 years ago as we discussed my career ambitions.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Better Not More

Sometimes as I start the week, I take a look at my calendar and am amazed. The number of meetings and phone calls that are scheduled just makes me shake my head, and takes no account for the work that has to get done in between.

So, off to the races I go… Trying to make it happen and look good doing it.

On occasion, I remind my assistant to block time for me to have nothing to do, or even to go home a little early. (That’s right, I schedule time to be unscheduled.)  It is during these times that I am reminded that better can be more impactful than more.

In other words, when I have time to think, speak informally with colleagues or to focus on making progress or completing just a single project it seems to advance my work further than when I am multi-tasking furiously.

That’s often counter to the demands that are placed on us at work. Emails are flying, the phone is ringing, someone’s at your door, and your next meeting is waiting. It may seem that after 5:30 and weekends are the only time you can get any work done.

If you find that to be the case, then you can help make my point. Better, not more.

In fact, I think that better is more, and that better can be faster too.

Consider the project that you are working on, the letter that you need to write, or the strategy that you need to craft. Taking the time to block out distractions and focus on getting to the next milestone can take a weight off your shoulders, free up space on your mental “C drive” and move you forward. It may even be that the ball advances further with less resistance; the product you’ve developed is cleaner, better thought-out, and more complete – better – because you gave it the focused effort it deserved.

Remember that conversation you had with a teammate (or a spouse) yesterday? You were multi-tasking and only half-listening – because you were trying to get more done. How did that work out for you?

Maybe it worked out just fine, but I’ve often found that when it matters most, it doesn’t go so hot.

I didn’t hear all of the relevant information. My instructions weren’t clear. My colleagues proceed without full understanding or agreement. Something goes wrong… And then I want to blame someone else, when I should be pointing the finger at myself.

At work this can cost money and it almost always costs time. Even more at home.

Your dad used to tell you to do one thing at a time. So why don’t we remember that better is often more – and faster too.

Friday, July 31, 2015

An Unlikely Friend

New to town, not too long ago, I was introduced to a man who I was told could help me get acclimated to Nashville.  Older and more casually dressed than I’d anticipated, Francis Guess cursed me for being a few minutes later than our agreed upon meeting time at the bar, then recited my family lineage before I sat down.  He proceeded to give me a history of Nashville’s business community over rounds that quickly changed from white wine to Jack Daniels, introduced me to a steady stream of lady friends and gentlemen bankers and lawyers the whole time, and refused to let me buy my own drinks hours later when I was dismissed because he was late for “the ballet!”

Such was the beginning of perhaps an unlikely friendship.

Over the ensuing years Francis and I talked, strategized, partied, drank and joked.  During his time I was tutored - on political strategy and the history of Tennessee and its government.  I was chastised - for faux pas and mistakes that I’d made.  I was laughed at and called names, encouraged and coached.

I was celebrated – with a surprise birthday party, no less!  I was trusted - with insights (“I know where the bodies are buried, Hicks”), strategies and maybe even a few of his frustrations and dreams.  I was reminded – of the inferiority of an education obtained any place other than Tennessee State and “Van-der-bilt University.”  I was defended and told “you’re on your own!”

I was introduced - to the people who make the region move in diverse establishments from The City Club, Jimmy Kelly’s and Morton’s to Out of Bounds, J. Alexander’s and The Cave.  And I was nominated – sometimes without my knowledge – to civic boards that drew me closer to this city and helped me to understand why he so loved his hometown.

Many will also point out that Francis would say things to people that only he could get away with.  He made women blush and men cringe, but most of these same people respected him, and many of them also sought his counsel (“I don’t seek out information, Hicks.  People just tell me things.”)  Not to be attempted by amateurs, Francis was at once confounding and straight forward.  A rare combination of characteristics that would make him, for many of us, an unlikely friend.

But that was Francis: a man with the intellect to walk with kings, the persona to kick it with the common man, and the desire to be a connector and to be of service for the benefit of us all.

Connecting dots and connecting people may be what he’s remembered most for.  Francis solved problems for executives, politicians, preachers, musicians, kids and others who crossed his path.  Often, he did so by helping you see yourself, your problem or your world through a different lens – and then making a connection with another person or experience that could help you bring focus to your new, broader perspective.

Helping me to appreciate a different point of view and a renewed sense of urgency, I recall an impromptu set of remarks that Francis made about the National Museum of African American Music (NMAAM).  He was in a surly mood that evening, and reluctantly rose to share a few words with the informal gathering the projects early organizers.  With a scowl, he began to talk about a recent trip to south Nashville at dawn…

“Sometimes, as the sun rises, I go to the top of a hill near Father Ryan High School, south of the city…

At this, the site of the Battle of Nashville in 1865, the 13th U.S. Colored Troops fought in the Civil War led by a little boy who was beating a drum.  This child, no more than 11 or 12 years old, kept cadence for the troops heading into conflict and probably represented one of the earliest introductions of our music to this city. 

He marked time while marching towards the Confederate army, commanded by Gen. John Bell Hood, and knowing that death was a likely outcome. I can almost hear that drummer boy, leading men into battle with tired feet but an invigorated longing to be free.

I can almost hear that drummer boy, recalling a pulse from a distant land and a tempo inbred from generations of toil and tribulation. I think I can hear the rat-a-tat-tat of the drummer boy’s snare drum which would portend victory for Gen. George Thomas’ troops. I’m almost sure that I can hear that drummer boy! That beat was for you – and for me. That rhythm was the passion, the hope and the yearning for my freedom.”

The room fell silent as he spoke, and a few wiped tears.  Francis had connected the dots – from the Civil War to the present day, conservatives and liberals, black and white, now all had a reason to be passionate about a project that he’d long thought was a cultural and economic imperative for the region.  He’d placed the explanation point at the end of the slogan My Music Matters!

As Francis took his seat that evening, he smiled and was clearly in a better mood.  His burden was lifted, but those in attendance were made uncomfortable by his truth – we all now had a decision to make.

Yet, he didn’t realize the impact that he’d had and began to joke with those nearest him.  But the party broke up shortly after that.  There wasn’t much else left to say.

Like NMAAM, many of the dots that Francis connected were a work in process.  He actually worried some about whether or not he’d successfully passed the torch of service on to others.  And so, let’s be clear, his passing leaves many of us with a load to carry and maybe an incomplete assignment.

I’m clear what mine is.  I too hear the rat-a-tat-tat of that drummer boy.

But what is yours?  You too now have a decision to make.  And once you’ve made it, get focused.  Get it done.  XEQTE! (Henry, what the hell does your license plate say?)  Get yourself a Jack and Ginger and steel your resolve to make Nashville a better place and Tennessee a better state.  It‘s the best way I can think of to honor our unlikely friend.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

There’s Power in the Name

My name is H. Beecher Hicks, III – but most people just call me Henry.

I’m frequently asked, then, why I insist on writing it as H. Beecher Hicks, III.  I generally offer, simply, that this is the way my grandfather told me to write it.  A true story, but, of course, there’s more to it than that.

I like my name.  I’m proud of it.  And, there’s even power in the name.

You see, I’m the third to carry this name.  The two that came before me did themselves and their families proud.  Both broke new ground with their levels of educational attainment; both led in civil rights, social justice and gender equality; both are known as writers and orators of unparalleled skill; both took seriously their call to shepherd the flock and to preach the gospel; and both raised families whose work to succeed is surpassed only by their efforts to serve.

Even as I write this I understand that’s a heavy burden for present and future generations to carry.  But there’s also power in the name.

Because of their work, and because my name is H. Beecher, I’ve been in places as divergent as the White House and the Waffle House and had someone say “aren’t you Beecher’s boy?”  My signature on emails and letters have resulted in compelling replies from the Smithsonian and from investment bankers.  My name has gotten me airline upgrades, dinner reservations, job interviews, scholarships, credibility with politicians and priests, and I’m even occasionally promoted to the rank of “Dr. Hicks.”  (Perhaps I’ll go back to school someday to make it true.)

There may be power in the name, but there are two sides to every coin.

Being H. Beecher cost me anonymity as a teenager in places that I shouldn’t have been and doing things that I shouldn’t have been doing.  Being H. Beecher caused professors to scrutinize my work more carefully, bosses to question my skill, acquaintances to take advantage of my naiveté in attempts to enhance association or feign affiliation, and caused me to place undue pressure on myself to live up to the brand.  I even get the occasional piece of mail from an eerie person who has watched from afar to determine where I live or work and who is compelled to share some dissonant information with me – because of what my name is.

But on balance, I really like my name.  So much so that I’d really forgotten about the burden of being H. Beecher until recently.

My first born son is H. Beecher Hicks, IV.  Henry is a great kid – bright and talented with unique blossoming gifts.  However, a few weeks ago Henry made a decision that his mom and I weren’t pleased about.  Crystal handled the discipline… but I had a few more things to say.

I waited a couple of days before bringing up the subject.  I asked if he was proud of what he’d done.  He said that he was “fine with it.”  I asked him if he thought he’d made his mom proud.  He said “no.”  I asked him if he thought his grandparents would be proud.  He said “no.”

From there, I reminded him that because his name was the same as mine, everything he did was a reflection on me…  And went further to remind him that his work and actions were also a reflection on his grandfather and great-grandfather.  I’m not sure he’d quite thought about it that way.

I tried to soften it up by pointing out that this was a two way street.  My actions and body of work provide a foundation for his.  I can also bring credit or shame to his name.

As I recall, our conversation came to a quiet close.  We’d heard each other out and agreed to disagree.

A few hours later, in the stillness of the early morning, Crystal and I were awakened by a frightening cacophony of sounds coming from Henry’s room.  Henry was not feeling well and after an hour or so of home remedies, it was clear that the emergency room was our next stop.

Fortunately a hospital is nearby; and so within a few minutes he was being seen by a doctor.  Following a description of symptoms and a check of vital signs, the solution to this problem, we were told, was simple – “Henry, try to slow your breathing.”

Henry was hyperventilating.  This caused him to have severe stomach pains and to present stroke-like symptoms due to a lack of oxygen in his blood.  It took the rest of the night and the aid of some heavy drugs to restore his breathing to normal.

Later that week Henry told his mom that he felt a lot of pressure following our conversation earlier that night.  The stress he was feeling as he went to bed, he believes, caused him to become ill.  Of course, Crystal shared this with me, and I felt terrible about it.

There may be power in a name.  But our names can be a burden too.

As Easter approaches this spring, there is no better illustration of the power and burden of a name than the story of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection.  Many are familiar with the common refrain from Philippians 2 that “at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow… and every tongue confess…”  That’s a lot of power!

We see example after example in the New Testament of the power of Jesus’ name.  Faith in the name of Jesus enabled blind men to see, resurrected the dead, cured leprosy, calmed the seas and turned water into wine.  One woman had so much faith in the power of His name that she believed that if she could just touch the hem of his robe she’d be made whole.  There’s power in the name.

But even His name has its burdens.  After leading and teaching a rag-tag group of followers for years, they still wouldn’t watch his back when he stepped away to pray, they still weren’t altogether convinced that he was the incarnation of God, and one of his most trusted boys is the one who sold him out and led him to his death.

And then there is the crucifixion itself.  Despite the power in His name and having committed no sin, He had to bear the burden of being beaten, tortured, hung high, stretched wide, and dying on a cross.

To a much lesser degree, we all have a similar experience.  Hence the phrase, perhaps, that we “all have our crosses to bear.”

Our names have power… and burden.  Consider names such as Kennedy and King, Ford and Rockefeller.  Those names represent something.  They conjure up an image for us all.  Triumph and tragedy, destiny and disaster follow each of these names.

Even more modern family names such as Reagan or Obama, or even Kardashian, bring images to mind.  Each are powerful in their own way, but each person who carries that name bears a burden as well.

Your name represents something too.  Your parents thought about your name – a lot.  Some may consider your name to be the most valuable asset they can give you.  For example, our younger son is not only a Hicks, but his first and middle names, Harrison Patton, represent the family names of his fraternal and maternal grandmothers respectively.  This young man carries the expectations of three families around with him every day!  But no matter how simple or elaborate, your name is significant for some reason.

And therein lies its power.

You’ve got something to live up to.  A history, a future, an expectation, a hope, a wish, a prayer… Power.

Yet, as compelling and alluring as it is, and as much as it makes you stand up a little taller… Its inverse is its burden.  It’s that nagging doubt that we all carry.  Will you make your family proud?  Will you achieve your goal?  Will you bring credit to your name?

This is my experience, and Henry’s, and yours.

When I was a teenager going out with my friends, my dad would tell me on occasion to “remember what your name is.”  While I always took note when he said that, it wasn’t until I was sitting at the foot of Henry’s hospital bed that night that I really considered the gravity of that statement.

I certainly hope that he, nor Harrison, has that medical experience again, but I’ve decided that I’m also okay with their names being a burden.  That burden may keep them out of trouble.  It will give them the drive to achieve, and to overcome, and to serve, and to make their names more powerful.

Of course, my job is to live up to my name as well.  That’s the only way that I can contribute to the power of His name and to the power in theirs.

I periodically tell my boys that they make me proud, and that they live up to their names, just by being themselves.  I also tell them to “remember what your name is!”

There’s power in the name.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

I Think I Shed a Tear

This week, I spent time packing and coordinating a move from my home.  Our family belongings were boxed, crated and carted.  Not to be taken to the excitement and possibilities represented by a new home where our family can thrive; but to the nondescript hollowness of a storage facility.  One along an over-grown and forgotten road just off the highway near where it intersects with the airport’s runway.


Just stuff perhaps.  But our stuff.  The stuff that holds memories that the extended Hicks family and friends created – now held secure with a padlock behind an orange garage door.

And I think I shed a tear.

The next morning I awoke, following a short and fitful night’s sleep, with a headache that surely follows only a long night of loud music and Jack Daniels.  Except, I could find no explanation in this case.  My evening only included a cup of yogurt and a single Heineken and a midnight run to Wal-Mart for boxer shorts.

Nevertheless, the throbbing and banging that I was experiencing would only be soothed by a handful of Tylenol, a long shower and some of Aunt Charisse’s cheese grits from Kroger.

The reason for this torture?  We’ve decided to lease our home to some lovely family during our sojourn to Nashville.

I bought this house ‘cause Crystal said she wanted it.  I worked closely with the contractors to make the basement a place where we’d all like to hang out.  Crystal picked furniture to make the place simple, elegant, grand and comfortable – designing her castle to match her style.  And I presided this week over its disassembly, padding and shrink-wrapping – before having it all deposited in a lifeless gated community with no access after 9pm.

And I promised her that after this move to the SWATs she wouldn’t have to move again- unless opportunity and circumstances absolutely required it.  Maybe they had.

After four years of the Hicks family living in separate cities, the boys becoming teenagers and professional opportunities persisting in unexpected places, it was a good time to find a way to have dinner together most nights.

The idea of maintaining dual residences is good in theory, but tough to pull off for most anyone I’m sure.  Choices had to be made.

So after an elixir of grits and grape juice I head to my last appointment on this trip.

As I pull into the driveway – noticing the numbers on the mailbox, the knockout roses in bloom, the red clay on the basketball goal, and how much that maple tree has grown…  behind me follows two matching BMW X5’s – cars I’d never seen before.

I gathered myself and stepped out my own car with a plastic smile and an outstretched hand.

The place looked different now.  Vast, sparkling, almost new.  Well, except for the holes I made in the garage walls to hang bicycles, and the impressions in the floor where Harrison’s piano sat, and the marks on the door frame where H4 practiced chin-ups, and the nicks in the kitchen cabinets from the pots, feet and balls that have banged against them as Crystal baked cakes, canned jelly or made Thanksgiving dinner.

Ok, not so new.  But ours, and pert near perfect.

After a brief tour, I traded keys and a garage opener for a check; and then I stood for a few seconds.  Not sure what to do next…  I guess this is my cue to leave.

The lease was signed, inspection passed, funds exchanged… And I think I shed a tear.

The deed is done.  The commitment made.  The chapter closed?  A step out on faith – towards a new land and new possibilities.

Overhead lower.  Family together.  The title still mine.  Zillow is my friend.  And I can go home again, right?

But I still think I may have actually shed a tear.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Not Finishing

Not Finishing and Not Following Up

I get goose bumps at the very idea.

The filing that has been undone for the past several months; the papers that have been piling up, the thank you notes that haven’t been written, the oil change that you’ve been putting off…  Each of these are little things, but they sometimes have big consequences.

The auditor struggles to complete his work, the donor feels underappreciated, you can’t find what you’re looking for later, or your cylinder head cracks due to poor lubrication.  (I’ve experienced all of those things, but the way.)  Some consequences are bigger than others, but they all have one thing in common: they slow down your progress.  They will also likely cost you time and money.

Inevitably, not finishing and not following up will cause you to go backwards when you most want to go forward.  It may have taken you two minutes to file that paper, but now it takes you 20 minutes to find it.  The oil change would have taken 30 minutes and cost you $29.95, but the cylinder costs you $2,300 and puts you on the bus for a week.  And that prescription that you didn’t get filled… Well that may cost you a trip to the hospital.  So there is real practical value in finishing and following up.

In fact, I suspect that not finishing and not following up can be a metaphor for the rest of our lives.  I imagine that in the military shining ones shoes is a precursor to maintaining your weapon, and teaching a squad to march in unison is required before a battalion can be deployed.  Even the bible teaches that “if you be faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many.”  So I think that it is safe to say that managing the small things in our personal and professional lives prevents us from being inefficient and in a better position to manage the big things when they come along.

Don’t get me wrong, we all have our weaknesses – and are imperfect when it comes to finishing and following up.  For example, I’m too frequently late for my next meeting.  While I’m always seeking to improve when it comes to this sometimes embarrassing habit, I recognize that at times I choose to risk tardiness so as not to shortcut whatever conversation or task I’m in the middle of.  Sometimes I judge that going back to whatever I’m doing may be more costly than cutting it close on arrival time to the next spot.  (Sometimes I’m wrong.)

And additionally, this blog represents my failure to follow through.  I resisted beginning to write these columns because I wasn’t sure that I could sustain it.  So I committed that I would post at least once per month (despite being counseled that I should post at least weekly to build loyal readership), but I have often missed even that mark.  As a result, I’ve let myself down and not made the most of the platform we call #dbte.

So as we examine our own lives and spaces to see what we have left unfinished and what we have not followed through on, I encourage you to start with the little things.  Make a promise and habit to shine your shoes every Sunday afternoon or to return all phone calls by 5pm on Friday.  Things like that will make your week more efficient and prevent you from having to step backwards when you’re ready to press forward with something more substantial.

And if you’re overcommitted or your priorities have changed, acknowledge that.  Consider carefully if a commitment needs to be renegotiated, a task needs to be elevated or a meeting rescheduled.  Deciding not to follow up is different than just putting it off.  (But that may be a whole separate subject…)

To my museum team – first we’ll get the filing done, then we’ll get the museum built.

Friday, February 20, 2015

If It Is To Be

Recently the news came that Mayor Marion S. Barry, Jr. had died.  This was sad news for many who, like me, held him in high esteem.  Marion Barry was one of my heroes.  Because he was infamous for his cartoonish arrest while smoking cocaine in a Washington hotel, many outside the District aren’t aware of his brilliance and the impact of his service.

Marion Barry was a son of sharecroppers.  His education at Fisk University and Lemoyne College included graduate studies in chemistry (as a time when few blacks had the opportunity to attend college at all.)

But then he was drawn into the civil rights movement.  In the turbulent 1960’s Marion founded the civic organization PRIDE.  This organization was on the forefront of the home rule fight that would permit Washington residents to govern themselves, provided job training and placement for citizens, and encouraged black folks to vote at a time when they weren’t sure they could.

So it was, with this type of civil rights leadership, no surprise the Marion Barry would be elected mayor four times and ultimately be proclaimed “Mayor for Life!”  He was known for campaigning tirelessly, for getting out the votes and for making a neighborhood’s small issue a priority for the government.

During campaign season he was also known to eat the same meal multiple times with a smile on his face.  From coq au vin and champagne in northwest to chitlins and Kool-Aid in southeast within the span of hours, Mayor Barry was comfortable among kings, but more comfortable in the ‘hood!

However, his most lasting legacy may well be the most easily overlooked – but easiest to find.  Marion Barry formed the Mayors Summer Youth Employment Program (“MYEP”).

This simple, yet ingenious, move gave countless thousands of teenagers their first jobs – paying them minimum wage to work in government and private sector jobs.  As high schoolers flooded out of schools, they were dispersed into office buildings, parks, community centers, and restaurants to continue their education.  Instead of academic lessons we learned equally important professional ones.  Instead of causing mayhem in the streets, we were sweeping them, or painting the nearby building, or coaching in the adjacent park, or just walking them to the Metro Bus stop on the way to work.

Mayor Barry helped us understand that Benning Road and Georgia Avenue weren’t there to limit us to the neighborhoods that we cherished so much and to appreciate that the streets in our communities were for going places.

Of course, with many participants coming from impoverished homes, these jobs were an economic boost and a source of pride for young people and their families.  Each morning a teenager set out on South Dakota Avenue or P Street towards a certain destination with unlimited opportunities as opposed to an uncertain destination with no upside at all.

Importantly, these employed, and now civically engaged, teenagers soon reached voting age.  They created a vocal and opinionated political base for Mayor Barry, contributing to the fierce loyalty so many felt towards him for the rest of his life.

Perhaps the most vocal and empowered of these young people participated in an auxiliary program of the MYEP called Mayor Barry’s Youth Leadership Institute (“MBYLI”).  For two weeks each summer, student selected to participate in the MBYLI stayed on the campus of Howard University and participated in evening leadership training seminars.  These sessions began each night with an enthusiastic chant, now emblazoned on the psyche of each participant:

Hello winners!
Standing in this room…
Are the greatest…
Most committed…
Most responsible group of people…
This world has ever known!
If it is to be…
It is up to me!
Yes I can...
Yes I will!
Yes we can…
Yes we will!
I am…
We are…
The greatest!
Acknowledge yourselves!

and ended each two week session with mock-elections for youth mayor and city council positions.  In between, many of us had our first exposure to college life, living with non-family members from a different community, eating cafeteria food that provided options you may not typically have a home, allowing social options beyond the boundaries imposed by parents and being solely responsible for making it to your summer job on time the next morning.

In retrospect, much of this seems pretty fundamental.  But to teenagers who lived on the Gold Coast or near the big Chair these experiences opened up a world we’d never known or considered, they represented a faith in our futures and they set an explicit expectation for our contributions.  Perhaps most importantly the MYEP and MBYLI established not that we were owed or would be given anything, but that

If it is to be
It is up to me

Marion Barry made some big public missteps.  He hurt and disappointed a lot of people.  He embarrassed the government, highlighting the hypocrisy of the War on Drugs, while also falling victim to it.

He was also a genius and a hero who fought for the underdog, and provided dignity and opportunity for many more while creating the foundation for Washington to create an economy more diverse and robust than that of a servant’s colony to the federal government.

Marion Barry earned the title Mayor for Life because, by his actions, he demonstrated that

If It Is To Be
It Is Up To Me

Monday, July 28, 2014

Bridging the Gap

In June of this year, the National Museum of African American Music partnered with Nashville’s Jefferson United Merchant Partnership (“JUMP”) to produce the 14th Annual Jefferson Street Jazz and Blues Festival! It’s an exciting weekend, but more than that, it’s a significant weekend.

Each year for more than a decade, Sharon Hurt, JUMP’s CEO, her family and a brigade of volunteers spend months planning logistics, soliciting sponsors, recruiting vendors, selling tickets and identifying local and national artists to be a part of a celebration of North Nashville’s heritage and future.

Traditionally, the weekend kicks off with a Friday night Bridging the Gap Mixer on the John Seigenthaler (formerly Shelby Street) Bridge. This is followed by a day long festival at the Bicentennial Mall State Park featuring activities for children, vendors of all types and an afternoon filled with sounds that remind you that you are in Music City.

At first glance, you may consider that this is “just another example of black folks throwing a party” or wonder “Why do we need another street fair?” However, a closer examination will reveal just how shallow those observations are.

First, it is important to consider the makeup of the team. There are no professional concert planners here. Sharon and her team designed this weekend, built it and managed it. These people are dedicated, motivated and committed! This is important to them, but not for selfish reasons. There is a passion, even a ministry here. I think this is more significant than a party.

Second, note that the Jefferson Street Jazz and Blues Festival has staying power. Fourteen consecutive years of anything happening is no accident. Maybe it is leadership, or community demand, that keeps that festival coming back.

Then there’s the name. Why have a jazz and blues festival on Jefferson Street anyway? Well, the festival reminds us that the soul of Nashville resides in this section of town and specifically resided on Jefferson Street prior to the time when the federal government determined that the risk of civil unrest in America’s cities warranted the intersecting and damaging the economies of urban communities. Before rapid military access was more important than thriving neighborhoods, the sound of jazz, blues and R&B wafted up and down Jefferson Street like the scent of barbeque on a breezy day.

The New Era, Baron Del Morocco and a dozen other clubs were not only frequented by the likes of Jimi Hendrix, Duke Ellington, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Ella Fitzgerald and Cab Calloway, but they also coexisted with commercial businesses, restaurants, residents, universities and churches to make Jefferson Street the most vibrant part of town.

Celebrating and being reminded of that once a year seems like a reasonable thing to do.

But while taking a nostalgic look down Jefferson Street, we might remind ourselves that the rear view mirror does little to help us move forward. So let’s not forget that we kick the weekend off by Bridging the Gap.

The appropriately named Seigenthaler Bridge literally traverses the Cumberland River to connect East Nashville to west. But the location and name of the event serves as an important symbolic reminder that for Nashville to grow, thrive and progress there is a gap that must be bridged.

JUMP goes out of its way, not to maximize its profit on the weekend, but to provide affordable entertainment to portions of the community who may never have been to see a concert at Bridgestone Arena or the Ryman Auditorium. The Bridging the Gap mixer literally connects diverse communities in a way that creates fellowship, laughter and dialogue. JUMP makes certain to provide VIP seating for elderly patrons who may not have danced since the previous year’s festival, provides stimulating outdoor activity for children whose best friend may be a worn remote control, and offers a safe place for families to be together and to be reminded that they too are a part of what makes Nashville the “IT” city.

JUMP serves a hopeful, vibrant, astute and too often overlooked section of Nashville. The neighborhoods near Jefferson Street are seldom congested by Gray Line’s tours, and the din of Broadway and the Gulch at times makes it hard to hear the pulse of North Nashville. Nonetheless, it’s there – steady and strong.

I hope that you’ll join me and Sharon and the brigade of volunteers at next year’s festival so you can see and hear it for yourself. Come help us rock the bridge on Friday night, and then come back on Saturday to support the vendors, enjoy some time with friends and family, and let the music take you back to a time when Jefferson was jumpin’.

But more than that, let the Jefferson Street Jazz and Blues Festival remind you and inspire you to invest some energy into bridging a gap here and there in Nashville and her communities – so that Music City can stay in tune.