Real Memphis Magic

At this time of year, I still find some holiday movies irresistible because of their "holiday magic" themes. As a grizzled 53-year-old, I still want some happiness and magic in my consciousness. And I'm not alone. Who can resist the "I believe, I believe" theme of "Miracle on 34th Street," or "George Bailey, the richest man in town!" from "It's a Wonderful Life" — a paean to gratitude and counting our blessings?

We all want a little mysticism and magic and hope for healing in a world so overburdened with stress, poverty, illness and pain. And a very magical event is happening in Memphis, come January, that will be part of the life of ordinary people and can bring a great healing to our land.

Thanks to The Urban Child Institute and its colleagues at the University of Georgia, a curriculum has been developed and taught to me and 15 others in Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare's Center of Excellence in Faith and Health that has the magic to heal many of the problems of flawed education, poverty, crime and their downward cycle in our beloved Memphis. What is this magic curriculum? It's one that teaches people in our community how to develop the brains of our babies.

The Urban Child Institute staff and others took more than two years to listen to average people who live in poor parts of Memphis and blend their intelligence with the neuroscience techniques from the experts who can improve the lives of all our babies, for decades to come. In January, we at the Center of Excellence in Faith and Health, teaching in the Congregational Health Network's training program, will be able to make a difference in the lives of babies in those almost-forgotten neighborhoods by teaching "Touch, Talk, Read, Play" techniques to their fathers, grandfathers, grandmothers, mothers, aunts, cousins and siblings until there is a magical ripple of healing across the Memphis landscape.

The magic of this healing comes from great neuroscience research: Babies whose brains are nurtured from birth until age 3 have remarkable advantages over those who have not had the experience. Early brain development improves educational achievement, is correlated with less poverty, less criminal involvement and less anxiety and depression in adulthood. Plus, you don't have to win the lottery to be able to do these everyday things to protect babies' brains and enhance them for better lives in decades to come. Our brothers and sisters who live in poverty and crime and stress can benefit from this the most, by learning this information and using it to protect and enrich their children's brains and lives.

One of my friends is a 28-year-old father who comes to a regular class offered by Health Watch, a fledgling not-for-profit agency in Riverview Kansas, a tiny neighborhood in a very poor ZIP code. Pastor James Kendricks started Health Watch with Eboni Lipsey, and they pay this man and his friends to clean up a rough apartment complex across from the only grocery store in their community.

At a "Finishing for Life" wellness class, my young friend asked me how to learn to care for his two babies who have asthma — a 1-year-old and a 3-year-old — while their mother works at a local fast-food restaurant. These two people love their children and want what is best for them even though they are poor and struggling. He cares for his babies, just like any man with a steady job who might live in a more affluent part of town without the unremitting stress of everyday violence, poverty and discrimination. And, he wants to transcend his life of poverty, crime and violence, and wants that for his lady and his children too.

I applaud The Urban Child Institute for taking the time to "blend intelligences" of neuroscientists on the cutting edge with the wisdom of people like my young friend in Riverview Kansas. I also applaud Kendricks and Lipsey for their work in the trenches of a tough neighborhood, to help change lives one person and one relationship at a time. Last, I applaud the young mother and father living in poverty and stress who want a better life for their babies, who can benefit from this learning. That love and motivation, along with The Urban Child Institute's curriculum that "speaks the language of Memphians living in poverty" and the Congregational Health Network's reach to teach those in the toughest parts of town, have the ability to create a Memphis miracle in decades to come. All of us working together create the magic of God's work in the world and the true meaning of the holiday season, which gives me hope for my beloved Memphis. I believe, I believe ...

Teresa Cutts, Ph.D., is director of research for innovation at Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare's Center of Excellence in Faith and Health.

This article was originally published by The Commercial Appeal online: