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Black Ice

Black Ice

South Memphis Moves North 

By Ben Griffin 

“Why is everything that’s bad got that name Black? Black ice… how do you know it’s black?”  

“It look clear to me!” 

“Maybe if they didn’t paint the streets Black, it wouldn’t be Black…” 

“Maybe if it had the opportunity to be on top of the snow…!” [1] 

Memphis, TN has a rich and diverse history. It’s name means “place of good abode,” although that name may not be representative of all of Memphis’ residents [2].  

To begin with a little history, Memphis is one of the birthplaces of “Blues,” a major distribution center in the United States, and a city of importance for this nation [3]. Unfortunately, paired with its highlights, Memphis also has an unusually high crime rate. According to the local crime commission, Memphis consistently sees over 1,000 violent crimes a year and well over 4,000 property crimes a year [4]. A lot of this stems from Memphis’ past. Local cotton plantations and Confederate ties during the 19th century led to racial discrimination against the Black community in Memphis, which peaked in May of 1866 with the Memphis Race Riot, where 46 black citizens were killed, almost twice as many injured [5].  

The turbulent history of racial violence in Memphis. Photo by

With crime rates this high, life for anyone in Memphis, but particularly the underprivileged is not only extremely difficult, but also dangerous.  

To provide a safe-haven and a place away from the streets, Hollywood director Tom Shadyac established Memphis Rox, an indoor climbing gym that goes beyond a fun climbing experience by providing meals (17,000!) and after-school programs for people in need [6]. This single gym in Memphis has cultivated a culture of acceptance and growth, where people can come and learn to climb for free if they can’t afford to pay [7].  

A cultural development like the one Memphis Rox brought about doesn’t go unnoticed, and premier climbers Conrad Anker, Fred Campbell, and Manoah Ainuu offered to take some of the staff and “usuals” of Memphis Rocks to ice climbing in the colder climate of Montana [8].  

An inside-look at the culture and building that makes Memphis Rox. Photo by

Despite almost no experience in the snow, in the cold, or camping in the wilderness, this group of Black Memphis locals learned to weather the storm, use an outhouse in the snow, and most notably climb cliffs of ice. The participants overcame their fears of falling off the ice, and in one case even overcame physical limitations caused by an old gun wound [9]. With a resilience, positivity, and determination equal to professional climbers, the Memphis group accomplished what they came to do, all the while building each other up, singing with each other, and performing spoken voice in impromptu “rap battles.”  

To top it off, this whole journey was filmed and submitted as the premier film of this year’s Reel Rock, one of the most well-established outdoor fil compilations of every year [10]. Memphis Rox is an example of what can be accomplish with inclusivity and caring in a community, and speaks to the resilience and power of the Black community.  

Works Cited 

1 REEL ROCK 15 Tour. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2020, from 

2 Writers of Encylopaedia Britannica. (n.d.). Memphis: Facts & Points of Interest. Retrieved February 10, 2020, from 

See Also


4 Memphis Crime Rate: Crime Statistics Memphis TN. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2020, from 


6 Memphis Rox Climbing. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2020, from 


8 REEL ROCK 15 Tour. (n.d.). Retrieved February 10, 2020, from 


10 Ibid 

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