Inger Upchurch, the manager of the Cornelia Crenshaw branch of the Memphis Public Library (MPL), tells us that the library is a place that welcomes everyone. She has worked in the MPL system for 21 years. Her current branch opened in 1939 as the first to welcome African-Americans. In 1994, it was renamed the Cornelia Crenshaw branch in memory of a deceased member of the community who was known for providing information to and empowering her neighbors. She was also an activist who protested against proposed rate increases by Memphis Light Gas and Water. She has been credited with pushing the utility to accept partial payments from people with outstanding bills to keep their power from being turned off.
Inger tells us that Crenshaw’s staff hopes to honor its namesake by providing information to and empowering the people who come there. Inger takes her position seriously because she realizes that she is a role model in the community. She tries to show empathy, kindness, and courtesy to everyone she welcomes to the library so they will be inspired to go out into the world and do the same.
Inger introduces us to Edward, whom she proudly nominated for the MPL Volunteer of the Year this spring. Edward started coming to the library over six years ago, when he was just 13. He and his family would stay all day. After they had been coming for a while, Edward shared with the library staff that his family was homeless and living out of their car. He tells us that as a child who was was without a home and was bullied on the streets for being different, the library was the only place he felt safe, accepted, and at home. Edward loves books so it was an interesting and entertaining place for him as well. He says that Mrs. Upchurch was like a second mother to him; in fact, all the librarians feel like family to him.
A few years ago, when he and his family were housed and back on their feet, Edward returned to the Crenshaw branch and offered to lend a hand. He has volunteered several days every week since. Inger says Edward treats volunteering like a job; he is dependable, hardworking, and conscientious.
Edward explains that his volunteer work is, for him, a way of giving back to a place that helped him and his family, so he was happily surprised to win the Volunteer of the Year Award. We are all rewarded when we hear Edward’s story of perseverance, generosity, and gratitude. We are grateful for him, Inger and the library that welcomed Edward and his family and continues to welcome everyone, every day.