Sometimes, you need to go somewhere where everyone knows your name. For many Memphis, TN residents, Manna House is just that place. A colorful safe haven for community members who are down on their luck, the house provides showers, fresh clothes and a cup of coffee for folks who need some community feels and a pick me up.
Open 3 days a week, the house is run by volunteers. Karen Pulfer Focht, a talented and socially conscious photojournalist who is a frequent contributor to Envision Kindness, was able to catch up with one of them. Almost every Thursday on the front stoop of Manna House, you can find Kirk Whalum, the Grammy award winning jazz artist, giving the homeless a fresh shave and a haircut.
Whalum is a celebrated and sought after artist. On top of winning awards for his solo and collaborative albums, he has been “an in demand session player for top artists like Barbara Streisand, Al Jarreau, Luther Vandross, Larry Carlton, Quincy Jones and most notably, Whitney Houston, amongst many others.” In fact, the hit song “I Will Always Love You” features his saxophone.
Still, Whalum is a very self-aware man. After reflecting on his own life, he decided that he wanted to do more. He wanted to be a “blessing to somebody.” So, he began blessing the Manna House with his service. Whalum understands what it means to care consciously. An ordained minister, he listens to people, finds out what they need, and responds to the best of his abilities. After speaking with people at Manna House, he realized that people needed shaves and haircuts. So, he dove right in it. Rick Greer, Memphis resident who frequents Manna House, says he is thankful for places like this where he can get cleaned up. “Us street people…we got to keep our appearances up,” Greer explained.
“We are all in need of care and kindness,” Whalum tells Focht. He strives to be in solidarity with those who he cleans up. That’s why he’s constantly greeting people and making sure they feel welcomed at the center. In Focht’s enlightening interview with Whalum, he speaks humbly about his service. At one point, the man who he is caring for looks up at him. “I appreciate it,” the man says. “You’re welcome, bro,” Whalum responds with a smile.
Thank you, Karen Pulfer Focht, for the beautiful video, still images, and story.