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A SHORT CUT TO DIGNITY
(Memphis, Tennessee) -Jazz artist Kirk Whalum walks though a rugged crowd of people in a brightly-painted house in a poor Memphis neighborhood. He is looking for people who need a shave and a haircut.
This house of hospitality, Manna House, is open three times per week to the homeless. They can get a shower, a cup of coffee and a change of clothes. It is run by volunteers.
Memphis is one of the poorest big cities in the country.
Whalum is a Grammy award-winning jazz saxophonist. Most of the year he is out touring the world with his band. On the Thursdays he’s home in Memphis, he can be found here in these humble surroundings, looking for a way to be a blessing to someone.
“We are all in need of care and kindness,” he says as he shaves an unkempt head. Whalum felt called to radical action while in seminary. He is an ordained minister and has earned a Master's of Art in Religion.
“Sometimes it’s just about living in solidarity with people, hearing their thoughts and their concerns” he says. He excuses himself as he finds out who is waiting to get their hair cut next. He greets each person he passes inside the house. He loudly calls out names until someone responds.
“When I was here in this space it became apparent that a need was haircuts” Whalum explains, “ I said, “I won’t be the best but I can definitely do it. “
While Whalum helps restore their dignity by making them more presentable to the world, he also listens to their stories andconcerns.
On this day one of the homeless men he is shearing, Rick Greer, says he is very thankful for places like this where he can get cleaned up. “Us street people” Greer says thankfully “we got to keep our appearances up.”
So while listening to their cares, he brushes away their hairs and shaves their stubble off.
“It’s a labor of love,” Whalum says.
Written by Karen Pulfer Focht
Photojournalist, Memphis Tennessee
All Material ©Karen Pulfer Focht Not For Publication Without Permission