Creating a place where everyone matters, by Dorothy Gunther Pugh

I am so honored to receive the Thomas W. Briggs Foundation Community Service Award, and so appreciative of the Briggs Foundations' generosity to Ballet Memphis and the many other people and institutions they have honored.

One of the things I am most proud of, beyond the international touring, The New York Times headlines, is how we have built a nationally acclaimed company that also reflects the diversity of this city, this nation, and what our democracy must strive for in representing and supporting all human beings fairly and compassionately. Just one look at our stage and you’ll see how we’ve worked hard to become what many acknowledge as the most diverse ballet company in America.

We have done this because we’ve built a Ballet Memphis culture that strives to not only be excellent as artists but to encourage excellence as human beings, believing that everyone matters and that all of our decisions should reflect this. Whether it is on stage, in our school, our deeply focused and varied community enrichment programs, or in how we care for bodies of all types through our Pilates Centre, we try to put “us” before “me.”

It has been the source of our creativity and nationally admired initiatives and choices; many of them well before their time, and with others now following, either here or nationally.

In creating work and a culture where “everyone matters,” we are developing a strong ability to reveal extraordinary in the ordinary. Who would have thought, in our recent River Project 2 series that the success of America’s first African-American Olympic medalist, who lived in two towns on the Mississippi River, would be transformed into a ballet of spiritual heroism, revealing a quest with hurdles that continues today in our nation? Or that the unassuming mushrooms growing along our river can call forth the power of nature, myth, mystery and other worlds and right under our feet? Or that a 16-year-old Native American girl’s largely unsung kindness and courage would be the base of strength upon our stage?

I am fortunate to be surrounded by people, most of whom wake up every morning and ask themselves a variation of these questions: Who can I help today? What are my blessings and how can I share them? How can my best become better? I know that it’s not easy.

Living this way, though, of putting “us” before “me” works best if we support one another in this good impulse even though it often requires blistering honesty and self-reflection. I thank all of you who continue to support and touch others for the better. Thomas Briggs said, “Work first to serve your community and your business success will follow.” His business, Welcome Wagon, went across this community with the idea of warmth, welcome, and friendliness. I find this approach to be of course pragmatic but also so very thoughtful. I like to think of Memphis one day being a city known for being one where everyone is welcome, everyone matters. I believe that we at Ballet Memphis live Gandhi’s words “Be the change you wish to see.”

I thank all of those living in Memphis, in our great nation and in this way: The way of kindness, creativity, excellence, and generosity. If you have never seen Ballet Memphis perform, please be my guests this season at one of our professional company’s performances, where you will see the apex of our institution, the place where we use the ground to spring into the air, carrying us all into a more beautiful world. It is fleeting but the memory and inspiration will be long-lasting, if we shine the right light on us and the light comes through us and then we in turn look for the light that others carry.