Words and Photos by Kelly King Howe
“See the teacups that make up that chandler?”
Cheryl Henderson’s voice trembled with emotion as she referred to the chandelier overhead.
“All the teacups are chipped and stained, some are even broken. They are mismatched, some aren’t very pretty and most of them people didn’t want anymore. A lot of them were being thrown away. Those teacups are a lot like the people who come through here. They come in all shapes and sizes. It is like us changing lives one cup of tea at a time. Just like the teacups in the chandler can become beautiful again, so can our lives become beautiful again.”
Ms. Henderson is the Sale & Marketing Manager for My Cup of Tea in Orange Mound. And her words spoke directly to the tea house as a place of transformation and hope.
It is a special place.
Located at the busy intersection of Carnes and Semmes in the oldest African American community in America, there stands a home that has come to symbolize a beacon of hope to the women in the community of Orange Mound. Built in 1902, the house is a reminder of a once vibrant and thriving community, one that had businesses, churches, schools, and parks. In the post urban renewal years, businesses left, buildings went vacant, the crime rate increased, and hopelessness and despair took hold.
But within the community were small sparks that refused to be extinguished. Those sparks were the women of Orange Mound: the mothers, the grandmothers, the aunts, and the sisters; a community of women who had the strength of character, determination and well, our Memphis grit and grind.
In 2012, Rick and Carey Moore as they tell it began to feel God calling them to minister to and walk alongside these women. After purchasing the home in 2013 (and with the purchase of the tea company in 2014), the couple started the arduous task of renovation and restoration. Once complete, they began to offer classes to the women of the community. They put on classes in sewing, cooking, gardening and parenting along with help and coaching in preparing for and taking their GEDs.
“We were going along trying to figure out how to blend black and white employees and volunteers – and now tea – into a community that was historically very segregated and didn’t drink tea, unless of course,” Carey said with a smile, “it was over ice and sweet.”
The concept began as a three-month program, where women were trained in skills needed to be a good employee. Once they completed this part and passed an assessment, they began the Tea Life portion of the program and learned the skills and information needed to become expert in the art of tea: blending, packaging, marketing, selling and bookkeeping, in all aspects of the business.
“We thought people would come through for the three-month program and matriculate out to find a job, with resume in hand,” Carey said, “Well, that’s what we thought, but that isn’t what happened. The women who came in wanted to stay because we provided an environment that was more secure than most of their options.”
They had created a sanctuary, a sense of community, and a family. The women of The Tea House love to tell their stories – their stories that have moved from brokenness and despair to healing and hope. Truly, beauty from ashes. <>
Originally published for print in May, 2019 for StoryBoard Memphis’ Bicentennial Issue
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