Gayle Rose is a hugely successful Harvard graduate, classical musician, business woman and social activist who lives in the smart part of town in Memphis. She has three sons, Morgan, Max and Mikey. Max was 19 when he died in a road accident in 2009. At the time Max had just started work as an intern at Streets Ministries a youth organisation in one of Memphis’s toughest areas …. a rich white kid in an essentially poor black neighbourhood. Gayle’s work as a philanthropist developed radically after her son’s death founding Team Max in his honour. Team Max started with a Facebook call for volunteers to help repair an old ladies house after a tree had fallen and crushed it. That day 40 young people responded but Team Max has now become renown throughout Memphis for its vigilante philanthropy with over 1500 members answering calls for help – what Gayle calls a flash mob for service.
Gayle’s story is more than that of a bereaved mother – it is also a reflection on the sharp social, racial and economic divide that still haunts Memphis. Max’s mentor at Streets Ministries is Delvin Lane, ex gang boss and now running for a seat on the city council. Unusually for kids from Memphis’ social elite, Max was a member of an all black basketball team and had grown up oblivious to skin colour. Delvin recognised this in Max and was keen to see him help break down the racial divide – he has known grief in many different forms (his cousin was gunned down not far from where he now works and his brother is serving a life sentence for murder). In his daily life, Delvin will counsel many a grieving family whose son (and it is mostly men or young boys) has died as a result of the violence inherent in a society where four times as many African Americans live in poverty than do whites. Max’s legacy, as both Gayle and Delvin see it is for them both to work together in their common cause of helping to build a society where black lives matter and where black deaths matter as much as white deaths.