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Memphis Rox Climbing + Community: “We don’t say no to helping people.”

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Memphis, Tennessee is described as having more sunny days than Miami and being the birthplace of the blues, soul and rock ‘n’ roll. Adjacent to the Mississippi River, known for fried food and southern hospitality, the city is Tennessee’s most populous.

For climbers, Memphis hosts a communal focal point that turns away no one and provides more than just a recreational outlet: Memphis Rox climbing gym.

[Also Read: Free For All]

It’s no secret—climbing is expensive. But for those that can’t afford a membership, they can pay by volunteering anywhere within their community or by being a belayer at the gym.

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, Memphis Rox had an after school program that serviced 90 to 100 kids a day. The gym hosted seasonal drives that provided school supplies and Christmas presents to families in need. The Juice bar, which serves sandwiches, smoothies and wraps, was based on a pay-what-can model.

“It was truly many coming together to help many,” says Johnathan (Malik) Martin, who started working at Memphis Rox in 2018 as a photojournalist.

Following the spread of virus and closure of the walls, gym staffers adapted to new ways of serving the community. Over 7,000 free lunches were handed out to an estimated 500 community members. 1,600 boxes of produce, each weighing in at 25 pounds, were also given away, along with over 200 eight-ounce bottles of hand sanitizer. Plus, over 160 handmade masks, over 120 canned food essentials boxes, hygiene packs and, to those who requested them, menstrual products—over 500 pads and tampons.

Jon Hawk, director of operations, says, “Memphis Rox has always been service-based … We don’t say no helping people.”

And when the recent Black Lives Matters protests gained steam, the gym rallied again. Martin, being a Black photojournalist, was appreciative of having had the the gym’s support.

“They reassured me that all my energy and attention could go towards the protests, and that my pay wouldn’t be affected,” says Martin. “For them to acknowledge that and understand that meant the world to me. And they funded those resources of bottled water and boxes of fresh fruit and hand sanitizer for local protesters and Black Lives Matter drop-off points.”

In addition to finding ways to support those hit by the pandemic and the Black Lives Matter protests, the gym started a hand sanitizer program with two different Navajo tribes and the Crow Nation in Montana. The gym recently joined 2020Solidarity—an art poster project benefiting nonprofits during COVID-19. In July, they hosted a Christmas-in-July toy drive for kids. And Memphis Rox will be a polling station for the coming November elections.

Support the gym and its many initiatives by making a donation here. For other gyms looking to get involved or start their own nonprofits, Hawk encouraged them to get in touch with questions. His email is

All photos courtesy of Johnathan Martin

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