• John Byrum

Dear Knoxville

We do not need, and indeed never will have, all the answers before we act ... It is often through taking action that we can discover some of them.

~ Charlotte Bunch

It has been my life’s experience that when there are tragedies, turmoil, or injustices, there are three ways a person can respond. There’s that group that THINK about doing something. There are those who TALK about doing something. Then there are those folks that actually DO something. That’s the basis of my story today.

In recent weeks, the Knoxville area has been rocked with the deaths of several teenagers from senseless violence. In addition, there was a horrific episode of deaths and violence in a popular Knoxville restaurant. Acts this evil can bring a community to its knees.

This is where this story begins.

A 24-year-old man, simply known as “Z” liked to get his hair cut at The Marq Bariere, a barber shop off Kingston Pike. The owner of the shop is Marcus Blair. These two fellows came from two completely different worlds. “Z” is a young white male from west Knoxville. Marcus was a black man about 40 years old and grew up east of Papermill. At first you would not think these two men had anything in common, but you would be wrong. As it turned out, both of these fellows had Monroe County connections. “Z” is the son of Monroe County native, Shannon Byrum Sears, sister to this writer. In the interest of transparency, I want everyone to know that “Z” is my nephew.

Marcus, it turns out, is the grandnephew of Warnell and Charles Davis, lifelong Monroe County natives and family friends of the Byrum household. “Z”s grandmother, Betty Byrum-Hicks was one of Warnell Davis’ best friends. Small world.

“Z” and Marcus also shared the same sentiment when it came to all these senseless deaths. After many discussions with each other and many of the barber shop’s customers, (as is the case in most barber shops!), they knew something had to be done but were at a loss as to what action to take. It was at that point that “Z” knew it was time to share a talent he knew he had but, up until now, kept a well-guarded secret.

A meeting that “Z” attended at the urging of Marcus made them both aware of how critical this crisis was becoming. This inspired “Z” to put pen to paper and compose a “spoken word” poem about how the community needs to come together to excise this terrible scourge. It is based on an open letter to the people of Knoxville. He calls it “Dear Knoxville”. He also realized that a passion that has been brewing in him for some time and it was just the thing to get his message out.

After letting his now best friend, Marcus, hear it and seeing the emotional reaction he received, “Z” knew he had exactly what he needed to give the good people of Knoxville a call to action.

Please take the time to listen to the interview of these two remarkable men and we hope you enjoy the video. But, most importantly, take the time to really listen to “Z”s message and think about what you can do as good citizens to help this wonderful city.

Many thanks go to Mike Anderson Productions for the video and for the interview as well.




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