We had the good fortune of connecting with Eli Cloud and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Eli, what principle do you value most?
Integrity. I am honest and transparent with everyone. Time is our most precious commodity. In my early twenties, I made a decision to be honest with myself and everyone else. I have saved so much time (and heartache) by refusing to lie, even when it would have been ‘easier’ to stretch or adulterate the truth. I never have to think about what I have said or to whom, because the truth remains constant.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
Addiction and trauma follow multigenerational patterns. I come from a long line of alcoholics. When I was a child, I didn’t really have to go to school, I was allowed to drink and smoke, and was generally “unmanageable.” No one in my family had ever gone to college. I remember talking to my dad about college when I was in 9th grade and he told me “If you want to go to college, you better get a scholarship.” At 14 years old, I decided that was impossible – I had no idea how to get a scholarship – so I gave up. Eventually, I met the man who would become my husband. He encouraged me, and helped me enroll in college (like what the hell is a bursar). I studied behavioral science and graduated at the top of my class with a ridiculous 3.975 GPA. Still (even though I had studied alcoholism), I saw my life following a similar trajectory to that of my parents My dad died at age 51 from alcoholism. At the time of his passing, My mom had been sober for a few years. Had she not gotten sober, she would have certainly died before him. When my life became unmanageable, I had a clear choice: Did I want to live, like my mom who had turned her entire life around? Or did I want to die like my dad? I decided to live. Not many people have such a clear choice. The women of Thistle and Bee are facing the same decision… to live or die, but it is hard to see when someone is in active addiction, especially if no one ever shows you that you don’t have to live that way anymore. The Thistle and Bee program is structured so that many graduates of the program will have an opportunity to join the staff as full-time employees upon graduation. They are the seeds of change within their own families, communities, and the Thistle & Bee program – which strives to become a survivor led program.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Memphis in October is my favorite time of year. The weather is perfect and it is Festival Season! One of my favorite annual events in Memphis is the RiverArtsFest (4th weekend of October) where 200 national and local artists come to participate in a juried fine arts festival on the Mississippi River. In addition to nearly 200 individual artists booths, the festival offers live musical entertainment, live street performances, and Memphis food trucks so it is entirely possible to spend the whole day soaking up creativity and supporting the arts. However, while we are downtown on the River, we will want to gain some perspective (and take in the beautiful Memphis Skyline) while watching the hustle and bustle of the festival by hiking Big River Crossing, the country’s longest active rail/bicycle/pedestrian bridge that spans nearly a mile across the Mighty Mississippi river. After sunset, we will watch the “Mighty Lights” a nightly synchronistic light show bouncing between the Hernando Desoto (or the ‘M’) Bridge and Big River Crossing and set to music. The Civil Rights Museum, The Stax Museum of American Soul Music, and The Pink Palace Museum are three of my favorite museums. A night out at Hattiloo Theatre is a Memphis must. Hattiloo is a Memphis treasure with the mission of developing a Black theatre that is accessible to, relevant to, and reflective of a multicultural community. No trip to Memphis would be complete without visiting the beautifully preserved Orpheum theater – a iconic downtown Memphis institution since 1928. Depending on the lineup, we could choose from a world class Broadway show, live concert, comedy show, a movie night… It truly is an option-rich world. After leaving the Orpheum we could ride the trolley to Flight Restaurant and Wine Bar on S. Main. With my best friend being in town for only a week, there is no possible way to sample all the amazing Memphis Restaurants, but we shall try to hit some of my local favorites: Hueys, Central BBQ, Folks Folly, Bryant’s Breakfast, Patrick’s, Char, Brother Junipers, Libro at novel bookstore, and for a sweet treat, Sweet Lala’s Bakery. After all this activity, my best friend probably wants to chill at the house with the family and have some downtime together, so we will order a charcuterie board from Feast and Graze, pickup cupcakes from Muddy’s, and play boardgames in our most comfy clothes. Memphis is renowned for our BBQ, our music, and our grit, but we are so much more. Memphis has soul!
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
Becca Stevens, founder of Thistle Farms in Nashville, TN, was the pioneer for the model that Thistle and Bee follows today. We offer a 2 year program of recovery for survivors of sex trafficking, prostitution, and addiction. Becca Stevens created a model that includes: safe, no cost housing, wrap around services, and employment to remove barriers that prevent women survivors from living independently. Becca originally started out with a residential program and added a social enterprise after realizing that the community was not ready, or willing to take a chance on a woman with a sketchy work history. The Reverend Eyleen Farmer was inspired by Becca’s work at Thistle Farms and wanted to help. Becca’s advice was to start a program in Memphis… and that is exactly what Eyleen did. I have the honor of taking “Eyleen’s baby” to the next level as we scale up the Thistle and Bee program and enterprise. The problem of sex trafficking is insidious. I am thankful for all the people who have helped bring me into the circle as we work collaboratively to address the growing problem in our respective communities.
Justin Fox Burkes is the photographer of product photos only