Sanford: What the Rye, Strickland debate tells us about Memphis

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — This year's observance of Dr. Martin Luther King's assassination - known as MLK50 - will be full of speeches, panel discussions and rallies, but another important aspect of this monumental anniversary will be an open and honest self-examination of how far we have come as a city since Dr. King's death.

Part of that introspection started to emerge last weekend during an MLK50 event at the Orpheum. It came courtesy of remarks by CNN political analyst Angela Rye who questioned whether Memphis has made noticeable progress since 1968 during a recent event.

And in her view, it has not.

To no surprise, Mayor Jim Strickland took issue with the comments. In a lengthy written rebuttal on Monday, Strickland pointed out several statements Rye made that the mayor said were incorrect.

Related: Mayor Stricland responds to CNN pundit's criticisms

Without going into specific details on each of the points and counterpoints, it's obvious Memphis has progressed in many areas since Dr. King's death. But like anything else, there is still room for improvement.

We must ask ourselves why there is so much poverty in Memphis and what should be done about it. What can we do to improve educational achievement for more of our city's youth? And how can we get a better handle on violent crime?

These issues have been around for decades and for Memphis to truly progress, we must confront them together. They are, quite simply, much bigger than one commentator's criticism or one mayor's defense.