Happy new year from High Ground News. It's been a privilege to direct local coverage of the innovation, leaders and neighborhood growth that move Memphis forward. For our first issue of 2018, I've chosen to turn the lens on our contributors who lend their voice and vision to our online magazine. Get to know the work of our diverse writers, photographers, videographers and audio journalists in the links below their paragraphs.
My wish for the coming year is that we will continue to listen to the native talent that nourishes our city before we criticize or look beyond our boundaries for solutions.
Thank you for your support,
Madeline Faber, managing editor
Hope for a better future
In 2018, I'd love to see Memphis business and companies put a greater emphasis on inclusivity, diversity, and a living wage. It's always wonderful to read success stories from all over the 901 area, but seeing businesses and organizations that care enough to include everyone and provide for their employees, particularly during difficult times, is particularly heartwarming. Additionally, my wish for Memphis in 2018 is that Memphians continue to have hope — a hope that our economy and our city will flourish, a hope that our politicians will listen to us and change things that need to be changed, and a hope that our community will grow stronger and closer than ever. (But I'm not too worried about that last part. Memphians are some of the most wonderful and resilient people in the world.)
Listen: "Organizers recount Memphis' massive Black Lives Matter protest one year later"
Economic Equality 50 years After Dr. King's Assassination
I hope this coming year brings turning points and watershed moments for Memphis. In the 50 years since Dr. King's assassination, how far has the city come? I am heartened by institutionally-backed projects like Green & Healthy Homes Initiative and Le Bonheur's CHAMP that address systemic issues that create oppression for the physical and economic interests of Memphis's most vulnerable residents. And I hope it continues to amplify the intersectional and community-based work that organizations like Mid-South Peace and Justice and the United Campus Workers have been doing with housing, economic justice and labor.
And I'm excited to continue working with local journalists at projects like High Ground News and MLK50, who in the face of shrinking budgets and a diminishing media landscape, hustle to try and tell these stories and hopefully facilitate the conversations needed for the change we are overdue for in 2018.
In photos: "North Memphis students honor thread of royalty from African queens to kings of pop music"
Encouraging immigration and diversity
In 2018, I’ll celebrate 16 years as a Memphian, and almost as long as a writer who writes about Memphis. During my time in my adopted city, I’ve watched Memphis grow tremendously in terms of the diversity of its residents. I’ve seen both immigrants and American-born transplants from other parts of the country — of various ethnic, cultural, faith and linguistic backgrounds — adopt Memphis as their new home. I’ve watched them become friends and neighbors, share their traditions through food, festivals and the arts, volunteer together, and establish businesses — both community based and large scale — that provide residents with meaningful work.
I think of Irish natives D.J. Naylor and Seamus Loftus, who’ve opened pubs where people from around the world gather to watch international soccer matches while also cheering on our hometown teams; Sudanese immigrant Ibtisam Saliah, who launched her own catering business in Binghampton; and Iranian immigrant Dr. Mehdi Sadeghi — possibly one of the most dedicated Grizzlies fans I know — who established The Smile Center, which has become a popular dental practice in the city. I think of the Ethiopian family— proprietors of the gas station at the corner of Young and East Parkway — who remembered my daughter's birthday with lollipops and taught her how to say "Happy Birthday" in Amharic.
Members of Christian Heartsong Church made national news when they forged an especially supportive friendship with their new neighbors at the Memphis Islamic Center. And faith leaders like the Catholic Monsignor Valentine Handwerker, Jewish Rabbi Micah Greenstein, and Rev. Earle Fisher of Abyssinian Baptist Church stood up for social justice for our most marginalized neighbors.
In the last year, I’ve watched dozens of Memphians of various backgrounds learn the ancient Irish sports of Gaelic football and hurling through the growing Memphis Gaelic Athletic Association. I’ve seen India Fest grow into one of the largest, most-anticipated annual festivals in the city. I’ve witnessed Memphians learn salsa dancing in the Crosstown Concourse, Cazateatro Theatre Troupe share its Latin American culture through theatrical performances, and Marc Gasol — otherwise known as “Big Spain” — become a hometown hero on and off the court.
We came together to celebrate our city’s rich African American musical heritage at the Soulsville USA Festival. Ekundayo Bandele continued to grow the only black repertory theatre in the region. And in the coming year, MLK50 will call us together for peace and action to commemorate the legacy of Dr. King and the brave Memphians who fought for equal rights and justice.
My hope for 2018 is that we’ll continue to weave this beautiful tapestry, while also celebrating our shared identity as the unique people who’ve come to call ourselves Memphians.
Read: "Memphis faith leaders unite to address poverty, education and criminal justice"
I hope to see more redevelopment in some the city's underserved areas like Frayser and South Memphis, as well as the continued rebirth of areas like the Edge District and South City. Next year should prove to be an exciting time as redevelopment plans for Mud Island and Riverfront Drive begin to take shape.
Read: "The Heights Line pop-up park reinvigorates National Street"
Support Neighborhoods when the cameras aren't rolling
My hope for Memphis in 2018 is that we continue to open our hearts and minds to what the city already has to offer. I hope we take to spend time in neighborhoods featured in High Ground News, support local businesses working to build up those communities and continue to lift each other up through the good work we're doing. My big challenge: continue that work even after MLK50. In the coming months, Memphis will be in the national spotlight but after the cameras leave, we must keep working to better tell stories in all our local neighborhoods.
Video: "Sweet LaLa's bakery in South Memphis gives juvenile offenders a second chance"
Fair and equitable public transit
In 2011, Memphis was ranked 69 on the list for connecting workers to their jobs by a Brookings Institution report that surveyed 371 public transit systems in the 100 largest metro areas in the nation. This year, Dr. Elena Delavega of the University of Memphis Department of Social Work released the Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet for 2017 that found distressing links between poverty in Memphis and the lack of reliable public transportation, reporting “the lack of comprehensive, effective, and efficient public transportation also makes progress against poverty very difficult.”
My wish for Memphis in 2018 is that city leaders, activists and visionaries take a harder look at Memphis’ lack of an organized and affordable public transit system. We must all stand up and demand the right to have safe, affordable and dependable public transit systems. Hundreds of people, primarily people of color and residents of low-income neighborhoods, in Memphis are unable to commute to higher paying jobs or complete school because they simply cannot get there by walking.
The dysfunction and inequality of the Memphis bus system is alarming. I wish for buses that run on time every ten to fifteen minutes throughout all neighborhoods in the city and provide people in all parts of the city, especially neighborhoods where many don’t have the luxury of a personal car, with timely transportation to school, work, and social resources.
I wish for a Memphis public transit system that allows people across the city access to fresh foods, social activities, music, art, movies, hobbies, libraries, bridge club and other pursuits of happiness. We are building a city of lights and modern amenities but only a third of its richest citizens can enjoy the fruits of the city’s expansion and growth.
Let’s change that. Let’s give everyone the chance to enjoy the city that we’ve built and love so much. It starts with ensuring all people can arrive to these destinations in a timely and affordable way. Innovate Memphis has created the Transit Funding Working Group to identify dedicated public funding that can expand and improve Memphis transit across the city. Hopefully, in the upcoming years we can make reliable public transit in Memphis a reality. The Memphis Bus Riders Union, part of the Memphis Peace & Justice Center, has been fighting for better public transit under the slogan of “Public transit is a civil right.” Demand public transit from your leaders and join the ranks of those already fighting for it. Join Memphis Bus Riders and donate to the cause.
Read: "Memphis embraces midwife and doula services to improve health outcomes"
Crossing the age boundary
I hope to see younger Memphians getting more involved within every nook and cranny of the city of Memphis to see all the diversity and interesting aspects it has to offer! Whether it's Cafe Conversations at the Brooks Museum or trying out new and upcoming restaurants in Germantown, inviting more inclusive and less separated communities will draw different crowds in Memphis together and embrace different voices and ideas!
Read: "Inclusivity is key to Memphis' chapter as a literary city"
A new school model for the 21st century
In 2018, the inaugural class of Crosstown High will report for their first day of 9th grade. I'm really excited by the prospect of a high school that embraces new ways of learning that involve student input and community involvement. I hope the students and staff of Crosstown High have a school year full of adventure, creativity and intellectual challenge.
Read: "Memphis Public Libraries 'start here' by upgrading neighborhood branches"
Good Health and Job Growth
Often a business comes to Memphis, hires people and that's great. However many times it comes with a cost in things like PILOT programs [payment in lieu of taxes] which work out to the region giving several thousands in tax breaks per employee.
I want a city where a company sets up here because Greater Memphis is a good deal for that company, not because of how many tax breaks it gets. After all, one company employing 500 people or 50 companies hiring 10 people still equal five hundred jobs.
Perhaps better education can make Memphis a better destination for these companies in its own right. I also realize we have many challenges. In 1980, according to The World Almanac, Memphis was the 15th largest city in the nation. In the 2010 U.S. Census we were the 20th. Though rapid growth has its issues, large empty areas and vacant homes show up across the town are never good for a community. We also have an issue with crime and the perception of being a dangerous place.
At this writing, 198 people have been murdered in Memphis this year. In Austin, Texas - my former city and a larger one- that number is 24. Both places have similar firearm laws. What's going on?
Health is a concern as well. Sheila Harrell, health promoter at the Church Health Center, told me we are one of the top cities for diabetic amputations. And this is the home of St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, University of Tennessee Health Science Center, University of Memphis, University of Tennessee, Baptist and Southwest Tennessee nursing colleges, Southern College of Optometry and the Sheldon Korones Newborn Center. We take our health seriously. This should not be happening!
Admittedly I have listed problems. There are no easy solutions. Happy 2018!
Read: "Ghost signs show Memphis commerce of days long gone"
Hope for the native
As a native Memphian, I love my city. I have walked from Central High to my home in South Memphis. I have ridden the bus from Bellevue Junior High to Southland Mall.
What makes Memphis the place it is are the people who not just chose to live here, but build families and legacies here. My hope is that we create spaces for the voices of families and individuals who have the blood of the Mississippi in their veins.
From the kids attending Soulsville and Freedom Prep to those at Hamilton and Melrose High schools. I hope programs like Cloud901 can continue to invest in the creativity of our youth, and Knowledge Quest will receive more support for their work with families and children living in poverty. I hope we continue to hear the voices of Frayser residents who protest the expansion of hazardous landfills and North Memphis veterans who are fighting for their homes and assets.
I hope the residents of what once was Foote Homes are returned to a land of promise and opportunity when the new residential projects are completed.
The city's most valuable assets are the families and children who call Memphis home.
Read: "Sweep it clean: The leader behind Booker T. Washington's comeback story"