There’s a certain magic to choosing the right spring day to host your outdoor event, and the North Memphis neighborhoods of Klondike-Smokey City have the touch. The brilliant blue skies and steady breeze were a perfect setting for the neighborhoods’ third annual foster care awareness parade and festival, held on April 29.
Quincey Morris, executive director of the Klondike-Smokey City community development corporation, said it was important to make the event accessible. May is foster care awareness month, and for years the CDC kicked off the festivities with brunches or other events held outside of the neighborhood. The parade was a way to bring the focus back to the neighborhood they’re trying to affect.
“It’s important to help make the community aware of some of the perils our children go through and of the foster care program. As a resident, you might not be aware. You might need resources or want to become a foster parent or volunteer,” she said.
Morris further emphasized the need for foster parents from Klondike-Smokey City. These are the families that can best keep kids connected to the people and places with which they’re familiar and help minimize the isolation that children in the system can experience.
“When our children are taken out of the home, a lot of the time, they’re going out to Germantown or Collierville for a foster parent,” she said.
A volunteer with the foster care awareness parade distributes candy to neighborhood children. (Brandon Dahlberg)
The parade stepped off promptly at 10 a.m. from the CDC at 943 Vollintine Avenue, as a chant rose from the marchers to educate and energized the crowd.
“Every child needs a home! Every child needs a home!”
The parade worked its way down Vollintine Avenue to N. Watkins Street then on to Jackson Avenue. From there it traveled east to Springdale Street and into the festival grounds at Cathedral of Faith church, a nearly three-mile celebration. A mostly residential route, many neighbors were waiting outside for the parade, but other bounded out of their homes clearly surprised and delight by the surprise.
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Radio station 1380AM, the Bellevue Middle School drumline, and the North Memphis Mass Band kept the beat while dancers, color guards, and cheer squads from Bellevue Middle School, North Memphis Mass, and the Soulsville Charter School performed.
Walking groups included Commissioner Melvin Burgess’ District 7 Coalition, Cathedral of Faith, the Department of Children Services (DCS), and Boys Inc. waved to the crowds and threw beads and candy to the smiling spectators.
The Muslim Girls’ Training and General Civilization Class precision marching routines were a crowd favorite, as were the cars of the Real Deal Corvette Club.
The parade was led by the Memphis Police Department’s Community Outreach Program (C.O.P.) and their hot pink squad car, a hit with the neighborhood kids.
After nearly an hour and a half, the parade ended and the festival began.
“I think the parade is what really gets them. Once the community sees the parade, they get energized. They follow the parade on down to the festival,” said Morris.
Over forty vendors were on hand. They included government agencies like the Memphis Public Libraries’ JobLINC and DCS as well as nonprofits and community organizations like Whole Child Strategies and the Girl Scouts. There were dental, diabetes, and vision screenings, along with free haircuts, blood pressure checks, and voter registration. Music, speakers, and games entertained the crowd as they feasted on nachos, corndogs and other carnival treats.
Most importantly, there was information about the foster care system, neighborhood-based services, and a recruiting station for potential foster parents as well as community representatives, who serve as trained advocates who help at-risk families and those already in the foster care system connect to resources.
According to Morris, the goal of the free event was never to make money. The aim is to raise awareness of the need for foster care families in the neighborhood and the resources available to those who are foster parents and those who are working to avoid entering the DCS system.
The Klondike-Smokey City CDC, along with DCS and Cathedral of Faith, form the core of a collaboration working to reduce the number of children in foster care by supporting at-risk families with what resources they may need. When kids do need foster care, their goal is to keep them in their own neighborhoods by recruiting foster families in the area.
The collaboration’s latest internal report showed more than 950 children in DCS custody within the five (predominantly North Memphis) ZIP codes they serve. The collaboration includes dozen of partner organizations, many of whom were among the festival’s 40-plus vendors.
Sergeant Biggs, a Memphis Police Department mascot, greets members of the community outside Cathedral of Faith during the Klondike-Smokey City foster care awareness parade. (Brandon Dahlberg)
Partners like Sisters Saving Sisters, a South Memphis-based group that provides comprehensive sex education and financial literacy classes for girls in foster care. Their kids earn stipends and learn civic responsibility participating in events like the festival.
The Muslim Girls’ Training and General Civilization Class also offers life skills classes for girls. Their student captain, Stephenia Muhammad, said it was important that they participate in the parade because, “We believe what they’re saying, that every child needs a home.”
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MPD has also been a big part of the effort, especially the C.O.P. division and their community-oriented policing.
“We want to be a part of this because we’re a part of the community. We work in the communities, we work with the schools, churches, businesses, so we’re a very important part of the community.,” said C.O.P.’s Lieutenant Tabor of their participation in the parade.
There’s also a benefit for the officers.
"Anytime you work with the community, you get that good feeling, and of course you build a lot of new friendships and partnerships with the community,” said Tabor.
Commissioner Burgess is a key financial contributor as he allocates funds to the Klondike-Smokey City CDC which allows them to sponsor Saturday’s event at no charge to the community. They also sponsor other neighborhood organizations and events throughout the year for a broader community impact.
Susannah Barlow of the Family Safety Center is another important player. According to Morris, the center is one of those resources that Klondike-Smokey City families may not know about. Barlow often takes her message to the communities, attending meetings and events and taking referrals from collaborative partners.
“When she came in, she hit the ground running and she’s been running ever since,” said Morris.
For their part, Cathedral of Faith’s participation in the collaborative stems from the church’s core mission.
“We always say we’re a church for the community. That’s why we’re here, to be a staple in the community. [The partnership with] DCS is just another outlet for that,” said junior youth pastor, Calvin Booker, Jr., son of the collaboration’s co-chair, Connie Booker.
He believes that Saturday’s event was the right balance of fun and informative to effect real change.
“It’s a good community event where people of different neighborhoods come to be a part, to network. The kids get to participate in a parade. It’s just a fun event for the whole family, and we’re able to spread awareness for DCS and foster care,” said Booker.