On the ground in Soulsville, USA

The new "On the Ground" series will begin with an in-depth examination of the Soulsville, USA neighborhood to better understand what's next for the community by uncovering the people, projects and organizations moving the neighborhood forward.

 
Neighborhoods are defined by the people who call them home.

Memphis is a city filled with neighborhoods, some historic, some struggling to get by and some on the edge of greatness.
Soulsville, USA is a community that has seen greatness in its past. Yes, Stax Records made the neighborhood famous. But the story of Soulsville, USA is much deeper than the iconic music created here.

The neighborhood was at the forefront of the civil rights movement. The community's countless churches were command central during the movement, including serving as a staging area for Martin Luther King Jr.'s fateful visit during the sanitation workers strike.

The home of the Memphis Sound and stage for the civil rights movement, those are just two chapters in the massive book that is Soulsville, a proud neighborhood just southeast of Downtown Memphis.

Welcome to On the Ground, a new program at High Ground News. This program aims to tell the stories of Memphis neighborhoods in a way never done before. One the Ground is a media project to spotlight innovations and transformations that are improving life in Memphis neighborhoods.

"The program aims to dive deep into changing neighborhoods, uncovering the people, projects and places moving Memphis communities forward," said High Ground Managing Editor Anna Mullins. 

The first community in the spotlight is Soulsville, USA; expect a full picture of what the neighborhood was, and is poised to become.

For the next few months, On the Ground will get to know the stories, people and places of Soulsville, USA. Some of them you might know. Others possibly will help better explain who is Soulsville, USA. These little known stories will paint a fuller picture of this great neighborhood.

On the Ground will investigate topics that are important to the neighborhood's residents and stakeholders, while shining a light on what's possible to the greater Memphis community. Stories will run the gamut, from livable community issues, food access, education and housing, to workforce development and the neighborhood's role in the aforementioned civil rights movement. We want to uncover the fascinating stories of the individuals, businesses and organizations working to make a better Soulsville, USA.

These stories only can be told by having a presence in the community. We call it "embedded journalism," but really it's just in-depth observation. And listening.

We'll look back at the important history of the neighborhood while gaining a better understanding of the needs and issues that plague the community. A strong Soulsville Neighborhood Association is paving the way, showing what can be done when a community's residents take charge.

And the Association started by listening through a community survey. Residents have gone door to door asking neighbors what they want to see in the community. Public safety is one issue.

With that information, two residents went through a nine-week citizens' police academy, which enables the community to now have a designated watch group.

It's a little step, but one that came about because the community asked and then responded.

"We've never had that in Soulsville," said Rebecca Matlock Hutchinson, a neighborhood resident and the Soulsville USA Neighborhood Site Director for the Building Neighborhood Capacity Program.

That program could be called redevelopment from the ground up. Focus areas include crime and public safety, blight and economic development. Working alongside neighborhood association members, Hutchinson said the only way residents can benefit from these efforts is if they are educated about what already exists in the community.

Those efforts are just part of the story On the Ground will examine. The world knows about the Stax Museum of American Soul Music, but what about the efforts of the students at the Soulsville Charter School, where they achieve a 100 percent college acceptance rate?

It's not unusual for community organizations to provide job training. But the Sarah Brown Branch of the YWCA provides job services for women that are traditionally known as male-dominated professions such as electricians and plumbers.

The arts thrive in the neighborhood, and it can be seen at the Memphis Slim House and Memphis Black Arts Alliance.

But challenges remain. There is blight in the community. And it's often described as a food desert, although the South Memphis Farmers Market helps remedy that pitfall.

Stay tuned over the next few months as we together gain a better understanding of who is Soulsville, USA and what it can become.

Read more articles by Lance Wiedower.

Lance is a veteran journalist with more than 16 years of experience in newsrooms in the Memphis area as a reporter and editor, including most recently as managing editor of The Daily News. He regularly contributes to The Daily News, including a biweekly travel column, The Daily Traveler. 
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