Reflections of 90 days in Soulsville USA

Our "On the Ground" series launched in January with an in-depth examination of the Soulsville, USA neighborhood. Over three months, we worked to better understand what's next for the community by uncovering the people, projects and organizations moving the neighborhood forward.
Three months. Ninety days.

Either way, a quarter of a year sounds like a long time. And in some ways Jan. 1 seems like it was just last week and we were starting this On the Ground journey in the Soulsville USA neighborhood.

But the calendar has turned to April and our in-depth exploration of Soulsville USA is winding down.

Over the past three months, I’ve met many people who care deeply about this historic neighborhood. I was moved by longtime resident Everlena Yarbrough’s passion. She is such a firm believer in spending her money only in the neighborhood that she’ll drive on fumes if it means buying gas at one of the stations in the community.

Marlon Foster grew up near the corner of Mississippi and McLemore. He attended LeMoyne-Owen College and wanted to be an entrepreneur. His first job was one he created; Foster founded Knowledge Quest 18 years ago, and today the organization impacts hundreds of students and adults in the “Knowledge Quest Kids Zone” through the promotion of academic excellence and healthy home habits. His vision for the growth in and around the neighborhood’s Green Leaf Learning Farm is inspiring.
There are many other stories of inspiration, ones that tell of community residents taking a stand to control the neighborhood’s future. Residents identified blight and safety as big concerns. So they’ve created programs to deal with both.

The stories in Soulsville USA are only beginning, and that’s in large part because the people who live and work in the neighborhood care about its future more than its rich past. That’s saying something, considering the music and civil rights heritage of the community.

We will continue paying attention to Soulsville USA, and you should, too. There will be many more great stories coming out of this neighborhood in the coming months.

But now it’s on to Frayser. We’re excited about the next few months getting to know this neighborhood, its residents, their concerns and how they are facing challenges head on for the betterment of the community.

But as we move on to explore Frayser, we leave you with just a few highlights of the stories in Soulsville USA.

Take a closer look at some of the people choosing Soulsville USA, the residents of Fountain Court.

Talbert Fleming grew up in the area and decided to return to the neighborhood a few years ago to open Jim and Samella’s House restaurant. Watch his inspiring story to provide food to the neighborhood, no matter the ability to pay.

We examined what it means for Soulsville USA to be classified a food desert, and how the neighborhood can overcome the issues of lack of access to quality food.

Residents identified safety as a top concern. With the formation of a neighborhood watch group, the community is taking steps to create a safer Soulsville.

From Four Way Restaurant to Tennessee Regular Baptist Book Store, Soulsville USA has a variety of small businesses. We talked to entrepreneurs in the community to get a better understanding of the challenges they face.

Soulsville USA has a deep musical heritage built on the legacy of Stax Records. The Memphis Music Magnet looks to bring that focus back to the neighborhood, and the Memphis Slim Collaboratory plays an important part.

Longtime Soulsville resident Everlena Yarbrough is passionate about the community and the efforts to see it rid of blight.


On March 14, the chapel of Metropolitan Baptist Church was filled with people eager to listen to a panel discussion examining what “Smart Neighborhoods Can Learn From Soulsville USA.”

 

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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