South City

Trailblazer Awards honored Memphis women who champion the city's cultural heritage

On February 6, the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development hosted its second annual Memphis Heritage Trail Trailblazer Awards.

“We believe it is important to honor the individuals and organizations that have made significant contributions to the rich culture and history of the city,” said HCD Director Paul Young.

This year’s winners were all women who’ve made a significant contribution to advancing civil and human rights and upholding the city’s tradition of black arts and business in Memphis.

“Women have always played an integral role in advancing causes that improve the circumstances for individuals and families, and we believe that it is important to show the broad spectrum of contributions to the broader public,” said Young.

The Memphis Heritage Trail is a 20-block area that uses wayfinding signage, historic markers, public art, and a mobile app to take travelers on a trip through Memphis’ black history in western South Memphis. It’s linked to additional sites in Uptown, Soulsville, and Orange Mound. It is also part of the National Civil Rights Trail.

Felicia Harris, administrator of planning and development for the City of Memphis, said in a press release that the best way to advance the purpose of the Memphis Heritage Trail was to highlight some of the women who made the trail possible.

The honorees included: Chrysti Chandler, Bev Johnson, Deidre Malone, Carey Moore, Deanie Parker, Patrice Bates Thompson, Linda Steel, Dr. Miriam DeCosta-Willis, and the National Civil Rights Museum.

Together they represent nonprofits and businesses from across the city including My Cup of Tea, ArtUp, and The Carter Malone Group.

Patrice Bates Thompson is co-owner of The Four Way soul food restaurant. The restaurant has served South Memphis since 1946. Thompson has co-owned the restaurant with her mother since her father’s death in 2016.

“My first thought when I found out I was being honored was, ‘Wow, why me?,’” Thompson said. “But after thinking about it and realizing what [Four Way] meant to the city, it made me feel wonderful and blessed to have been nominated, selected, and awarded.”

Chrysti Chandler is the founder of the Young Actors Guild, which has trained over 30,000 Memphis-area youth in the performing arts since its founding in 1991.

“I have pounded the pavement for the last 29 years,” said Chandler. “I look at [this award] as the groundbreaking of our 30th anniversary. This is a great way to start our 30th anniversary.”

The Trailblazer award recognizes innovative contributions to underserved communities through intellectual courage, communications, or the arts.

“The Four Way has been a historic spot at Mississippi and Walker for almost 75 years now,” said Thompson. “We’re just trying to be a beacon of light in [Soulsville] and in other parts of Memphis as well"

"I’m very excited not just for my immediate family but for the Soulsville community,” said Thompson of her award win.

Staff and supports of the Young Actors Guild pose for a photo after the awards ceremony. Founder Chrysti Chandler stands center holding her award. (Cole Bradley)
Chandler also gave credit for her win to her beloved community. 

“Me accepting this award is really for the children of Memphis because of their hard work, perseverance, and contributions they have made,” said Chandler. “They have gone on and represented Memphis from Hollywood to Broadway to 'American Idol' and 'So You Think You Can Dance.' This award is dedicated to [them].”

The ceremony was held at the Paradise Entertainment Center in South City area and included lunch from caterer Felicia Bean Barnes for a packed room of attendees. In addition to the awards ceremony, guests were treated to performances by Jamille "Jam" Hunter, the STAX Academy Alumni Ensemble and New Ballet Ensemble and School.

The event also included updates on the Memphis Heritage Trail and development updates in South City, Orange Mound, and Soulsville.

“This recognition honors the individuals directly, and our hope is that it will serve to inspire others to action as well,” said Young.
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Read more articles by Cole Bradley.

Cole Bradley is a native Memphian and graduate of the University of Memphis. Cole's worked locally as a researcher and community engagement strategist and began contributing to High Ground in Jan 2017.