North Memphis

A jewel among thorns: Finding summertime fun, safety, and wisdom for the kids of North Memphis

It’s not uncommon to hear gunshots ring through the streets of North Memphis, including in neighborhoods like Klondike and Uptown. Yet children long to play outside, to visit places in their community that provide fun, activities, and protection. 

Kennedy Green, a fourth grader at Vollintine Elementary, shared that not having much to do in her neighborhood makes her feel sad and frustrated.

“I want a bouncy house in the yard to jump on all day and all night,” says Kennedy. She plans to become not only a teacher but a “doll-maker” when she grows up. If little Kennedy had a place in her community to support her dream of doll-making, the possibility for her success would surely increase.

For the children who live in Klondike, feelings of sadness coincide with thoughts about how there are very few things to do. Swimming pools are closed and most of the basketball courts are either torn down or being utilized by grown-ups.
Tailor Jackson of Klondike enjoys the North Branch Library in Memphis.
I spoke with Tailor Jackson and Haylei-Lynn Driver, two very intelligent 10-year-olds who live in Klondike and Uptown.

“It makes me happy whenever I’m watching the news and there has not been a shooting nearby – I feel safer riding my bike and playing with my dog Houston,” says Tailor.

“I have not learned how to ride my bike yet, but it would be great to have a place where I could learn to ride and feel safe when I’m there,” says Haylei-Lynn.

Tailor and Haylei-Lynn went on to say how they would love to have a game room and a Chuck E. Cheese within walking distance from their homes. On the bright side of things, the children are both avid readers and did share that having the North Branch Library in their community is a great asset to support their love for reading.

It takes a village

In navigating the frustrations of our children, and their limited access to fun activities in a safe environment, we found a jewel among the thorns. The Afrikan Village Institute, located at 1225 Vollintine Ave. in the Klondike community, is founded and run by Norman Ray Redwing, Jr.

Earlier this month, Pastor Redwing began a summer camp for local children – and he’s already seeking the funding to expand and open the Institute’s doors for after-school programming. Tailor and Haylei-Lynn, and her baby sister Jaymei-Lynn, are among the first to enjoy Pastor Redwing’s new summer camp.
Tierra, a first-time visitor to the Afrikan Village Institute, likes the idea of kids learning their history and culture here.
On Saturday, June 24, the Afrikan Village Institute hosted a carnival and I was invited to speak with guests young and seasoned. Tierra, who is a mother of four children in Klondike, says she doesn’t really know how to feel about the lack of safe and positive activities for local children, but agrees that there should be more. It was her first time visiting the Afrikan Village Institute.

Tierra likes the idea of kids learning their history and culture here, going on to say that she feels it is especially important being that Klondike is a predominantly African American neighborhood. Camp activities like making African bangles and bracelets are not only fun, but act as a great learning opportunity for students to better understand their history.

There were a lot of great ideas from the guests who attended the carnival. One of them came from 10-year-old Dakhari, who shared a couple of his thoughts concerning Afrikan Village.

“I would like for us to have a big parade to go through the whole block, with African dancers and performers to talk about our culture,” Dakhari says. Dakhari also hopes for a big swim party for all the children who reside nearby.

A chance to get together

It was such a joy to see the many families out in the 90-degree heat enjoying the food, games, and prizes. The children were excited by the conversations around increasing educational yet fun things to do in their neighborhood. 
“The children are making lifelong friends, learning African folklore, and going on weekly field trips that add to that knowledge,” says teacher Mama Eyo.
My trip would not have been complete without speaking to some of the adults who work with the children in the summer camp. These great historians offer their time Monday through Thursday, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., to share their rich knowledge of African history with the children.

“We teach children about this country and that Black people, who are the descendants of slaves, have contributed particularly to this land,” says one of the teachers they call by the name of Mama Eyo. “The children are making lifelong friends, learning African folklore, and going on weekly field trips that add to that knowledge.”

As I spoke with her, the song “Family Reunion” by The O’Jays blared in the background. We were reminded of the days when Black families prioritized the importance of coming together, sparking emotions between the two of us. 

I also had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Angela Redwing, the beautiful wife of the Institute’s founder. Angela grew up in Klondike and is a graduate of the once-prestigious Northside High School. Her grandmother still has a home on Montgomery Street – not far from the Afrikan Village Institute. 

“Crime is up because the children have nothing to do and don’t know their history,” Angela says, adding that there are no longer the youth groups she enjoyed while growing up in the neighborhood.

Raven (left) and her mother Angela Redwing.

Angela joins her husband Norman in educating the children about their true identities and the greatness they possess inside themselves. This dynamic duo practice what they preach with their own three beautiful children, but also reach beyond their own family to enrich the lives of the many children they have the privilege of encountering each day.

It’s what Afrikan Village Institute is all about.

The Afrikan Village Institute is located at 1225 Vollintine Ave. in Memphis.
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Read more articles by Tafui Owusu.

Tafui Owusu (formerly Shelia Williams) is a resident of the Bickford-Bearwater area of North Memphis and a graduate of the second High Ground News Community Correspondents program. She is also a board commissioner for MATA.