Black Neighborhoods Matter event to tackle gentrification and protecting Memphis' black communities

On Friday, February 28, local experts in housing and community development with come together for a public discussion on the importance of black and African American neighborhoods and the threat of gentrification. 

Organizers said the conversation will explore current perceptions and realities of gentrification, as well as benchmark solutions locally and beyond that can help Memphis grow equitably and intentionally with regard to black neighborhoods.  

The panel will include Paul Young with the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development, Frayser CDC's Charia Jackson, and housing consultant Austin Harrison. 

The conversation will be moderated by Judge Patrick Dandridge with the Shelby County Environmental Court.

The event will take place this Friday from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at LeMoyne-Owen College's Center for Urban Leadership & Social Justice in Gibson-Orgill Hall, room 111. It is free and open to the public. 

LeMoyne-Owen is located in the historically-black Soulsville area of South Memphis. 

The key organizers include Harrison and Judge Damita Dandridge, who is both a Shelby County judicial commissioner and the political science coordinator for LeMoyne-Owen. LeMoyne-Owen and HCD have both lent support for the event. 

Lead organizer Dr. Michael Robinson is chair of Social and Behavioral Sciences for LeMoyne-Owen's Center for Urban Leadership and Social Justice. The department includes criminal justice, political science, sociology, and social work. 

He said that when gentrification creeps in, Memphis can't ignore that economic changes like rising prices for housing and basic goods precipitate demographic changes.

“The demographics change—from black to white [and] the wealth increases. And there’s a change in the physical structures. It’s beautiful. However, the African Americans don’t feel like they get to enjoy the benefits that come with regentrification," said Robinson.

"That raises the question—do black neighborhoods matter?," he continued. "If they matter, why can’t the infrastructure change for the positive and the African Americans can retain their livelihood in their neighborhoods."

When asked why it's important to have public conversations around the issues of gentrification, race, and displacement, Robinson said the first step to tangible change is getting "the issues out on the table."

"Let’s be realistic about the conversation," he said. "These are some tough questions that need to be talked about and maybe some new ideas and approaches. If these [inclusive] ideas and approaches exist, we need to know about these plans and strategies."

For questions, contact Michael Robinson at [email protected] or 901-435-1433. 
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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.