A ‘trashy’ situation results in frustration: Talking blight with the residents of Uptown

“When I see all the paper and tires everywhere, I get disgusted and I feel poor,” says Ma’Kiya Williams, an 11th grader at Manassas High School, in response to the trash she witnesses on the way to school everyday.

Ma’Kiya is one of the many students at Manassas High School, located in the Uptown area, victimized by all the blight around her neighborhood and school. It’s a neighborhood filled with abandoned homes and empty lots overgrown with tall weeds and grass, making visibility almost impossible.

An abandoned and blighted apartment complex, located a block or so from the high school, has at least one person living inside. Every day, our high school students pass by the building on the way to school or on their way home.

When it rains, the streets are flooded due to the clogged water drains.

Shantell Foster is a senior at Manassas and spoke to her experience with the blight and abandoned homes in the neighborhood. “With all of the new homes being built in the neighborhood, this is confusing.” She adds that she doesn’t feel safe coming outside alone when she takes her dog out because there is a guy living in an empty home right next door.

Safety should be a priority when it comes to our children in our beloved communities. When our young people express their concerns about their safety due to the lack of secured abandoned properties, then it should become a priority and an issue for the adults in power to change this situation.

“People think this is normal, but I don’t,” says Deandre Bogard, a senior at Manassas High School in Uptown.'It's not fair'

Having access to garbage cans and dumping sites for residents are just a couple of ways to control blight in communities that are being overwhelmed by this issue. The children have even proposed regular block parties to encourage beautiful yards and litter-free streets.

Still, the students and residents of Uptown are often struck with feelings of hopelessness when it comes to change. Deandre Bogard, a senior at Manassas, has lived in Uptown for five years. He shares that seeing the trash and people living in vacant-dilapidated houses gives him negative feelings. 

“People think this is normal, but I don’t,” Deandre says when asked how seeing the trash everywhere makes him feel. When you’re living in a blighted neighborhood like theirs, he says, you lack confidence in your dreams.

When asked what he would like to see when he walks to school every morning, Deandre says he just wants to see clean streets like the ones in the suburbs.

“It’s not fair. All neighborhoods should be clean.”

Deandre explains that people who reside in suburban communities have higher economic status that affords them the opportunity to live in an attractive neighborhood.

“It makes no sense the way they treat us in Memphis, as if we are not taxpayers too,” says Dexter Warren, who has lived in the neighborhood for over 40 years.'We're taxpayers too'

Dexter Warren has lived in the neighborhood for over 40 years and agrees that our children are witnessing despair every time they walk out of their doors.

“It makes no sense the way they treat us in Memphis, as if we are not taxpayers too,” Dexter says in frustration. When it rains, the streets are flooded due to the clogged water drains that the City of Memphis is responsible for keeping clean. 

“If the neighborhoods of Cordova and Germantown can be kept clean, we can also have clean streets right here in the ‘hood,” he says.

Blight is a huge issue in communities of color like Uptown. It’s pretty common to see debris, old tires, and worn-out mattresses strewn about the streets. Residents have sadly grown accustomed to this depressing scenery. 

Most disturbing is the response from the children who live, play, and attend school there. The children I spoke to each echo feelings of despair and little hope for a successful future, and blight is one of the primary reasons for that.

Students at Manassas High School are concerned about the blight in Uptown, like this abandoned and blighted apartment complex, located a block or so from the high school.

According to the 2021 Special Edition of the Memphis Poverty Fact Sheet, almost 30 percent of Shelby County children live in poverty. The numbers show that it’s our Black children who experience poverty at rates even higher than that, with 40.8 percent of Black children living in poverty. These are children that are living on streets lined with trash and vacant homes.

It is the duty of all Memphis residents to demand clean and beautiful neighborhoods for our children and their families. What we see affects how we feel, and the children of the Uptown community should feel good when they step out of their homes.

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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.