North Memphis

Memphis' Newest Reporters: Meet Community Correspondent Brandis Leverette

The second High Ground News Community Correspondents course is turning everyday residents of the Bickford-Bearwater community into neighborhood reporters.

They have no formal journalism background but have the passion and natural curiosity that can't be taught.

Now they're learning to research, interview, and report with nuance and integrity.

All of our Correspondents have deep roots in a Memphis “news desert.” New deserts are neighborhoods that don’t get much coverage from traditional media outlets unless there’s a problem like failing schools or crime.

Here, student Brandis Leverette talks about the Correspondents program and how he hopes to influence the negative narratives that so often define his beloved community.

See more on the High Ground News Community Correspondents program:
“Video: When neighbors make the news”

Meet Brandis Leverette

Leverette has worked off and on in the Bickford-Bearwater area since 2010. He taught math at what was then the KIPP Diamond Academy. Now he serves as Ministry Director of faith-based nonprofit Oasis of Hope.

Related: “Oasis is part bike shop, part home and appliance store, and all about North Memphis”

Leverette oversees the youth and senior programs at the Bickford Community Center, which Oasis manages in a partnership with the City of Memphis and Shelby County governments. Oasis is also High Ground’s logistics partner in this correspondents class. They provide space at the community center and technical assistance for the class.

Leverette is our class MVP. He pulls double duty as both a correspondent-in-training and the guy who comes early to unlock the doors and set up tables then stays late to break it all down.

Correspondent Q&A

How'd you find out about the correspondents' class and what were your first impressions?
I first heard about the correspondents' program through a High Ground storytelling event that some of our community youth participated in. Then I learned more about High Ground from the articles written about the Heights community of Memphis. The school my children attend was featured. I was especially intrigued because I felt it dug deeper than just reporting the day's happenings. It gave voice to those working, serving, and impacting Memphis communities.

For the class, I was also struck by its focus on recruiting, training, and positioning individuals of color to enter a field that is most typically reserved for my vanilla brothers and sisters.

Why’d you apply to the Community Correspondents program?
I'm always looking for an opportunity to represent my neighbors and to share about the wonderful treasures and opportunities here. I also think it's important to speak up for those who may not be heard or who are discouraged to speak. I was never a great student. I can't make claim to have ever been accomplished at writing. So the opportunity is also a challenge for me.

What are the bright spots in North Memphis?
Not many would put North Memphis and bright spot in the same sentence.

The sheer level of resilience you'll discover in individuals in this community is unparalleled. This community is knitted rather tight. Sometimes a little too tight. North Memphis has a very rich history. It's no fairy tale, but it's a story that's as compelling as the individuals you'll find to tell it.

North Memphis is also bubbling with potential. I think North Memphis and its community are ripe for growth in homeownership, economic development, and sustainability.

What are some of the big challenges in the community?
Like in most of our under-resourced and downtrodden communities, what I've experienced as the greatest challenge is the defeated mindset and dog-eat-dog mentality of its people.

Couple that with a lack of personal responsibility, a lack of impactful resources like funding, well-equipping schools, sensible and responsible policing, opportunities for youth and young adult development and employment, safe and welcoming green spaces--the list can go on and on. You are left with increases in crime, poor academic achievement, health challenges, and a litany of things that would devastate any community.

What topics do you want to highlight in your writing?
We get enough news that features the bad, scary, and senseless. I'd like to highlight the uplifting, encouraging, and positive that is happening but goes untold. I'd like to help the unheard voices be heard.

Traditional media often fails communities like yours. It creates and perpetuates misconceptions. Where has it missed the mark in portraying Bickford-Bearwater?
The people of our communities and others like it have suffered in part because of the way they’ve been reported on and portrayed.

The media may not be able to offer solutions, but it can choose to use its platform to encourage solutions. I appreciate news when it's factual and has a positive purpose, which can even include reporting tragedy and difficult things to keep residents informed.

Any last thoughts on the class?
Journalism is hard. But I feel prepared and supported to get out there, to make mistakes, and to learn how to use the tools and opportunity to help and encourage others. The leadership and training team of High Ground News has done a terrific job ensuring this cohort will make North Memphis proud.

Have a story idea related to greater Uptown or North Memphis? Our correspondents are hungry for assignments after graduation. Email [email protected].

Special thanks to our Bickford-Bearwater Community Correspondents partners, Oasis of Hope.
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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.