North Memphis

Memphis' Newest Reporters: Meet Community Correspondent Jolie Shaw

The second High Ground News Community Correspondents course is transforming 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.

Community Correspondents live in neighborhoods that are rarely featured in local news unless the story centers on violence, failing schools, unemployment, and other systemic struggles.

Correspondents want to speak to their community's challenges with more nuance and depth. They want to include more on-the-ground expertise.while uplifting bright spots and homegrown solutions to their collective challenges.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be featuring each of the new correspondent in their own brief Q&A. We hope you'll take some time to get to know Memphis' newest reporters.

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.

Meet Jolie Shaw

Jolie Shaw is a Memphis native who's lived all over the city from Frayser to Whitehaven. She describers herself as a free spirit, with strong ties to North Memphis. She's lived in the area since middle school.

"I worked in retail almost 10 years. I felt like it wasn't really taking me where I wanted to go, I derailed and allowed that to go on too long. So I jumped off that hamster wheel" said Shaw.

"I wanted to explore what I could do with my own skills, which I feel is writing. I've been exploring different levels of that," she continued.

Shaw doesn't have any formal journalism training outside of a journalism class in high school. She does have a lifelong love of writing. Currently, she journals and writes poetry and fiction. 

"I've known writing as long as I've known Christ. I can't remember the day my mama taught me religion, I can't remember the day I started writing," she said. 

Correspondent Q & A

How'd you find out about the correspondents' class and what were your first impressions?

My aunt came to a neighborhood meeting, just to talk about maybe some blight or other issues, and she brought home a flyer from High Ground. 

My initial thought was, 'Oh, my auntie is so nice. She loves me, but she doesn't know that I hate journalistic writing.' So I said thank you and kind of put it to the side. But later I did some research on it and saw that the point of view leaned more towards something I will be willing to try because it was neighborhood-oriented and really focusing on stories that matters. That's the reason why I ran away from journalism because I felt like normally that's not the case. 

Are you intimidated by anything in your quest to be a freelance writer? You nervous at all?

I have I have an ego when it comes to writing, so I always walk through the door feeling like I know everything. I always tone myself down. Today was the first time where I came face to face with something that I felt like intimidated me. That's that whole thing with writing shorter sentences and avoiding compound sentences and flowery words because I normally focus on poetry and novels. I like that crazy stuff by Edgar Allan Poe.

What are the bright spots in Bickford-Bearwater?

One thing more than anything--it's just the people. You can walk up to three different people in this neighborhood and get three different stories as to how they got here, how long they've been here, even where their lives are going. So even though we're all in this same conglomerate space, we're getting different experiences while also getting similar experiences. There's so many different stories and so many different avenues. There's beauty in that, and in the people

Traditional media often fails communities like yours. It creates and perpetuates misconceptions. Where has it missed the mark in portraying Bickford-Bearwater? 

Anytime you see this neighborhood on the news someone was shot or someone died or something bad happened. It doesn't focus on the real lives of the people who live here or anything good that happens--because good things do happen--or even any of the history that lives here that's just not being paid attention to. I feel like it's missed the market completely. 

When you think about sharing this community's stories, what has you most excited?

I feel like once we start sharing the stories, the people who live here and others will understand that these people in these neighborhoods matter. They deserve the right amount of attention and right kind of attention. When things go wrong, instead of just reporting that it went wrong, reporting why went wrong? And what are the things that can be done or are being done to fix it?

These people and these children live here and their lives matter. We need that attention so that we can actually grow instead of it just being depleted. 

What are some of those big challenges in the neighborhood?

Drug abuse. I can't say that I witnessed any drug deals or anything going on around here, but what I do witness are the results.

Like the kids who may be uninvolved in school and would rather just be out in the streets because they're not getting the attention they need. Once I remember this guy from not long after we moved here when I was in junior high. He used to sit on a stoop next to my mother's building, and he would rock violently for days on end. It broke my heart, it does to this day. How did he get here? Why is he here? Why is this not something we're paying attention to? That kind of stuff makes me emotional. 

What are some topics you want to highlight in your writing?

The first thing I want to tell people about Slave Haven. It's literally walking distance for me, and I feel like people who live here aren't aware. Not just if but also the church across the street or even the ground that your house may sit on--the history that is here. I feel like once people realize where they come from, they'll have a better sense of pride of where they live. Then we can be more hands on, not just relying on outside people but building for each other. 

One of the main things I do want to draw attention to, not just in the North Memphis community but all over Memphis, is the empty houses and empty buildings. When a house goes down hill, they knock it down, they burn it down, or nothing ever happens to it at all. And to me, that's perplexing. We have way too many homeless people. There's no initiative or no desire or drive to maintain the integrity of anything. And it's embarrassing. It's upsetting. It's confusing. I feel like that's something that needs a lot of attention here.
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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.