North Memphis

Memphis' Newest Reporters: Meet Community Correspondent Shelia Williams

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 program live in neighborhoods that aren't typically featured in local news unless they're focusing on challenges and struggles.

Correspondent Shelia Williams said serious crimes like murder happen everywhere, but when it happens in Bickford-Bearwater, it's seen as a reflection on the entire neighborhood. 

"That's the one thing that kind of covers the entire neighborhood and how people perceive it," said Williams.

Williams and her classmates want to speak to their community's challenges with more nuance and depth. They want to include more and on-the-ground expertise.while uplifting its bright spots and homegrown solutions to those 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 Shelia Williams 

Williams is a lifelong Memphian but a new resident of the Bickford-Bearwater area. She describes herself as a passionate community organizer and single mom to five children.

She loved creative writing in school and now writes agendas, next steps, and keeps the minutes at community meetings. It's her passion for lifting community voices that's pushing her to learn more about reporting. 

"I love to be involved and am passionate about knowing my neighbors. I'm all about uplifting my own community, as well as any community that I care about," said Williams.

She sees neighborhood-based reporting as a way to connect with her new neighborhoods. 

“I'm excited to get to know my neighbors, one who's from Mali in particular because I have native Ghanaians and my family. So he's on my radar," she said. 

She learned about the correspondents class from an email detailing the results from the first class in fall 2019. She thought she'd lost her chance to participate. 

"Just with sheer luck, I guess you could say, I became a resident of this community where [High Ground is now] working," she said. "I love to write, but I love real stories from real people. I don't think we get enough of that."

Correspondent Q & A

Why’d you apply to the Community Correspondents program?

I wanted real voices from people who are not particularly heard. I don't want to say low-on-the-totem-pole folks but those that are left out that are not considered as an expert on their own particular issue in their neighborhood or [seen as] a stakeholder.

What are the community’s bright spots?

It's not been on the forefront. This could be new to a lot of potential readers. They don't know a lot about this area, myself included. I never had any particular place other than a pool at Bickford [Community Center] that would draw me to this neighborhood or make me want to know more about it. So I think that in itself is going to be pivotal when we gather news in this area. It's like a hidden gem.

What are some of the big challenges in the neighborhood?

There's a lot of run down businesses, a lot of closed businesses in this area. I would like to know some background around that. It's kind of depressing to ride along Thomas Street and you just see all of this great potential. I'm like, ‘What in the world happened?’ That includes daycares and factories, little small tire shop businesses. What happened?

What other topics do you want to highlight in your writing?

Definitely during this pandemic, how COVID-19 has affected the neighborhood. But I want to know some other layers of barriers that maybe have held community members back or kept them kind of hidden [and in] hindsight.

Building those relationships, getting to know a little bit of the background, would be important to me as a starting point.

Traditional media can create and perpetuate misconceptions about neighborhoods like Bickford-Bearwater. What would you say to media and Memphians who live outside of your neighborhood about those misconceptions?

If you haven't touched an area personally, then I don't think it's wise to speak to the community as a whole. It's good to have a solid, clear view. You need to go and talk to some folks. If you don't want to talk to people, talk to businesses over there. They would tend to have more information about what this community really represents as a whole ... Don’t put it out there if you don't know what you're talking about ... if it's not something that you can back with integrity.

Any last thoughts on the class?

This class is absolutely amazing. It's given people who may not have thought about journalism an opportunity to say, ‘Hey, this is something I could explore, that maybe I can actually do because I am passionate about our stories or perspectives being heard for the first time.'

I'm really enjoying this class. The no judgment zone, the openness, and the information is so rich in a short amount of time. I think we with the support of everyone involved, that this will definitely be a success, at least for me.
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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.