North Memphis

Memphis' Newest Reporters: Meet Community Correspondent Tamara Cunningham

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 Tamara Cunningham 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 Tamara Cunningham

Her family moved to the Bickford-Bearwater area just under two years ago from Arlington, Tennessee. Her husband is pastor of Greater Faith Baptist Church in Bickford and wanted their family to become part of the community to best serve it.

"Not 'change,' not 'improve' but to serve," said Cunningham. "I jumped on board because I realize you can't serve from a distance."

Cunningham grew up in South Memphis and said she wanted to be a journalist most of her life. She spent a summer interning at the Tri-State Defender and has written a few stories for small, community-based audiences.

"I love learning new facts about the people in the city and now being a Community Correspondent opens the dam on that in a neighborhood I'm so proud to live in and serve in," she said. 


Why’d you apply to the Community Correspondents program?
I had always wanted to be a reporter. I remember Oscar the Grouch being interviewed by one, and I thought her job was so cool. As I got older and my Aunt Ola Belle would bring me Right On magazines, I recall seeing Cynthia Horner, then editor in chief, interview all the stars I wanted to meet and that sealed my career choice.

What are your community’s bright spots?
The people. There is something about the character and flavor of Memphis folks that you simply don't get anywhere else 

What are some of the big challenges in the neighborhood?
Lack of resources, like jobs within walking or bike ride distance, no place to purchase "decent" clothes. If a child has a school project and parents have no transportation, there is no place to purchase supplies. Trash is everywhere.

What topics do you want to highlight in your writing?
People and business that have stayed here. Who are our school administrators and can the neighborhood help our schools? Who owns that property, wherever it might be, and why aren't they keeping it up? Is living in the senior community that's located in Bickford truly safer than living outside its gates?

Some other story ideas I have are: "What happened to the First Tee?" "Why aren't there bicycle and scooter rentals near me?" "How is Vibe Barber College still doing school in the pandemic?" "How is COVID-19 effecting the halfway houses and those being released from incarceration?"

What would you say to media and Memphians who live outside of your neighborhood about those misconceptions?
It shouldn't be commented on unless you live here. Outside looking in is not the same as being here. Stop talking about it and act against the negative.

Any last thoughts on the Community Correspondents class?
This is wonderful experience. I love the idea of sidewalk journalism and offering beneficial reporting in a news dessert. 
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

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.