High Ground’s Faith in Action series explores faith-based groups from congregations to nonprofits making deep and innovative investments in our On the Ground neighborhoods. Beyond charity and acts of goodwill, the series spotlights organizations that walk alongside residents and other neighborhood stakeholders to address unique and underserved needs.
Quincey Morris is planning this year’s Klondike-Smokey City National Night Out. It’s in October, and her list of things to do will grow before it shrinks.
Morris is executive director of the Klondike Smokey City CDC, located at 943 Vollintine Avenue. The center and its staff are small compared to many Memphis community development agencies, and they're one of only a few similar organization working in North Memphis.
Morris juggles much of the work herself, but in her multitasking, she knows there is one person she won’t need to call. History has proven he’ll get in touch with her first.
“There is very little that I [have to] ask of Pastor Cooper. He has his hands in everything that goes on in the community,” said Morris of the pastor’s uncanny ability to manifest when needed.
Colley Cooper is senior pastor of Hope City Church. It’s three years-old and meets on Sundays at Memphis Scholars Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary School, just across Vollintine from the CDC.
Morris says Cooper is the ideal urban minister who reaches beyond his church and flock.
Most folks in the neighborhood call him Pastor Coop, and he and his team of volunteers are Morris’ go-tos to spread the word about CDC events, programs, meetings and announcements. Without Hope City, Morris would struggle to keep residents informed, as many are seniors or extremely low income and don’t have regular access to tech-based communications.
“I just think that he does a fantastic job,” said Morris of Cooper. “We know those doors are going to be knocked on and those flyers are going to be passed out.”
Hope City has been a partner in promoting and volunteering for most of the CDC’s programs and events in the last three years, and Morris says the support has increased community involvement in CDC efforts.
Pastor Colley Cooper, senior pastor of Hope City Church, preaches on Sundays from the Memphis Scholars Caldwell-Guthrie Elementary School. The school is located adjacent to the Klondike Smokey City CDC. (Submitted)
Beyond Klondike and Smokey City
Hope City’s mission is to serve and minister to families living in North Memphis' 38107 ZIP code. That includes Klondike, Smokey City, New Chicago and Uptown.
Cooper said their strategy is to tackle the root issues plaguing the community rather than offer periodic charity initiatives.
“Beautification projects are good,” he said, but their priority is finding and connecting resources and partners and working together to address mental health and trauma and recruit businesses and a grocery store.
Hope City Church is a church plant. Church planting is when an existing church establishes a new church and supports it until it can sustain itself independently. Hope Presbyterian Church planted Hope City in 2015 and Cooper joined that May.
Hope City’s first service was held September 2016, more than a year after its formation, because Cooper’s time was largely dedicated to figuring out how best to serve. He moved his family nearby, began introducing himself to residents and leaders and listened for the need.
He attended CDC meetings and checking in with Morris every few weeks and built relationships with key connectors, pastors, school principals, organizations and business owners, including Memphis Athletic Ministries, Tanja Mitchell and Valerie Peavy in Uptown.
Related: “Soup, sandwich and a side of community at The Office @ Uptown cafe”
“They had stuff going on that I could take part in, participate in, not trying to do a revival or Bible study but just become a part of the life of the community,” said Cooper. “[If] you don't do that as a church planter, you're failing to really capture the ethos of the community.”
Preach What You Know
Cooper’s ministry work spans nearly 20 years and focuses primarily on families living in under-resourced neighborhoods who don’t attend church regularly. He got his start at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church in the South Memphis neighborhood of Westwood where he launched an outreach youth ministry and served as associate minister and assistant to the senior pastor.
Cooper describes himself as North Memphis born and Westwood bred and says his affinity for serving the disenfranchised is personal.
“I know the hood. I came from the hood,” he said.
When Cooper was 13 years-old, his mother suffered complications following a pregnancy and was no longer able to work. Cooper began selling drugs for extra cash and to fit in with the teens in the neighborhood. He developed an addiction to drugs and alcohol, and went to prison for manufacturing and distributing cocaine. He was released three years later, but the 21-year-old quickly started selling and using again.
In December 1990, Cooper met Rev. Dr. James Netters, senior pastor at Mt. Vernon.
Cooper asked Netters for help, and the two maintained a lifesaving spiritual relationship for years as Cooper struggled with addiction, homelessness and 10 stints in rehab until his last in 2001. Netters then began training Cooper in ministry work, and Cooper went on to earn an associate’s degree in divinity and B.S. in organizational leadership.
The youth ministry Cooper developed at Mt. Vernon specifically targeted the children of people he sold drugs to or did drugs with in his youth.
Volunteers pose after a community clean up event organized by the Klondike Smokey City CDC and supported by Hope City Church. (Submitted)
Dollars and door-knockers
Klondike Smokey City CDC was founded in 2003.
It tries to cater its offerings to the community’s asks and has facilitated parenting classes, tutoring, mentoring, home rehabs, domestic violence education. It's hosted events including back-to-school supply drives, neighborhood cleanups, an annual foster care parade and stop-the-violence rallies.
In 2017, the Kresge Foundation awarded the CDC $50,000 for an apprenticeship program for teen girls. It was one of the CDC’s biggest successes but ended when the grant ran out.
Related: “Klondike-Smokey City foster care festival advocates for keeping children in their communities”
Many of the CDC’s offerings have been one-off or short-lived, and securing funding for ongoing programming and operations is a recurring issue.
“I'm not fully staffed,” said Morris. “..[but] it's difficult to get funding for staff members because [most] grants exclude staff members.”
Cooper and his crew aren’t a permanent solution, but they are a critical stopgap that helps the CDC fulfill its basic needs and serve the community.
“Grants and money can help sustain an organization, but if you don't have people power, the decisions or the programs that we sponsor would be in vain,” said Morris.
Cooper’s ever-growing networks also benefit Klondike Smokey City CDC, as they represent potential connections with new partners, funders, volunteers and residents. Morris said the CDC has plans to build an independent living facility for their senior neighbors and Cooper and his connections will be a major asset.