High Ground's flagship series, On the Ground, embeds a team of journalists and photographers in Memphis neighborhoods for three to four months of intensive coverage.
We focus on neighborhoods that are typically under- or misrepresented by traditional media outlets, who often focus on challenges like crime or poverty without exploring the underlying causes or the people working on innovative, neighborhood-based solutions.
Since early September, we've reported from Hickory Hill. In that time, we've produced over 25 stories, three photo essays, and countless social media posts that showcase life in Hickory Hill.
We're moving now to North Memphis. We'll spend an unprecedented six months embedded in the area in order to cover the many small communities — from Bickford to Hyde Park to Douglass — in what's collectively known as North Memphis.
But first, we reflect on our time in Hickory Hill and what we'll take with us into the new year and future neighborhoods.
Hickory Hill was our twelfth On the Ground neighborhood but still presented many firsts. It's the youngest neighborhood we've covered, having only been incorporated into Memphis in 1999. It's the most suburban neighborhood we've covered, though Whitehaven
was very similar in that regard. It's one of the largest OTG neighborhoods, though Frayser
was the largest.
What made Hickory Hill unique was a combination of factors that include its age, size, suburban sprawl, and history of recent and very sudden disinvestment following its annexation.
The result is a community that offers some great amenities — plenty of single family homes at affordable prices, the largest public community center in Shelby County, newer schools and nicer roads that many neighborhoods — but is also missing much of the cohesive identity that other neighborhoods like Orange Mound
or South Memphis
leverage to bring people together for grassroots development and positive momentum.
What is usually a strong narrative within our embedded coverage — identity and grassroots solutions — was sparse in Hickory Hill.
For the High Ground team, there were few spaces in which to connect with large numbers of residents for story ideas of feedback on our coverage, which are both key aspects of our community-centered journalism model.
The Hickory Hill Community Center was a fantastic place to meet a cross section of the community but save for that location, a couple of events, and a few popular restaurants, the team struggled to connect with residents face-to-face.
While we made fewer individual connections in Hickory Hill than in most neighborhoods, the stakeholders we did meet were deeply dedicated. With such a large area to cover, each organization or individual may be engaged in work in their own small piece of Hickory Hill, but they see themselves as part of a larger movement to rebuild their community.
In December 19, the High Ground team hosted a thank you lunch with several of our closest neighborhood partners, including individual residents and representatives from Heart of Hickory Hill, Power Center CDC, World Overcomers Church's community development arm, and the Memphis Police Department.
While residents felt most media coverage focuses on crime in Hickory Hill and positions their neighborhoods as a community on a perilous decline, they see their community as generally safe and stable but in need of help to sustain its stabilization and move towards growth.
For example, where others see only a lost of countless chain retailers and big box stores, Hickory Hill's community leaders see that loss and the many local, minority-owned businesses that have reemerged in their absence.
It's a lesson on perspective and nuance that the High Ground team learns a little better with each new On the Ground neighborhood and certain learned in Hickory Hill.