Hickory Hill comedy show brought laughs, raised dollars for community

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Residents and supporters of Hickory Hill were treated to a night of top-tier comedy on August 13 and for a great cause — a fundraiser benefiting Hearts of Hickory Hill.

Hearts of Hickory Hill is a non-profit organization found in 2018 to bring new resources, assets and activities to the residents of Hickory Hill. The event was held at Prive Memphis, a restaurant and bar located at 6980 Winchester Road.

“It was a packed house,” said Helen Collins, CEO of Hearts of Hickory Hill and a resident of neighborhood since 1999. “It was more people than I anticipated."

Collins said the show raised a little over $1,000.

"The purpose for the show and our organization is to revitalize the community," she said. 

The organization is still brainstorming what to do with the money collected from the fundraiser.

“We’re going to use it for security in parts of the neighborhood, but we haven’t decided how or where,” she said, noting that police-monitored cameras may be a possibility.

One of the comedians who performed Tuesday night was Latoya Polk. Polk has been featured on "Kevin Hart Presents: Hart of the City" on Comedy Central and is the founder and director of the Memphis Urban Laughs Comedy Festival, an local annual comedy festival that centers Black and African American comics.

Polk is also Collin's daughter and helped her organize the Aug 13 event. 

Polk said the comedians were surprised to discover that in addition to community members and civilian comedy lovers, the audience was full of police officers. She said they were intimidating with their steady stares, looking tough in their uniforms. But the officers, like other audience members, were there for a good time and the performers adapted like true professionals.

“It actually gave us more material,” said Polk. “[The officers] really enjoyed themselves.”

Another comedian who had the audience howling with laughter was Anaisha Robinson, known as Tootie 2Times by her fans.

“I volunteered because it was a charity event, and I grew up in the neighborhood," said Robinson. "I was honored to give back to the community."

Robinson said she wants to be a positive example for the children in Hickory Hill.

“I would love to see great things happen to the kids because they're going to be the ones taking care of us in the future," she said. "Like Whitney Houston said, 'The children are the future.' We need to give them hope.”

Polk recognizes that there is a contrast between the Hickory Hill of today and the past.

“Hickory Hill is not what it used to be. It was an upper-class neighborhood in the '90s," said Polk. "But it is rebuilding ... It's not a bad neighborhood, but not what it used to be.”

Collins sees the same realities but is optimistic about the neighborhood's future.

“When people see Hickory Hill, they see 'Hickory Hood' on the outside, but that's not the truth," said Collins. “That's not what it is. I see a vibrant community, potential growth and things that can get us back to where we once were. I see it not as a community but its own little city.”

Collins said she has seen the neighborhood in worse times and has seen things gradually improving, and events like the comedy show are a step in the right direction.

“There was a time when I felt that we were a declining community," she said. "But as the months and weeks go by, I see rebirth.”

Read more articles by A. J. Dugger III.

A.J. Dugger III is an award-winning journalist and native Memphian who joined High Ground as lead writer for its signature series, On the Ground, in August 2019. Previously, he wrote for numerous publications in West Tennessee and authored two books, “Southern Terror” and “The Dealers: Then and Now.” He has also appeared as a guest expert on the true-crime series, “For My Man.” For more information, visit ajdugger.net. (Photo by April Stilwell)
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