As with many large cities, Memphis’ neighborhoods are in many ways communities in their own right, each with their own histories, anchor institutions and sets of challenges.
To help address those challenges, Joyce Cox was elected in May to be one of Memphis’ two representatives on the 21-person board of Neighborhoods USA
, a national nonprofit supporting neighborhood associations and community-based work.
Cox won 80 percent of the vote by NUSA members to fill the position.
“[NUSA's] mission is to build and strengthen neighborhood associations [and] promote productivity and development of communication and collaboration among those associations in both public and private sectors,” said Cox
Cox will be sworn in during a NUSA board meeting in Little Rock this October.
Who is Joyce Cox?
Cox is a graduate of the University of Memphis and holds a master's from Belhaven University. She's manager of the Office of Community Engagement for the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development and has had a decades-long career in community development and housing-related positions.
Cox join HCD 24 years ago. Before that she handled foreclosures for the retail credit division of First Tennessee Bank. The work was stressful and called for a lot of travel.
When her newborn son faced a complicated birth in 1994, she decided on a change.
“He weighed 9 pounds, 12 ounces. He was the biggest baby in intensive care. He almost died twice. They paralyzed him for 10 days. Then he came out of it,” said Cox.
She got a job with HCD working on its down payment assistance program.
“I saw people get homes who otherwise wouldn’t have gotten them," said Cox. "They were low-income families and they became homeowners. I was like, ‘This is where I need to be.'"
As HCD’s community engagement manager, Cox oversees a number of programs, initiatives, events and activities for Memphis residents and neighborhoods.
One of HCD's most robust programs is the How 2 Workshop Series
held at Benjamin L. Hooks Library every third Wednesday of the month. The series includes sessions like “How 2 Complete a Small Grant Application” or “How 2 Engage your Community from a Neighborhood Leader's Perspective."
Cox is also spearheading the Register Your Neighborhood campaign to update HCD’s neighborhood directory.
“That is something that I am really proud of because we want all of our neighborhood leaders, our neighborhood organizations to be part of our listing so they are connected,” said Cox.
Taking Memphis Neighborhoods Global
As a board member of NUSA, Cox will represent Memphis at annual conferences.
There, delegates from cities throughout the U.S., Canada, the Bahamas, Japan and Africa converge to share ideas and best practices for thriving and sustainable neighborhoods. Many of the delegates are grassroots leaders, but government officials, law enforcement and firefighters also fill the ranks of NUSA members.
“They talk about challenges, success stories, people coming together because challenges that neighborhoods have are not just germane to that neighborhood alone. Somebody has experienced it. Some people have resolved those issues," said Cox.
"So you share that information and then come back and say, 'They did this here, let us try it.'"
In 2016, Memphis hosted a national NUSA conference. Over 1,000 delegates descended on the city and toured over 30 neighborhoods, including Central Gardens, Glenview and Klondike.
Cox was the conference chair and lead organizer for that event.
“What they would do is tour the neighborhoods and then the neighborhood leaders would prepare a meal for them," said Ian Randolph, a NUSA member since 2003 and board member since 2016.
Cox and Randolph previously worked together as part of the organizing team for three regional NUSA conferences that drew attendants from Tennessee, Arkansas and Mississippi.
“Those were practice conferences for the NUSA conference that was held in 2016. We did three of those leading up to the NUSA Conference," said Randolph. "It was almost as intense as putting on the NUSA conference. It was just a little bit smaller because it was regional."
At the 2016 conference, the Memphis hosts also took the delegates to the Civil Rights Museum.
"The delegates had an opportunity to tour the facility. You would see people coming out in tears afterward," said Randolph. "People still talk about the Memphis conference."
Joyce Cox poses for a photo at a May 2019 Neighborhoods USA convening with a NUSA member from the Bahamas. (Joyce Cox)
Taste of Memphis at Tiger Lane
was also born from that conference and is now an annual event hosted by HCD in April.
Booths operated by neighborhood associations, community development corporations, faith-based organizations and nonprofits set up at Tiger Lane to highlight their work in Memphis neighborhoods. Food vendors and music are also on hand.
All of NUSA's conferences have competitions for categories like best neighborhood program, best newsletter and best podcast. Past entries from Memphis won the neighborhood and newsletter awards twice, along with one win for best podcast.
Currently, Randolph is the only NUSA board member from Memphis until Cox is sworn in. He chairs NUSA's board development team, and it was his idea to recruit Cox after previous board member, Tony Olden, left due to term limits.
“When the elections came up this go round, I called Joyce," said Randolph. "She is dedicated to neighborhoods and working with people to make them better."