High Ground's newest Community Correspondents explore the More for Memphis plan

Since the top of the year, the High Ground News team has been dedicated to thoroughly exploring the More for Memphis (MFM) plan and the positive impact it aims to bring to the neighborhoods and communities of Memphis.

More for Memphis is a comprehensive plan initiative that offers an opportunity to build the Memphis we all want to see, ensuring that everyone can thrive regardless of their zip code. They have developed a multifaceted set of approaches to enhance social and economic mobility within Memphis and Shelby County, particularly in the Black and Brown communities.

For our signature 'On The Ground' series, we invited six local community-level journalists, known as Community Correspondents, to help dissect the MFM plan and share the stories of Memphis residents who are working hard for a better tomorrow. 

The six Community Correspondents (Diana Barreto, Carlton Brown, Joyce Howard, Javonii Merritt-Hunter, Yolanda Spinks, and Danica Wilks) were chosen from a diverse pool of applicants, representing various neighborhoods and communities across the city. Each correspondent was tasked with creating a story that elevates the voices of their respective communities around MFM's six focus areas: 

- Community Development
- Economic Development
- Education & Youth
- Arts & Culture
- Health & Well-being
- Justice & Safety 

Each participant was required to attend three weekly 1.5-hour workshops where they would be introduced to the Community Correspondents program. 

During their time with a facilitator, they explored the five tenets of the curriculum: 

- Introduction to journalism and solutions journalism
- Crafting a story from pitch to publication
- Identifying and interviewing sources
- The editing process
- Identifying your topic

Having had the opportunity to interview two cohorts of the class, I believe now is the perfect time to introduce you to their experiences of taking the journalism course. First, I would like for you to meet Ms. Diana Barreto.

High Ground News: What made you want to take the Community Correspondent writing class? 
Diana Barreto.
Diana Barreto: "I've always been interested in writing about Latinos in Memphis since college. I did research projects, interviewed Spanish-speaking churchgoers and food truck owners, and conducted an ethnography in a Latinx neighborhood. I believe there's a lack of representation of Southern stories and Latinos in the media."

HGN: So how long have you been in Memphis? 

Diana Barreto: "I was brought to the U.S. when I was seven years old and I'm about to be 29, and I've lived here in my place that entire time. I graduated from Overton High School."

HGN: What are you hoping to gain from the More for Memphis plan? 

Diana Barreto: "The articles we're writing need to focus on the areas created by the More for Memphis plan, including arts, community, justice, engaging youth, and education. Advocates in the Latinx community have highlighted the language barrier non-English speakers face when accessing services. It's something that I believe is missing from the More for Memphis plan. There's no discussion of the challenges non-English speakers encounter when accessing the education system, the criminal justice system, or public services at places like the DMV."

HGN: What did you think about the training itself?

Diana Barreto: "I loved the workshop. I wasn't familiar with the concept of solutions-based journalism until I participated in the workshops. Learning about it was interesting to me because it aligns with what I have always aspired to do. I assume everyone who joined the workshop wants to contribute to making Memphis a better place for all of us to live in. We all want to offer solutions for the things we see happening around us in Memphis through our writing. I wasn't familiar with that concept before, but learning about it was really eye-opening."

HGN: What's the one thing you would like to tell Memphians about this plan?

Diana Barreto: "Throughout its history, Memphis has been predominantly divided between Black and white residents, but this is no longer the case. Over the past 30 years, many individuals have relocated to Memphis and have contributed to its development. It's important to recognize that the perspectives and experiences of all people are equally valuable to the growth of Memphis. Looking ahead, my main concern is ensuring that all experiences within the city are genuinely included. This entails considering not only race, ethnicity, and language, but also gender identity and ability. How can we ensure that everyone is included and that the city progresses? We need to take a step forward and include everybody."
Danica Wilks.
Next, I would like to introduce you to Ms. Danica Wilks, a native North Memphian. She works in Workforce Development, specifically with youth, conducts career readiness workshops, and helps individuals craft their resumes to pursue careers they are passionate about. 

High Ground News: Why did you want to be a part of the Community Correspondent writing class?

Danica Wilks: "One of the main reasons I was intrigued by this project is that I am a community advocate. I am involved in many activities around the city, and when I saw the opportunity for us to tell stories about the beauty within our neighborhoods, as opposed to always focusing on the challenges, I was very excited about it. I have attended festivals, and cultural events, and met passionate individuals who are striving to bring positive change to the city. While I understand that challenges exist, I believe it's important to highlight the people and organizations working to address them. My goal is to purposely share these stories.

As I became more familiar with the details of this plan, a few things stood out to me. One of the key goals is to reduce poverty which I believe is at the root of many of the issues we see in our community such as crime and challenges faced by our youth. In reality, Memphis has not been willing to provide livable wages to many of its residents, leading to a sense of disinvestment in the community. While poverty is not the sole cause of these challenges, it is certainly a significant factor. As someone who works with young people, I was particularly drawn to the emphasis on youth development and community building in the plan. Additionally, I strongly resonated with the focus on arts and culture as well as the need for justice and safety in our city. I believe that intentional investments in our community can lead to positive changes and I am eager to be a vocal advocate for this plan."

HGN: How did you hear about the writing class?

Danica Wilks: "I saw a post on Facebook from High Ground News about an opportunity to become a Community Correspondent and report on neighborhood issues and solutions. I attended an interest meeting held by Emily [Trenholm], and then I submitted my application. I was selected to be part of the group. Before that, I hadn't heard much about the "More for Memphis" plan. I'm pretty active in my community and often attend community events. I also serve on the board of the Valentine Evergreen Community Association."

HGN: How did you feel about the training?

Danica Wilks: "The training was very well-organized. One thing that stood out was when Cole [Bradley] said that everyone can be a journalist and have a voice to advocate for their communities. I left feeling empowered. I've always been a writer and storyteller, and the training helped structure my love for writing."

HGN: Is there something specific you'd like to share about the More for Memphis plan or anything else about Memphis?

Danica Wilks: "It's crucial for all of us to show up in our communities in any way we can. Whether it's through making connections, being a friend or neighbor, or engaging with children, our communities need us to be present. We should use our talents and not be afraid to connect with new people, organize, or build relationships. By showing up and being intentional, we have the power to transform our communities.

One of the things that is clear to me is the constant need for the stories of our communities to be told by those of us who believe in and support change for Memphis and Shelby County. We can no longer remain stagnant and hope for the best for our city.

We must dare to have the courage to address some of the systemic issues that have far too long contributed to some of the root causes that continue to plague our fragile neighborhoods and communities. The "More for Memphis" plan faces significant work ahead, but our collective efforts can make a lasting impact."
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