North Memphis

Local SPARCC operations moving from BLDG Memphis to Center for Transforming Communities

After a three-year run managed by BLDG Memphis, SPARCC is moving to a new local operating partner, the Center for Transforming Communities. CTC is a faith-based community development organization dedicated to rebuilding disinvested neighborhoods.

Strong Prosperous And Resilient Communities Challenge or SPARCC is a nationwide funding and resource partner that invests in local endeavors to reduce racial disparities and create opportunities for community members to live health lives and build thriving neighborhoods.

In Memphis, SPARCC is location-based with a focus on North Memphis. 

BLDG Memphis' operating agreement with SPARCC ran from February 2017 through December 2019. To distinguish the transition to CTC, the nonprofit is rebranding their SPARCC partnership as SPARCC 2.0.

CTC is also hosting a SPARCC 2.0 kickoff event on February 15.

Hip hop artist and North Memphis native Tauheed Rahim II, who performs under the stage name Marco Pavé, will participate in a conversation on art, economics, and community building with CTC's executive director, Justin Merrick.

The forum will be public. The location has not been finalized.

The event is presented in partnership with ArtUp, which just received a $25,000 grant from the Neighborhood Collaborative for Resilience to support creative entrepreneurs in North Memphis. NCR is funded by SPARCC. 

“It will be a conversation about community development, economic development and entrepreneurship, and the work to be done in North Memphis,” said CTC's managing director, Shay Stevens. 

Neighbors FUnding Change 

BLDG Memphis launched NCR as a way to ensure North Memphis residents had a voice in how SPARCC dollars were spent in their community. The NCR is a coalition of residents and other key stakeholders who collaborate on solutions to North Memphis' big challenges.

“We wanted to create a collaborative working space so community members could have visions and a voice,” said BLDG Memphis' SPARCC project manager, Deveney Perry.

Through the NCR, SPARCC resources helped with the construction of three affordable senior homes near the Bickford Community Center.

Related: “BLDG Memphis marks 20 years as a collective voice for equitable development.”

The Midtown Mosque also received $40,000 towards construction of a grocery store in North Memphis. The grocery store would be an extension of the mosque's Table Spread Food Pantry, which has been in operation since 2016.

“They are wanting to build out so that they can provide a green grocer for small-scale, everyday shopping,” said Perry.

Justin Merrick with CTC and Deveney Perry with BLDG Memphis stand front and center at the BLDG Memphis office, as BLDG Memphis prepares to transfer local operations of SPARCC to CTC. (Center for Transforming Communities)

The Work to do—Race, Climate, and Health

SPARCC has three focus areas—racial equity, climate resilience, and health. 

“Everything is driven by racial equity,” Perry said of SPARCC's mission. “Three modes of racial equity are equitable development, housing, and entrepreneurship. Those are economic pillars of life [with] racial inequity that shows up in where we live and how we live.”

Related: "Seeing Red: Mapping 90 years of redlining in Memphis"

SPARCC partners with national networks and works closely with similar racial equity groups in Chicago, Oakland, Atlanta, Los Angeles, Denver, and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Food access is one of North Memphis' biggest health and justice issues. There is only one large grocer with a selection of fresh produce in the roughly 15.5 square-miles of North Memphis.

“A good portion of North Memphis is just within the space of a food desert,” said Perry. “There’s a Save A Lot store on Jackson Avenue, and that’s very far. There aren’t [high] quality grocery stores that aren’t 10 buses away [from] North Memphis.”

A lack of spaces that promote health is also a concern.

“We don’t have any private industry fitness centers or anything like that in North Memphis,” said Perry. “There are only a few community centers in North Memphis that do have something other than just a basketball gym.”

There are five community centers located in North Memphis and several parks. Some are well-appointed while others offer few amenities.

The Bickford community center has one of the city's few indoor public pools, a well-attended senior citizen day program, and an after-school center for youth. That program is operated by Oasis of Hope and includes the AngelStreet girl's choir, homework help, and more.

In November 2019, a walking trail was installed at the Hollywood Community Center. The one-mile trail is outside and outlined by illustrated footsteps.

Frequent flooding sits at the intersection of race, economics, health, and climate resiliency.

Large portions of North Memphis experience flooding in streets, yards, and parks after thunderstorms or upstream snows and melts. When the Mississippi River is high, Downtown gets much of the attention while North Memphis, Frayser, and Millington are much more likely to see major damage. 

“What type of impact does that have on home ownership or people that are renting, especially the state of the housing stock?” said Perry.
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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 (Photo by April Stilwell)