The Klondike Smokey City Community Development Corp., works to shape a brighter future for this North Memphis neighborhood. It starts with its longtime executive director.
North Memphis is gaining attention with the recent $1 million award through the Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge.
And while community leaders begin the work of forging a greater future for North Memphis, they’re adding to work Quincey Morris and the Klondike Smokey City Community Development Corp. has undertaken for decades.
The Klondike Smokey City CDC represents the two adjoining North Memphis neighborhoods that sit between Manassas Street on the west, Watkins Street on the east, Chelsea Avenue on the north and Jackson Avenue on the south. Breedlove Street separates Smokey City from its eastern neighbor Klondike.
The Klondike Neighborhood Association and the Klondike Community Development Corp. began in 1996, and both groups later merged in 1999. The Smokey City community was added in 2003, forming the Klondike Smokey City Community Development Corp.
Morris grew up in Klondike and raised children in the community. She’s been involved since 1996 as executive director of the CDC.
“I got tricked,” she said. “My mother was a very civic-minded person. It’s probably in my blood. She did a lot of civic stuff. When we went to meetings I was usually the youngest in the group. That’s when the city started talking about CDCs. They said, ‘You go learn that.’ And that’s what I did.”
"...Everybody will know Quincy Morris was here and I did something."
She retired from a career in the health care industry in 2000 and has since worked full time at the CDC which is located at 943 Vollintine Avenue.
One of Morris’ long-term goals is to see new housing come to the community particularly where there are vacant lots today. Turning blighted and empty lots into new housing could be the shot in the arm Klondike Smokey City needs.
But even without a strong housing component to its work, the Klondike Smokey City CDC finds other ways to help the community.
“Our goal is once we start building houses we want our residents equipped to live in them and maintain them,” Quincey said.
Emily Trenholm, executive director of Community Development Council of Greater Memphis, said Morris’ model of community building stands out from other CDCs in the city.
“They do a lot of neighborhood improvement projects. She (Morris) does a fantastic job of reaching out to the county and city. She has a lot of partnerships by virtue of working in the community for so many years,” Trenholm said. “People see her as a trusted ally and they’ll do what she asks. She’s well known and a quiet force to advocate for that neighborhood.”
A lifelong resident of the Klondike Smokey City area, Morris labors to improve quality of life for her neighbors.
The Klondike Smokey City CDC offices are located in a house that was built in 2009 at 943 Vollintine Ave. The old Klondike Civic Club gave the site to the CDC. It’s a house where those in the community who want to see it move forward come together. Morris prefers to call it a resource center.
Its goals are “to help our neighbors establish and maintain a certain quality of life, to bring revitalization and economic growth to our communities and help restore the historical status of both communities.” The CDC achieves those goals, in part, by partnering with other organizations to provide programs such as parenting classes, mentoring services, tutoring and housing assistance.
In 2016 the CDC helped facilitate a grant for an apprenticeship program for young girls in the area. Morris felt there was a missing piece in the neighborhood connecting African-American girls with mentors.
“We knew there was an older generation heavily present in the neighborhood but also this other notch missing,” said Brittany Bullock, an artist who worked with the girls through the Klondike Smokey City CDC. “We were charged to be that missing piece. Myself and two artists served as mentors.”
Participants screen print posters in the Klondike Smokey City apprenticeship program.
The girls created an art brand focused on screen-printed posters and spent time with their mentors talking about social issues, ranging from bullying to issues at home. Eight girls were hired to participate in the program, but one of them was tragically killed during the program’s run.
Bullock said the program’s importance was obvious from that point. She hopes it can continue in the future if funding is secured.
That art apprenticeship program is just one example of how the Klondike Smokey City CDC works to make a difference in the neighborhood.
The CDC became involved in work with the state Department of Children’s Services several years ago. More children in the 38107 ZIP code, which includes Klondike Smokey City, were in foster care than anywhere in the state.
The two agencies created a collaborative that cuts down on the time children spend in custody. The CDC funds the Kinship Cares program and its Christmas brunch that provides gifts for children.
Quincy Morris seen through the window of the Klondike Smokey City CDC.
Morris said the transient nature of the community makes it harder for the CDC to communicate services that are available. It seems there is always a new audience that needs to hear its mission.
“When I lived on Alaska Street my neighbors all knew each other,” she said. “When I go now and say hi and see some of the young people that used to be there we talk. The only thing that’s changed is we have more new people coming in.
There is a high turnover of rental people in Klondike. They don’t know the neighborhood.”
And so Morris’ work continues to help spread the word of the rich African-American history of the community while looking ahead to what’s possible in North Memphis.
“I’m trying to fill as many young minds. I feel like it’s important that the younger generation learn and know what to do and how to do it,” Morris said. “As the old folk say, I’m sending up timber. When I die God won’t have to say, ‘What did you do?’ When He calls my name and I answer everybody will know Quincey Morris was here and I did something.