Voices of More for Memphis: Rychetta Watkins of Memphis Music Initiative

Editor's Note: This interview was conducted by Tafui Owusu to help uplift the voices and stories of community members who have been instrumental in developing the More for Memphis plan. 

Rychetta Watkins, Memphis Music Initiative's Director of Grantmaking and Partnerships, currently resides in the Uptown area of Memphis and has been for the past thirteen years. Watkins shared how her name was derived from her father Richard Watkins who is now deceased.

“My mother thought that I was going to be an only child and decided to give my father a namesake and call me Richetta with an ‘i’ originally but was changed to ‘y’ after my mom took her best friend’s advice,” she explained in high esteem. “I am one of one!”  

Watkins' reasons for choosing to live in Uptown were because it's close to downtown Memphis near the river, it's walkable, and it's a neighborhood where you can enjoy all of the food/attractions and still be a homeowner.

In light of redeveloping the area, she wanted to be a part of shifting the narrative of the neighborhood so that people could get the resources needed to thrive as a community. It's what compelled Watkins to learn more about the arts and culture sector of Memphis.

“We are world-renowned in Memphis for our culture,” Watkins expressed. “Along with the great food and rich heritage, the city is setting trends in contemporary soul and rap. Even the way the young folks dress and wear their hair sparks interest from others outside of the city,” echoed Watkins.

Her concern is that those responsible for creating such a unique vibe here fail to benefit from this renowned reputation. Watkins believes this failure is a result of not cultivating an environment where culturemakers are valued nor are they aware of the significant worth they add to this city. “We have a lot of people who are recognized for doing amazing things but they struggle to survive and that’s not right!” she said.

Rychetta Watkins.
These are community-based and grassroots folks (mostly Black and Brown) who are making the music, cooking the food, and creating the moments that draw and feed the souls of others from their lived experiences. She went on to say that this is how these artists develop their expertise to perform at a great level. More importantly, without the infrastructure to do so, Memphians tend to take that for granted. 

Watkins noted that the residents of Memphis show little to no support for the “diamonds” in this city. “People love us!” she exclaimed, so the inhabitants who make culture and express their art should without a doubt have the backing of our neighbors. 

As we wrapped up our conversation, Watkins focused on terms like equity and access to create a pathway for a better quality of life. The institutions of performing arts and museums are mainly clustered along the Poplar Ave. corridor which makes it inaccessible to most community members who reside in the inner city.

She proposed that Memphis should have an office of Arts & Culture, and with this strategic leadership for this civic sector, policies can be created to protect artists and provide resources for every community to have projects in their neighborhood.

Watkins also agrees that this proposal would allow all Memphians — from our children to our seniors — an experience of who we are. She notes that an office of Arts & Culture could support opportunities to bring people to the table to plan for education, workforce, and economic development.

“Having this civic liaison represent the Arts & Culture sector during these discussions could ensure that their concerns are addressed from the beginning,” said Watkins. “This type of accountability allows for creatives to be plugged in from the onset of planning Memphis’ next project.”
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Read more articles by Tafui Owusu.

Tafui Owusu (formerly Shelia Williams) is a resident of the Bickford-Bearwater area of North Memphis and a graduate of the second High Ground News Community Correspondents program. She is also a board commissioner for MATA.