Our Neighbors Our Stories explores the art, life, history and culture of Memphis neighborhoods and the shared story experiences of families and residents who shape them.
We were blessed to visit some of the oldest and most historic neighborhoods in the city. These communities are primarily occupied by people of color who either built communities like Orange Mound or Douglass dating back to 1890 or settled in semi established communities redlined for people of color working essential jobs in the city. Overtime, these communities learned to prosper and established a way of life that supplied social and economic prowess in and outside of the labor jobs required of them. Great schools like Booker T Washington, Manassas, LeMoyne Normal School were built to serve this growing demographic, primarily in what we call North and South Memphis. And for nearly a century, these areas prospered. Orange Mound, Douglass Park, Klondike, Binghampton, Smokey City, Alcy Ball, South Parkway, Frayser, Westwood and Whitehaven all presented proximity to commerce, faith, socialization and most importantly decent jobs. Eventually, at the turn of the mid twentieth century, dependable jobs slowly left these areas, putting a strain on the economy of these communities and a sizable shift in available resources and access to amenities they once enjoyed.By the dawn of the twenty-first century, some of these communities had felt the strain of white flight, the drug epidemic, declining property values, an aging infrastructure and residue from old factories and began to realize their communities in so many ways had been left behind. In recent years, many of these neighborhoods are trying to figure out how to maintain or restore investment back into their nearby spaces.
It was our desire to have meaningful conversations with neighborhood residents to gain their perspective on the place and space they call home. In 2019, we received the support of a national foundation to engage long time residents through recorded conversation and learn about their love and pride for the neighborhoods they either presently reside or grew up in. Our team set out to interview 300 families, residents, and community stakeholders, to understand three simple questions: what keeps them rooted in their community, what do they genuinely love about their community, and what are the future possibilities for their community? What started out as an exploratory documentary became of labor of love for our production crew and a crucible moment that opened the door to creating a dialogue with residents who not only love their community, but work everyday to do better by and for their community.
The result of our engagement efforts was the amplification of 700 voices, an amazing walk through more than 30 neighborhoods, documentation of 40 events throughout the city and much different measure of civic engagement and community pride; stories that will change your heart and make us respond differently, when we seek to understand.
”Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome while trying to succeed.”
— Booker T. Washington