Black Lives Matter Group Plans Protest Outside Of Graceland During Elvis Week

By Courtney Anderson

Why Graceland?

Memphis,TN residents and the city’s chapter of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens have planned a Black Lives Matter protest outside of Graceland during Elvis Week.

It’s a bold move that has many questioning its appropriateness.

After all, Graceland is a major tourist attraction for Memphis.

Tourists, both national and international, pay good money to travel to Elvis’s home and participate in Elvis Week impressions, tours and vigils.

Protesting in front of it could potentially cause an economic hit to the attraction.

But maybe that’s the point.

According to a statement released by the Coalition of Concerned Citizens, the protest is a demonstrative rally against the “social injustice, police brutality, and socio-economic disparity” in the city of Memphis.

The socio-economic disparity felt by many in the city is a major concern for local leaders.

According to the group, that’s why Graceland is an appropriate place of action.

“Graceland was chosen as a protest site because it demonstrates one of Memphis’s most common forms of financial inequity,” the group’s statement reads.

Graceland is located right in the center of Whitehaven, a predominantly Black and almost entirely working-class neighborhood.

And while the museum brings in a lot of money, many citizens of Whitehaven don’t see that money being reflected in the state of roads, housing, and places of employment surrounding the house.

Whitehaven is victim to unevenly paved roads with potholes, empty buildings lining the streets and low-wage jobs moving in and only employing a few people.

The city of Memphis has made a promise to revitalize the area.

According to a report from WMC Action News 5, the Memphis City Council advanced a $43 million plan that would “expand and enhance the Whitehaven community.”

“This is Whitehaven, and the people of Whitehaven care about their community,” councilman Harold Collins said during that meeting in 2012.

The reconstruction is set to take place on Elvis Presley Blvd and includes new restaurants, businesses, new light fixtures and repaved roads.

There is also supposed to be a gate to Elvis Presley Blvd from the interstate.

So far, the only project that is underway and near completion is a new 450-room “Guest House” at the Graceland Hotel.

According to WREG News Channel 3, the Guest House cost $92 million and is set to open on October 27, 2016.

A recent Memphis Daily News editorial also claimed that $38.7 million of that money came from a “5 percent tourism surcharge on Graceland tickets and other Graceland items.”

The Graceland estate released a statement saying that those claims were false, and that the Graceland project has not received any money from the city or county.

“All financial risks associated with the construction, completion and continuing operations of expansion projects in Whitehaven will be borne by Graceland and related entities, not the taxpayers of Memphis and Shelby Count,” the statement reads. “The tax incentives for the project are based solely on Graceland’s performance and are site-specific, limited to the Graceland campus.”

Members of the coalition remain skeptical of the benefits of the Guest House to the larger community of Whitehaven.

“Project developers and city officials promised Whitehaven residents the project would be an economic boon to the community but, as has been case for decades, residents have seen little if any of that money ‘trickle down’ into the middle-class neighborhood’s economy. This is not an uncommon story,” the coalition’s statement reads.

That’s why the Graceland protest, named #OperationBlueSuedeShoes, is still a go for 6 p.m. on Monday, August 15, 2016.

Stay with RISE NEWS as we bring you updates to this story as it develops.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Photo Credit: Lindsey Turner/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Recent Deaths Force Memphis To Confront Its Problems With Crime And A Lack Of Opportunities For Young People

By Courtney Anderson

MEMPHIS, TN- This southern city is renowned for its importance in American culture. It is sadly also known as one of the most violent cities in the country, with a violent crime rate that is nearly three times that of the entire state of Tennessee.

Local news reports the deaths of Memphis citizens nearly every day.

With the recent deaths of 18-year-old Myneisha Johnson, who was only a week away from graduating high school, and Memphis police officer Verdell Smith, city government officials have sworn to fight back against crime.

Memphis mayor Jim Strickland promised to create even more efforts against crime, and released his plan on June 6.

Strickland’s plans, titled “Better Memphis,” calls for more police officer patrols, improved communication between MPD, highway patrol and sheriff deputies and more close monitoring of past offenders.

“We have to do a lot more as a city government and as a community,” Strickland said in a statement on June 9. “As a city government, we need more police officers. We need coordination with the sheriff and the state.”

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The website for the Memphis Police Department has a statement about the department’s dedication to crime prevention and several examples of programs created to curtail crime.

“The Crime Prevention efforts of the Memphis Police Department seek to combine prevention, intervention, and law enforcement in a partnership effort with the community to combat crime,” the Memphis Police Department site states.

The Memphis Police Department’s website features the Community Outreach Program (also known as C.O.P), the Neighborhood Watch, “Memphis’s Night Out Against Crime” and other programs.

The MPD has also increased their presence on the often-crowded Beale Street and those who visit the famous street are charged a $10 cover fee.

And yet, crime in Memphis still seems to be on the rise.

Crime despite increased policing indicates other issues besides police presence in the city. While the MPD is experiencing a low enrollment rate and have experienced a severe cut in funding, the communities that experience the most crime still have heavy police presence. Memphis’s problems do not seem to have come from a lack of policing.

Memphis’s main issues seem to stem from an uneven distribution of the city’s money and resources.

It is no secret that the areas of Memphis that experience the most crime (the Frayser and South Memphis areas being two of the most prominent) are the ones that have the least community centers, schools and other educational resources.

Even Strickland admits that part of the problem comes from the fact that the 18-24 age group doesn’t have much to do.

“The frustrating thing for people is, they want immediate results,” Strickland said in an interview with a local news station. “Nationally, we were the worst in the country in the percent of young people, aged 18-24, who were not in school and who did not have a job. We need to create more programming for young people to have something to do when they’re not in school.”

The city of Memphis has closed several elementary, middle and high schools throughout the years. Most recently, the city closed down George Washington Carver High School, which was located in South Memphis.

Another high school, Northside High, is also supposed to be closed in 2017.  

And there is the uneven number of community centers across the city.

There are 24 community centers in Memphis, but while there are nine of them in North Memphis, there are only four in South Memphis.

Not to mention the fact that the centers do not have consistent hours or programming.

The onus for protecting children and teenagers in Memphis often falls on the parents and neighborhood churches and organizations run by citizens.

“The families of these troubled youths, the churches, the communities, the non-profits. We all have to step up and do more,” Strickland stated.

Luckily, they have.

Churches in North Memphis and Frayser have worked to create summer day camps and educational after-school programs.

Major churches often hold citywide prayers and discussions about preventing crime and helping Memphis youth. And they do it on their own dimes.

While city funding for schools, city-run programs for young Memphis citizens, and the police and fire departments seem absent, funding for new corporations seems to create a paradox.

One recent example is ServiceMaster Co., which was awarded a $5.5 million grant to renovate and move into the vacant Peabody Place building in downtown Memphis.

ServiceMaster, along with the Turner Dairy Foods and TAG truck services, were granted tax breaks by the Economic Development and Growth Engine.

And then there is the Memphis Riverfront Corporation and the long-delayed Beale Street Landing.

In 2014, it was estimated that the Beale Street Landing would cost $43 million. Back then, the city council voted to provide another $600,000 to the construction and restore funds the city had previously cut.

It’s hard to square the image of a financially strapped city that can’t pay for schools and one that gives payment in lieu of taxes to major corporations. It’s a juxtaposition that may give many Memphis citizens pause.

When you look at these situations, you see a city that needs to reorder its priorities. Memphis citizens, who have been trying to follow Strickland’s “advice” to do more, need a boost from the city. There is only so much a community can do with little money and resources.

In order for the city to truly advance, the government will have to provide more support to its citizens. And the support will have to come in some form other than more police officers.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Joel/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

Spend A Night At The Lorraine Motel For History And Progress

By Courtney Anderson

MEMPHIS, TN- The Lorraine Motel is a renowned institution that has both a dark and hopeful history.

Famous guests of the motel include Jackie Robinson, Isaac Hayes and B.B. King. At its peak, the motel was high-end, hosting the biggest black stars, politicians and activists of the day.

The iconic “Lorraine Motel” sign has lasted through history as a symbol for a safe place of black people to come and stay.

The motel is best known however for a tragic reason.

The motel, located on 450 Mulberry Street, is the site of one of the most famous assassinations in the whole of human history. 

In 1968, Dr. Martin Luther King came to Memphis for the Sanitation Worker’s Strike. On April 3, 1968, King gave his famous “I’ve Been to the Mountain Speech,” in which he urged sanitation workers to keep pushing forward for their rights. King did not want the fight to end in Memphis.

But King’s fight did end in Memphis. On April 4, 1968, King was assassinated on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel. From then on, the Lorraine Motel was known as the place where King drew his last breath.

Following King’s death, the Lorraine Motel fell on extremely hard times. Its owner, Walter Bailey, was unable to continue to pay for it and declared bankruptcy in 1982. The motel was about to be shut down, until an organization called “Save the Lorraine” bought it for a measly $144,000. It was then that the motel would be prepped to take on its new life.

Years later, the Lorraine Motel became home to and one of the most attended attractions of the National Civil Rights Museum in Memphis.

The room where King stayed, room 306, has been preserved. The museum is filled with interactive exhibits, movies and artifacts from the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s. Attendance is free on Mondays, so that more of the public can wander through the halls of history.

The museum has been home to many events and speakers, including a poetry reading and interview with the poet, Nikki Giovanni, and a reading festival hosted by actress Kathy Bates and activist Ruby Bridges, the first black person to integrate a school after the Brown v. Board of Education decision.

The spot where MLK was shot and killed. Photo Credit: Mr. Littlehand/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

The spot where MLK was shot and killed. Photo Credit: Mr. Littlehand/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

And on June 4, 2016, the museum is hosting another historical event.

The National Civil Rights Museum is hosting the “Night at the Lorraine” event from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m.

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Organized by museum employee Jeanette O’Bryant, the event is being held to “celebrate the vibrant history of the Lorraine Motel for the benefit of the National Civil Rights Museum.”

The event will feature live music, food catered by Memphis restaurants, a silent auction and tours of the museum.  

Those who attend the event will be able to see how well-preserved everything is.

The 1959 Dodge Royal and 1968 Cadillac are still parked outside, right underneath the white wreath that hangs from of the balcony where King died.

The font of the “Lorraine Motel” sign is still the same and so are the colors. The song Mahalia Jackson sung at King’s funeral still plays in room 306 and the adjacent hallway.

But the history isn’t the only thing attendees will see.

Event volunteer Nicole Gates, who initially heard about “Night at the Lorraine” through email, says the museum has seen some upgrades. Gates said it sounded like a “really fun” event that could show off new aspects of the museum and motel.

“I think it’s a great idea getting Memphians out to see this amazing renovation and walk through of the civil rights movement,” Gates said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “Having this event at night will expose more people to the newly renovated venue.”

According to the National Civil Rights Museum website, renovations began in 2013 and have cost over $27.5 million.

The online description of the updates states that the changes, “reminds visitors of its charge to keep pushing civil rights issues forward.”

Gates said she hopes this event will encourage native Memphians to visit the museum, the Lorraine Motel and all of its history.

“Although I am not a native Memphian, I have been to the old museum and have seen the renovations of the new museum,” Gates said. “I find it absolutely amazing to meet people that were born and raised in Memphis, but have never visited the museum. I hope this changes the game.”

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Carl Wycoff/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

“Dry Katrina”: In Memphis, Hundreds Of Families Are Being Forced Out Of The City’s Last Public Housing Units

By Courtney Anderson

MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE- More than 700 families in the city of Memphis are at risk of losing their homes due to a mandatory relocation that some are equating to a manmade disaster.

This displacement comes from the mandatory relocation of residents from apartment buildings that were found to have housing code enforcement violations.

The residents were living in government subsidized housing units- the last such project in the city until the owner of the buildings lost HUD funding according to local paper The Commercial Appeal.

If they are made to relocate, many residents say that they will have nowhere to go.

But one organization in Memphis is working to provide assistance to residents in need.

For the better part of a year, The Mid South Peace and Justice Center (MSPJC), in Memphis, has been working on a renter’s rights collective to addresses the issues that led to the possible relocation of hundreds of Memphis citizens.

MSPJC director Bradley Watkins describes the collective as an effort to “engage in renter’s rights and training workshops on how tenants can form their own tenant associations,” in order to eventually create a network of organizations in Memphis—or “Memphis Tenant’s Union—” that work to protect the rights of tenants in the city.

In short, they are trying to stop what Watkins has dubbed as Memphis’s “Dry Katrina.” The nickname makes reference to the New Orleans housing crisis that followed Hurricane Katrina more than a decade ago.

Watkins said there is no other organizations in Memphis of its kind and that tenants have been taking a “great risk standing up for their rights,” and that the residents who speak out “need more support than is often available.”

The Mid South Peace and Justice center began the collective by working with residents of low-income apartments Warren Apartments and Serenity Towers.

Both apartment complexes are owned by Rev. Richard Hamlet of Global Ministries Foundation in Memphis and subsidized by the Federal Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

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Watkins said he and members of the MSPJC saw many violations in both Warren Apartments, Serenity Towers and an apartment called Tulane, also owned by Hamlet.

Two weeks later, HUD notified Hamlet that Global Ministries Foundation had failed to correct the violations and that the tenants would have to be moved.

Recently, an inspection of Serenity Towers found massive bug infestations. Residents were told they would have to be moved, as well.

Watkins said that he felt the relocation was inevitable and that they were the result of “decades of systemic neglect on the part of the landlords.” To Watkins, it was only a matter of time.

“Honestly, we all have to ask: What did we expect to happen? Now our collective chickens have come home to roost,” Watkins said in a blog post.

Watkins said that these relocations have created a serious dilemma in the city of Memphis.

“The relocation of residents at Warren and Tulane, if not properly handled, could lead to a massive crisis in housing here in Memphis,” Watkins said. “This will affect thousands of families and they will need this community and this organization to stand with them in this.”

Jessica Johnson-Peterson was one of the residents who spoke up about the housing violations. She said some of her closest associates had come to her with complaints for years and that she felt compelled by the Holy Spirit to “be a voice for the community.”

Johnson-Peterson said that after a conversation with her husband and a resident named Cynthia Crawford, she typed a letter to Hamlet and then contacted Watkins at the MSPJC.

Johnson-Peterson said there are still many concerns not being addressed by HUD or by Global Ministries Foundation. She also said the new appointed receiver has expressed that he has no interest in working with tenants.

“It seems that being a criminal has more benefits than being a law-abiding citizen. The citizens that do their best with the resources, they are forced to live impoverished and the ones that compromise and give into the corruption more than thrive,” Johnson-Peterson said.

On March 11, 2016, Watkins posted an email he sent to Memphis city councilman Worth Morgan, members of the administration of Memphis mayor Jim Strickland and management at Memphis Code Enforcement onto the MSPJC Facebook page.

The post detailed a proposal that would create two initiatives between MSPJC and Memphis Code Enforcement. Both initiatives would have used Serenity Towers as a “pilot program.”

The initiatives listed included the creation of tenants associations that would be recognized by HUD and a program in which college interns who work with MSPJC would be paired with residents of Serenity Towers who have mobility issues.

In the meantime, the MSPJC is keeping track of HUD’s responses to the violations in Serenity Towers and Warren and Tulane Apartments.

The MSPJC Facebook page is consistently updated with local news articles about the apartment buildings and the tenants who called them home.

RISE NEWS is a grassroots journalism news organization that is working to change the way young people become informed and engaged in public affairs. You can write for us.

Cover Photo Credit: Guillaume Capron/ Flickr (CC By 2.0)

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