Tennessee

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)

The University of Tennessee Just Had One Hell Of A Controversial Year

By Courtney Anderson

Students at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, have had a whirlwind of a academic year.

In between talks of Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam’s outsourcing plans and the sexual assault lawsuit that was filed against the university, the school has also been dealing with Tennessee legislators and their feelings about the diversity programs.

It is a conflict that lasted throughout the entire 2015-2016 academic year and finally came to a head this May.

The conflict began on August 26, 2015 when the Office of Diversity and Inclusion posted an article written by the director of the Pride Center, Donna Braquet, on its website.

In the article, Braquet talked about gender identity and gender-neutral pronouns students, faculty and staff could incorporate into their everyday language. And while the post was innocent enough, many conservatives did not find it helpful.

On August 28, 2015, Fox News commentator Todd Starnes posted a piece about the article on his opinion blog. Starnes discouraged the use of gender-neutral pronouns and made fun of the University for having the post on one of its websites.

“Anything goes for the sake of inclusivity, right?” Starnes wrote.

The post then got the attention of Tennessee lawmakers who, like Starnes, felt that the post was unnecessary and posed a threat to “traditional” values.

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The Vice Chancellor of Diversity and Inclusion, Rickey Hall, was heavily criticized, as was Braquet and the Pride Center.

Soon after, the post was removed from the website while Hall was on vacation.

Fast forward to December 2015.

The Office of Diversity and Inclusion posted a notice on its website reminding faculty and staff to keep holiday parties non-religious.

Specifically, they were asked to make sure “your holiday parties aren’t just Christmas parties in disguise.”

They were discouraged from incorporating religious symbols and encouraged to bear in mind that Christmas is not the only holiday to occur in the month of December.

Tennessee lawmakers did not like this advice at all.

Many of them, such as Rep. Jimmy Duncan and Rep. Martin Daniel, called them an attack on Christmas and Christianity. Duncan was one of the lawmakers to demand that Hall be fired and Cheek resign.

“Chancellor Cheek called me today and he was very apologetic over this matter. He told me that he is planning to take action within the next week,” Duncan wrote in a Facebook post. “I think the one who should be fired is the one responsible for this, Rickey Hall, the Vice Chancellor brought in here from Minnesota to run this office.”

Students at UT Knoxville fought back.

They rallied in support of Hall and demanded that Tennessee lawmakers recognize that diversity is a major aspect of successful colleges and universities.

Thus, the hashtag #UTDiversityMatters was born.

On December 8, 2015: a disastrous press conference was held.

Students held a sit-in in Cheek’s office to show their support for Hall.

Cheek and Hall were to meet students in Cheek’s office at 3:30 p.m. to address them and the press. Instead, they gave an exclusive interview to only a couple local Knoxville news stations on the third floor of Andy Holt Tower, the building where both of their offices are located. Students discovered this and rushed to meet their administrators.

Afterwards, Cheek and Hall walked to the Communications building, room 321, to finally address the rest of the press and the students who had been waiting. I

n the meantime, it was revealed by the Knoxville News Sentinel that Hall had been “counseled” and that he would no longer have control of the Office of Diversity and Inclusion website. Control of the site was given to the Vice Chancellor for Communications, Margie Nichols.

Winter break came and news died down.

On January 20, 2016, a few weeks after the start of the spring semester, a bill that would strip the Office of Diversity and Inclusion of state funding was introduced. Students immediately began taking action.

The UT Diversity Matters Coalition was officially formed and began having meetings with administration, including Cheek and Hall, about the future of the diversity programs at the school. Meanwhile, in early February, Nichols announced that she was retiring.

Things took a sour turn for diversity at UT Knoxville on March 2, when the senate voted to strip state funding.

Three days later, nearly 150 students wore black and staged a walkout of a basketball game. Throughout the month of March, the coalition continued to meet with administration.

And in April, the Tennessee House also voted to strip state funding.

On April 19, the coalition and nearly 500 students staged a mass class exit in protest of the funding cuts. During the protest, students staged a die-in on the Pedestrian Walkway, one of the busiest pathways on campus.

The following day, the coalition had their final meeting with administration. And while some of the demands were met or otherwise discussed, many of the demands were met with “No’s” from the administration.

A month later, on May 19, the University of Washington announced that Hall accepted a position as its new vice president of the Office of Minority Affairs and Diversity and chief diversity officer. Hall will start his position on August 1, 2016.

The following day, on May 20, Governor Bill Haslam allowed the bill to become law without his signature. The Pride Center was immediately shut down, Braquet was fired and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion was disbanded.

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Photo Credit: Courtney Anderson

Thomas Tran, UT student and a member of the coalition, was one of the students to speak at the rally. Since the end of the semester, he has consistently spoken out against Tennessee lawmakers’ actions and administrations’ lack of action.

“We have been doing everything ‘the right way,’” Tran said in an interview with RISE NEWS. “We’ve voted. We’ve called legislators. We’ve had meetings with admin. We’ve built broad base support with the student body. And this is how admin pays us back.”

The Pride Center, which administration announced will be converted into “student organization” is being run by students known as “Pride Ambassadors.” Without administrative support or funding, they are on their own.

“We have been told that we have to fend for ourselves,” a post on the Pride Center Facebook page reads. “We, who have been targeted, and harassed, and scapegoated for an entire year, have been cast aside. We have been offered up as sacrifice.”

Students have not given up.

Members of the UT Diversity Matters Coalition have promised to continue fighting for diversity at UT Knoxville. Johnathan DeWitt Clayton, a UT student and member of the coalition, said it best in a Facebook status.

“This isn’t any one issue, but rather an issue of systematic oppression and erasure, one that the university as a whole is refusing to acknowledge, let alone combat,” Clayton wrote. “But we’re here. We’re not leaving. And we won’t let you silence us anymore.”

Cover Photo Credit: Courtney Anderson

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)

Tennessee College Wins Right to Ban LGBT Students, Unwed Mothers

By Charles Diringer Dunst
@cddunst

Carson-Newman University is a four year, liberal arts Southern Baptist college in Jefferson City, Tennessee.

It is now also a college that has legally won the right to discriminate, based on sexual orientation and unfair, old-fashioned gendered expectations of women.

The university, at the behest of their attorney, applied for and received a Title IX exemption waiver, allowing them to bypass federal non-discrimination laws.

Title IX is a federal law which directly prohibits discrimination based on sex in higher education.

The law allows for any school “controlled by a religious organization” to seek an exemption if complying “would not be consistent with the religious tenants of such organization.”

Carson-Newman’s exemption allows the college to reject those who live in conflict with its interpretation of Christianity. This includes LGBT peoples, unwed mothers, women who have had abortions, and non-married women who may be pregnant.

The college has clarified that their usage of the waiver is not discriminatory, as it intends to “further establish our identity as a religious school.”

University president Dr. Randall O’Brien requested the exemption in a letter addressed to the federal government in May 2015.

“This is who we are as a Christian university,” he told CBS affiliate WVLT on Monday. “These are our religious principles, and in a changing world, we would like to reaffirm that this is who we are and who we intend to be.”

The university has stated that their reception of the waiver will not affect its admissions policies, at least not in the upcoming year.

When pressed by a local news tv station, President O’Brien paradoxically stated that the exemption would not lead the university to “discriminate against or students or any student applying to Carson-Newman.”

WATCH: Local TV story about Carson-Newman University Title IX waiver

The college has so far been unable to clarify exactly how they intend to utilize the waiver. It is not even clear why the university wanted to waiver in the first place, unless they intended to use it.

“You’re the president,” WVLT’s Lauren Davis noted. “You’re not going to file something unless you understand it.”

President O’Brien said in response to Davis’ assertion that the exemption would allow the school to “strengthen our position in relation to First Amendment rights. I don’t really know why something would be necessary beyond that.”

Despite their reception of the waiver, its usage is something which the university has clearly defined.

Jared Champion, Carson-Newman Class of 2003, told The Knoxville News-Sentinel that he was “absolutely humiliated by the news.”

Champion said that he believes that the exemption will impact the value of his degree as he continues his career as a college professor.

“As I move forward and put in job applications, and the like, I’m going to have to put in an addendum . . . to let them know that the values that Carson-Newman now represents are not mine,” Champion said.

The university’s attorney, Jim Guenther, has recommended the same exemption as a prudent course of action for several other Christian colleges.

Cover Photo Credit: Carson-Newman University/ Facebook

Up And Coming Country Star Mitchell Tenpenny Is Proving Nashville’s Relevancy

In the music industry, Nashville has once again become a fresh hot-bed for rising talent, which makes new music more difficult to stand out. Artists are having to find new and creative ways to promote and brand themselves in the ever changing city.

Born and raised in Nashville, country singer Mitchell Tenpenny is working on becoming a success in this booming industry.

“I think I stand out by trying to have a different sound and approach to how I present my music,” Tenpenny said. “I want every song to feel authentic and real.”

Tenpenny started playing music when he was in the 7th grade. He went to a friend’s house to play a round of golf but found several instruments to play instead. The next day, he picked up a guitar.

Growing up in Nashville influenced Tenpenny to strive for excellence – to make himself stand out.

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Country singer Mitchell Tenpenny. Photo Credit: Mitchell Tenpenny/ Facebook

“The music scene has changed a lot. I’ve seen what’s worked and what hasn’t. Everyone is trying new ways and techniques to make a living in this industry with streaming,” Tenpenny said. “It didn’t exist when I grew up watching songwriters have hits.”

He has seen some of his favorite songwriters and artists break through from the beginning and he said that it is one of his favorite feelings.

“I’m not trying to write music for a lunch time,” Tenpenny said. “I’m trying to write music for a life-time.”

One of his favorite aspects of the experiences the city has to offer is how it is ever changing. The moments all lead to other adventures like hearing his songs, or ones he’s written on the radio or being performed by someone, and getting to write with such talented musicians. Nothing can top those moments for him he said.

His best advice to anyone trying to “make it” in Nashville is to “be there.” Be a part of the city and the culture that is there. It is one of the “tried and true” ways to gain acceptance.

Paying your dues is also just as important. With long hours, hard work, and heartbreak, Tenpenny said a big break will come. You just have to earn it.

“I’m not trying to write music for a lunch time,” Tenpenny said. “I’m trying to write music for a life-time.”

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