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Power to the People

Neighborhoods band together to fight blight, curb crime.

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There's a new neighborhood group in town, but its membership isn't restricted to residents from any one community.

The Neighborhood Alliance, a program run by the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center, encourages residents from any area of town to work together on common problems, like blight, lack of jobs, disengaged youth, and crime.

At a recent Neighborhood Alliance meeting at the Peace & Justice Center, members came from Glenview, Cooper-Young, Speedway Terrace, Binghamton, Bethel Grove, and other areas.

"We're collectively building a joint agenda that impacts all of those neighborhoods," said Brad Watkins, the Peace & Justice Center's organizing coordinator. "A lot of the neighborhoods are grappling with similar problems. If a group in North Memphis has allies in Midtown and Berclair, that's more support they can bring."

Some of the neighborhoods represented at last week's meeting don't even have a neighborhood association in their community.

"But there's no shortage of people in those communities who want to take on issues to make their neighborhoods better," Watkins said. "We want to provide the tools and support to get started, and we want to make sure all the groups are talking to each other."

Each member receives a map of vacant properties in his or her area and a list of the top 100 most-frequent voters from their neighborhood.

"They can build their voter databases, and that makes the neighborhoods more politically valuable," Watkins said.

The alliance holds a monthly business meeting to discuss neighborhood issues and a training workshop to deal with those issues. This week, at the group's training workshop, former Memphis City Councilwoman Carol Chumney offered advice on contacting elected officials.

At last week's business meeting, residents spoke up about problems affecting their individual areas.

"There are a lot of vacant lots and houses in my community, and that leads to an increase in trash and crime. We also have an animal overpopulation problem," said Martavius Hampton of Glenview.

Kelly Price of North Memphis lamented the lack of grocery stores offering healthy, affordable food.

"In North Memphis, there's no Kroger or large grocery store. We only have corner stores, and the prices and service are garbage," Price said.

So far, 17 neighborhoods are represented in the alliance, but Watkins said the organization is still recruiting new members. Though all are welcome, Watkins said he'd like to see more people from Nutbush, Berclair, Raleigh, Frayser, Douglass, Riverview-Kansas, Boxtown, Beltline, and Messick-Buntyn.

"We see a need for a real buttressing of groups in these areas that are underrepresented politically and don't get their fair share of services or capital improvements," Watkins said.

The next business meeting is April 13th, and the next training workshop, featuring Memphis Area Transit Authority board member John Vergos, is scheduled for April 19th. Both meetings will be held at the Mid-South Peace & Justice Center at First Congregational Church, 1000 S. Cooper (725-4990).

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