By Jeffrey T. Higgs, New Tri-State Defender
As crime and the perception of crime explode in our city, I am drawn to the facts and theories I have developed over the years regarding crime, its causes, and how best to reduce it.
Contrary to what you hear, crime has been reduced in our city, especially in areas where Urban Community Economic Development (UCED) has taken place and is led by committed community leaders, CDCs, organizations to nonprofits and churches, all working together to ensure our communities are safe places to live, work and play.
One such community is SoulsvilleUSA.
When we began this journey in 1999, community leaders like Marlon Foster, Andy Cates, Reginald Milton, Robert Lipscomb, Deannie Parker and others worked together with LeMoyne-Owen College and the Metropolitan Baptist Church, to create a place where residents felt safe, families could thrive, children could learn, and all were welcome.
What we knew then was that we were working on “holy ground”.
Dedicated community organizations like LeMoyne-Owen and its 160 years of educating young people; STAX Records and its landmark creation of the “Music of Our Lives” which represented an era of progress for black people; Metropolitan Baptist Church, where Dr. King met and strategized; the intersection of Mississippi Boulevard and Walker Avenue, where Ida B. Wells and Peeples Grocery testified to the success of black businesses, and the world-famous Four Way Grill were all founded on this historic land.
In this community, Al Green and Hi Records have produced some of the greatest music of our time and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. gave his final speech in historic Mason Temple.
How, then, does this story relate to reducing crime in our community?
Our collective belief is that the best way to reduce crime is to create equal economic development opportunities.
We know that a working person is less likely to commit a crime than a person living in poverty with no prospect of earning a sustainable income.
Moreover, a house where a family lives is not a house that is destroyed; clean streets create pride in the community.
Educated residents know how to call code enforcement and report crimes, and an informed community is one that values itself and its neighbors.
Simply put, the roots of crime are poverty, blight, neglect and lack of educational opportunities.
We don’t have to live that way.
Crime and violence are therefore the result of our environment and how we raise our children, how we treat our citizens and how we respect our neighbours.
The Bible speaks eloquently of loving your neighbor as yourself. Violence, crime and gun abuse destroy our families and our communities.
We must fight the elements of violence mentioned above. We do this simply by creating livable and inviting places.
It is our responsibility as adults to create and show our young people the right paths to success. No community wants violence and crime to permeate the mindsets and behavior of its citizens.
We must fight these evils with aggressive policies and funding that help communities in this work. Effective programs are needed to help fight crime and violence.
SoulsvilleUSA has taken steps to move in this direction. We recently partnered with residents and created a Tax Incremental Funding (TIF) district for South Memphis/SoulsvilleUSA, the result of hundreds of residents working together for a common goal.
We believe that as a community we are heading in the right direction. We incorporate lessons learned from other thriving, successful communities and apply them in our own neighborhoods.
We will revitalize our community using all the tools available in the toolkit.
As we enact this revitalization, our communities will hopefully begin to turn on the “lights of hope”.
We can then educate, inform, engage and revitalize all areas of our community, create jobs for residents, remove the blight and replace it with positivity and hope.
While we can’t promise a ‘chicken in every pot’, we can promise that we will work to create healthy, open spaces where crime has no place to hide.
Our dedication to this impactful work will provide jobs for those who want to work, create innovative educational technologies and workforce training opportunities for those who want to learn new skills and contribute their skills to the community.
These opportunities will be for those who would rather work than steal, cheat or steal from their neighbor.
We are our neighbours’ keepers and we will work to revitalize our community, providing opportunities for everyone to engage in the process of this revitalization movement.
Please plan to walk with us at 10 a.m. on April 9, beginning and ending at the corner of Walker Avenue and Dr. Hollis F Price Boulevard (Metropolitan Baptist Church), as the Memphis Crime Commission, FFUN- Stop the Killing, Memphis Police Department, the City of Memphis, community partners, students, residents, and your neighbors walk through SoulsvilleUSA and College Park to raise awareness of gun violence in our community.
Registration begins at 9 a.m. Resource partners will be available to provide private services and assistance to residents, as well as responses and connections for community needs.
(Jeffrey T. Higgs is a member of the Executive Committee of the Memphis and Shelby County Crime Commission, a founding member of the SoulsvilleUSA Neighborhoods Development District, and CEO of LeMoyne-Owen College CDC and has worked since 1999 on community revitalization and creating opportunities for economic development for Memphis residents.)
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender