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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

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Fighting blight with art in Riverview-Kansas community

Local non-profit National Black United Front (NBUF) of Memphis is fundraising to turn a blighted property in the Riverview-Kansas community in 38109 into a pocket park with art incorporated from resident children.

NBUF Memphis has been working in the community bounded by South Parkway to Mallory Ave. and Riverview Blvd. to South Third St. for nearly two years. NBUF Memphis is an affiliate of the national NBUF, a coalition of organizations working to uplift and improve African-American communities.

Kayon Montaque, chairwoman of NBUF Memphis, said the organization has decided to have an economic agenda in Memphis.

“We look at asset maintenance, development and economic growth,” she said. “The park falls under asset maintenance because it will help with surrounding property values and the overall value of the neighborhood.”

Montaque said NBUF Memphis spoke with hundreds of residents before deciding to purchase the property at Bismark Street and Vaal Street. She and the group of about eight other NBUF Memphis members asked residents what they needed in their neighborhood?
The consensus was that there is too much blight and that both adults and kids need something to do.

“We worked with local schools to work with kids for artwork for the park. We’ve spent hundreds of hours talking with adults, so we wanted the kids input too. Every action and decision that is made impacts them and they never get a say,” she said.

Montaque said they asked about 60 kids from the third to fifth grade to write a letter to their community: What do you and don’t you like? How do you want your community to be perceived? What would you tweak a little bit?

Students then were asked to visualize their writing to help them produce art, which will be displayed in changeable benches and other moving design pieces so that future resident children’s art can also be displayed.

The park will also feature chess tables as an intergenerational activity for adults and kids.
NBUF needs to raise approximately $15,000 to launch the park by the first Saturday in September and hopes the upcoming fundraiser will raise about $4,000 of the goal.

The event, called NBUF Memphis Fundraising Dinner: A Celebration for the Culture, is Saturday (July 14) from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at AFSCME Local 1733 at 85 Beale Street. Tickets to the Wakanda-themed fundraiser are $40 and include food, drinks and music. African inspired attire is encouraged.

The ticket link can be found on Eventbrite.com, search NBUF Memphis.

Williams D. Brack, NBUF Memphis vice president, said the “party with a purpose,” is part of the 39th National NBUF Convening that also takes place the weekend of July 14.
NBUF Memphis launched in November 2017. Brack said NBUF also plans to focus on increasing homeownership and access to jobs in the Riverview-Kansas community.
According to the Census, The Riverview community has a median income ranging from $10,000 to $21,016. Approximately 70 percent of the residents make less than $25,000 annually.

Almost 40 percent of properties are vacant lots and the community has also seen a 53 percent population decrease from 2000 to 2015.

“Our job is to connect people, particularly people in underserved communities that are not aware of all the resources available to them. We want to connect people to the resources that exist,” Brack said.

James E. Kendrick, pastor of Oak Grove Baptist Church at 183 Joubert Ave. for the past 33 years, said the community was “very vibrant” when he started preaching there.

“People seemed to care about their property and were kind to each other and very neighborly. But things changed rapidly. Crime escalated as well as blight,” he said. “We don’t have the residents that we used to have as far as people who cared and tried to build community.”

Kendrick said the church also works with children in the community through several programs and appreciates NBUF’s efforts.

“Their ideas are very timely and needed. I think it’s a good organization, and the adhesion we need right now to help get out community afloat again,” he said. “Some things are not lasting if the community is not really involved. (The pocket park) will improve and increase ambiance.”

The park is a two-minute drive and a 10-minute walk from Kendrick’s church.
“I’m an advocate for anything that will bring life,” he said.

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