By Brittney Gathen, Special to The New Tri-State Defender

The message: Mayor Jim Strickland and his administration are dedicated to the proposition that the Memphis community and local government should be on one accord.

The message-bearer – Ken Moody, special assistant for community affairs to Mayor Strickland – was on message as he spoke to the Frayser Exchange Club (July 21).

“In my role with the mayor, one thing I always want to highlight and what he talks about more than anything is that we’re public servants, and we want to do our best,” Moody said.

“He talks about being brilliant at the basics. We have a commitment and we talk about it all the time, that if we can just do the basics well – pick up trash on time, pave streets, make sure we support our police officers, clean up the blight in the community – we feel that we’re going to be doing our best.”

Strickland and his administration recognize that there are challenges and that they need help.

“The mayor always says that the problems we face are too big for the government to handle by itself,” Moody said. “We’ve got to work with you all in your communities to help you make your communities better. At the end of the day, we all want the same thing: safe, clean neighborhoods and job opportunities. There are many challenges, but we try to look at those challenges as opportunities to make our city better.”

One such “opportunity” is associated with the protests that led to the shutdown of the Hernando Desoto Bridge on July 10 and ongoing calls to address concerns about law enforcement and economic disparity.

“We know that there’s a bigger issue we’re dealing with,” Moody said. “The march and the shutdown of the bridge was an attention-getter. We know we’ve got to deal with the economic disparities in our city that start with poverty and education.”

Moody has been tasked with reaching out to protest leaders, talking with them about issues they have identified and exploring ways to work with them on solutions.

“The tough time we’re having is trying to identify leaders in the group. The mayor’s ready to address the requests. We’re not going to give up. We’re going to make sure that we listen to them.”

Moody also addressed the ongoing process of deciding upon a new Memphis Police Department director, including calls for the appointment of Interim MPD Director Michael Rallings.

“Regardless of the demands that some have made to the mayor, there’s a process in place and he’s allowing that process to play out,” Moody said. “Please understand that it’s not that he’s being stubborn, wasting money or anything of that nature. He’s trying to allow this process to play out to select the best person. We know who the favorite person is, but the process has to play out, so please be patient.”

To help area youth, the Strickland administration is focused on providing more structured programs in community centers, Moody said.

During the Q&A segment, Shelby County Schools Board Commissioner Stephanie Love (District 3) asked Moody to identify what programs had been discussed to help juvenile youth, their parents and their schools. Moody said he and Strickland would work with SCS Supt. Dorsey Hopson and his chief of staff to discuss different programs.

Pastor DeAndre Brown made reference to the July 11 meeting (at Great Imani Church – Cathedral of Faith), which followed the I-40 bridge shutdown.

“A lot of people were hurting that had been promised an opportunity to speak, but it was quickly taken away,” said Brown, who also emphasized the need for individuals in the community to have training on how to “express themselves with conflict resolution skills.”

Kayon Montague wanted to know if the Strickland administration planned to do more than recruit workers from outside of Memphis. She asked if there was a plan to make sure Memphians are qualified for other than low-level positions.

Moody said that issue would be discussed with Hopson. More people need to be made aware of jobs opportunities in Memphis, he added.

Reiterating the Strickland administration’s dedication to collaborate with Memphis communities, Moody drilled down to Frayser.

“Frayser is definitely a jewel,” he said. “We’re committed to working side by side with you to do all that we can.”