There was no stopping Artemis "Peppa" Williams (front, left) this year as he presented the first leg of the SCS 901 Homecoming Safe Summer Block Party series at Hickory Ridge Middle School. (Photo: Facebook)

Forced to the shelf in 2020 as Memphis dug in to endure COVID-19, the Safe Summer Block Party Series is back on track, kicking off Friday evening at Hickory Ridge Middle School.

Carnival rides, exotic animals, food and music made for an enjoyable outing for the primary target audience, school-age children. The block-party event signaled that the partnership between Artemis “Peppa” Williams’ agency and Shelby County Schools (SCS) was once again focused on going all out to engage youth.

Yes, it rained a bit. No, it didn’t stop the party.

For Tina Tilton’s daughter, the Safe Summer Block Party at Hickory Ridge Middle School yielded this first-time experience. (Photo: Facebook)

“Although we got rained on, I appreciate you Peppa for throwing your annual Back To School Block Party,” Tina Tilton posted on social media. “My daughter had never fed animals before. She really enjoyed herself.”

Students picked up free school supplies and had the opportunity to sign up for extracurricular activities. An SCS pitch for the event provided this context: “SCS is partnering with organizations across the city and county to engage families and ensure students have the resources and supplies needed for a successful school year.”

William’s community engagement agency, APW, has coordinated the annual block parties for several years. He approached 2021 determined to bring Shelby County Youth one of the best experiences of the summer.

“The students can come up here and have a good time,” Williams told The New Tri-State Defender during a conversation before Friday’s party. “And the parents go in and handle all the business that they need to get handled.”

The two-hour party was the first of three. The fun is set to continue at Trezevant High School next Friday (July 30) and then at Whitehaven High School on August 5.

For Williams, putting on the block parties is part of putting in the work to bring about one of his goals

Artemis “Peppa” Williams. (Photo: Benji Aird/Airdography)

“I want to help make change and accomplish the goal of making Memphis a better place to live,” said Williams. “I want to bridge the gap of the old to let them understand and recognize the new.”

Former Def Jam South vice president, Williams once managed Memphis-based rap star Yo Gotti and the Bluff City’s Three 6 Mafia – Academy Award winners for Best Original Song (2006). When hip-hop giant Future brought his star power to Memphis Madness in 2019, Williams was at the center of making it happen.

“I am a connector,” said Williams. “I’m one in a few that can deal with the mayor, the police chief, the district attorney, the superintendent of Shelby County Schools and the biggest rappers or athletes from Memphis on a day to day basis.”

As a measure of the block parties’ success, Williams points to their impact on boosting SCS pre-registration.

This year, “Stronger Together” is the theme of block party series, which is unfolding in collaboration with Operation Safe Community, the Memphis Police Department, Cricket Wireless, iHeart Radio and other partners/sponsors.

SCS students are scheduled to begin the 2021-22 school year on Aug. 9.

(This story reflects a report by Najee El-Amin)