by Rebecca Matlock Hutchinson —
When I think of South Memphis, I think of the community that has nurtured me throughout my life.
I lived with my parents and brother at 644 D Mississippi Blvd. in Foote Homes and have fond memories of playing among the buildings with my friends.
I received my primary education from caring teachers like Mrs. Mary Cole at Georgia Avenue Elementary School. I worshipped with my family at Metropolitan Baptist Church and attended Vance Jr. High, where I won the spelling bee, and where Daniel Ward, our amazing principal, was a father to all of us.
I remember several small businesses, like Liberty Cash Grocery Store, which was a staple in the community.
As an adult, my husband Noel and I purchased a home in South Memphis. We could have gone anywhere, but home is where we needed to be.
It was instilled in me early to give back to others and look out for your fellow man. So, it’s not surprising that I chose a career that allows me to serve as the executive director of SCORE CDC and volunteer as the president of the Board of Directors of SoulsvilleUSA Neighborhoods Development District (SNDD), helping to find ways to develop and enhance businesses and neighborhoods.
I love what I do because I can see the impact and positive results.
My life has come full circle, and I’m fully vested in the work that I do because I feel an obligation to the community that has given me so much.
It’s a community rooted in greatness, with a rich history in arts, culture, civil rights, education and faith.
It’s home to Memphis’ only HBCU, the 159-year-old LeMoyne-Owen College; churches, such as Metropolitan Baptist and Second Congregational that are more than 100 years old, and the musically rich STAX Museum of American Soul Music.
A powerful school of the arts now rests on its foundation. I choose to honor this history by taking care of the place where it resides.
However, it’s not the South Memphis I remember from my youth. Many of the businesses I patronized as a child no longer exist.
Poverty and crime riddle our community, causing many to think it’s an undesirable place to live.
We have our challenges, but there still are many wonderful things here and one that has always remained true is its people – men, women and children, who deserve the best Memphis has to offer.
The people who work alongside me at SNDD feel the same. All of us live and/or work within a five-mile radius of each other.
We know the people of the community by name. We engage with them often and listen as they voice their concerns about the state of South Memphis and their desires for substantial improvements.
I believe we are the ideal team for the job.
My fellow SNDD board members and I collectively possess over 100 years of experience. We have led major initiatives, like Greenleaf, Knowledge Quest’s USDA organic farm; Memphis Black Arts Alliance, helping to lead in the arena of arts and culture; and South Memphis Alliance, working with our youth.
The impact SNDD desires to have reaches beyond SoulsvilleUSA. Included are the neighborhoods of French Forte, South Main, South City and South Third.
These are our neighbors and they, too, deserve a platform for their desires to be recognized. SNDD proudly serves as the voice of the people.
We have combined our expertise and efforts to forge a united front that’s dedicated to representing the needs of the people – needs expressed to us during seven community meetings held over a five-month period.
We listened and developed the people’s South Memphis Tax Increment Financing (TIF) proposal that addresses those needs. That’s why it’s called “The People’s TIF.”
Finally, with SNDD, the people of the neighborhoods are the driving force of progress so gentrification isn’t a fear.
The TIF (tax increment financing) is based on the increment or “new” tax dollars generated through property taxes within a designated boundary.
SNDD’s TIF proposal has been submitted to the Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA), and we’re currently waiting for the CRA to make a decision about which organization will receive the South Memphis TIF designation. We’ve been pulling together resources to help us revitalize our neighborhoods and we have “shovel ready” projects, such as the 38126 Innovation & Technology Center, in the works.
But there’s so much more to do. If SNDD’s TIF proposal is approved, we estimate that over a 20-year period over $90 million in tax revenue will be generated.
That money will be reinvested in the community. We envision a South Memphis, where the dollar is recycled several times before it leaves. It is a community that can economically support itself and the people who live there.
None of the members of SNDD are doing this for the money. We’re doing it for the small business owners who want thriving businesses that can employ people in the neighborhood. We’re doing it for the parent who wants to allow their child to play outside safely without worries.
We’re doing it for the children who deserve to have updated and safe playground equipment. We’re doing it for the families who want a full-service grocery store, with fresh fruits and vegetables at affordable prices, within the community.
We’re doing it to beautify the neighborhood and get rid of blight that often houses illegal activity, rodents and stray animals.
We’re doing it to help fund organizations that offer health services, workforce development and programs that help children and families obtain a better quality of life.
We’re at a pivotal point. Greatness still resides in South Memphis. It actually never left. We want people to be able to see it as they drive down its streets and experience it everywhere as they spend time here.
We once had a beautiful community, with robust businesses, massive homeownership and happy thriving families filled with pride for themselves and their neighborhood.
SNDD is dedicated to making it happen again.
(A proud South Memphian, Rebecca Matlock Hutchinson is a president of the SoulsvilleUSA Neighborhoods Development District (SNDD). For more information, visit www.southmemphistif.org.)