A panel of 10 women, including five candidates who are running for office in the upcoming municipal election, laid out their vision for the city of Memphis during the Women of Impact Forum held at Collins Chapel C.M.E. Church on Saturday.
Moderated by Memphis radio veteran Bev Johnson, the forum featured women in political offices and well-known community organizers.
The panelists were Municipal Court Judge Jayne Chandler (Division 3), Memphis City Council member Patrice J. Robinson (District 3), Shelby County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, Britney Thornton (City Council District 4 candidate), Pearl Walker (City Council District 8-1 candidate), Karen Spencer McGhee (Black Lives Matter), Catherine Lewis (Coalition of Concerned Citizens), Gabby Salinas (Community advocate), Fatamah Islam (The Invaders), and Porsche Stevens (Crosstown Concourse).
The event, hosted by local consulting company Stockton Political Strategies, allowed panelists to address issues surrounding public transportation, the redevelopment of the Mid-South Coliseum, and the correlation between poverty, economic development and crime.
The women shared examples of a modernized public transit system when asked how they would redesign the city’s transportation structure if money were not an issue. Ideas included transit rides to Nashville and more bus pickup routes throughout the city.
During a discussion of the Mid-South Coliseum, the panelists agreed that the historic venue once served as the center of the community and emphasized the need to invest in it.
As the conversation shifted to the issues of poverty and economic development, Sawyer tackled the issue of poverty with one solution: education. She cited the city’s lack of funding in K-12 education as one of the biggest factors leading to poverty.
“One of the best-known ways fight poverty is to give students in those communities an opportunity through education,” Sawyer said. “Sixty-eight percent more of youth have been arrested this year than this time last year. The reason that is important is because we still… as a city… have yet to figure out how to fund education. Of the current city budget, zero is put into public education.”
Sawyer referenced a July report by the Memphis Police Department showing that arrests of juveniles were up 68 percent over this time last year. Police have said that the higher numbers are a combination of more juveniles involved in crime and more arrests.
Panelists echoed Sawyer’s stance on the correlation between education and poverty. Some emphasized the plight of educators tasked with teaching students who enter school behind the learning curve.
“The culture of poverty is so deep in Memphis that our students are not prepared with the basics when they get to school, making it harder for the teachers to teach,” Catherine Lewis of the Coalition of Concerned Citizens said.
City Council District 4 candidate Britney Thornton also sat on the panel and weighed in on the poverty discussion.
“When I moved back to Memphis I was confused how we could be one of the most philanthropic cities and also one of the most impoverished cities,” Thornton said.
The local educator and founder of the non-profit, Juice Orange Mound, took her point a step further, focusing specifically on the effects that economic development can have on both education and poverty.
“How do we support our schools when our neighborhoods are so vulnerable? With the closure of our schools we have to think about what it does to those communities,” she said. “What we need to do for our grandchildren, nieces and nephews is help them to advocate for the neighborhoods that they want to live in.”