While 1,000 people were coming and going during a back-to-school party at Treadwell Middle School in September, Anna Terry had a chance to speak with one of the security guards who works there.
He grew up in The Heights and played basketball at Treadwell, he told her, and as he spoke to her about his younger years and his connection to the neighborhood, a look of pure nostalgia was written upon his face.
He was thankful to see the spirit of community alive and well that day, and Anna was struck then by how tightly the people of the neighborhood are woven, and how eager they are to work together to make it a better place to live.
Anna settled in the neighborhood about three years ago with a passion for community development and a sense that, of all the places she’d lived in the U.S., a home for her rested in Memphis.
“There’s a strong community spirit among the neighbors and residents and a pride in The Heights,” she says.
She recently began using her background in community development as the sole staff person running The Heights Community Development Corporation (CDC) in partnership withBinghampton CDC.
She is also working closely with the team of volunteers behind The Corners, a Communities of Shalom zone organized through the Center for Transforming Communities, which helps connect the strengths of various churches, individuals and other stakeholders.
The challenges are many — 1 in 4 houses are vacant and seen as blights on the neighborhood, and people are clamoring for a meaningful gathering space — but so are the opportunities, and in that back-to-school party, Anna saw all the necessary elements of community transformation present.
People were connecting with each other around their children and the school they attend, which is close to the hearts of so many who live in The Heights. Abundant generosity was in the air as a host of community partners drew upon their relationships to bring live music, a Model-T Ford, games, refreshments and horse rides to the party.
That spirit of collaboration sticks out in Anna’s mind as she reflects on the day.
“It was really nice to have a party that big and to not be that taxing on any one group or entity,” she says.
“At the end of the day, I was tired but I wasn’t beat down; it was a sort of sweet exhaustion.”
Looking back, the nostalgic security guard and joy on the faces of children as they rode a horse for the first time are lasting impressions of a day that proved what’s possible when people come together.
As the work of community development continues, Anna says these impressions will carry forward.