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Memphis organizations fight blight by turning vacant lots into parks

“We wanted to give a place that was safe," said Kimani Shotwell.

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Crime has been heavy on our minds, and many are trying different solutions. 

Two Memphis organizations have come together to turn blight into chance.

It is a daddy/daughter duo. Roosevelt Bonds and Yaveda Nesby run Bonds Kids, a local non-profit helping and mentoring youth.

“We want to bring something back to our community and be a pillar in the community,” said Bonds. “I just do it because it needs to be done. I see the kids and a lot of parents struggling.”

That struggle is felt around the city. Community Redevelopment Agency, also known as CRA, works to provide affordable housing and blight remediation. Their latest initiative has been turning vacant lots into neighborhood parks. They call them sanctuary lots.

“It’s places where people can find peace, serenity, joy, happiness in their own communities in places where it’s not walkable to get to any of those items that already exist that provides that,” said Kimani Shotwell, CRA Community Building Impact and Engagement Director.

Their first project was the Leon Place Fitness Park in North Memphis.

Credit: Meka Wilson
Credit: Meka Wilson

“That was a beautiful thing because that was a community-led effort,” said Shotwell. “Once we found out what the community wanted, what that block wanted, we talked to all the residents, we did a huge clean up to launch everything off.”

The park is broken up into sections. The front is for children. The middle is for teenagers and young adults. The back was designed for seniors.

“We wanted to give a place that was safe and also the quality of what we put there was something that serves people in a way that’s not just for the tangible results but also for the psychological,” said Shotwell.

Credit: Meka Wilson

They are helping to curve crime and grow opportunity. That is where Bonds Kids comes into play. They are taking over the park to maintain it and host programs there.

“A lot of people have given up,” said Bonds.

“This would give the kids something to see other than what they’re seeing. If they see something different, they’ll most definitely do something different,” said Nesby.

Different is the duo’s solution to change and chance.

CRA has worked closely with Memphis Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas. Together, they are working to convert more areas of blight into sanctuary lots and affordable housing.

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