From a summer in Memphis.
Three houses sit on Princeton Avenue in the inner-city Memphis neighborhood of Binghampton.
Three houses, with porch swings and well-kept yards, sit on what used to be abandoned lots, filled to the waist with grass and broken bottles.
This street is a small picture of a movement that has been playing out across Binghampton for the past ten years.
Families, which have been predominately young and white, are moving into and building houses in a neighborhood, which has been predominately poor and black.
But Binghampton was not always this way. The neighborhood that now sits in the center of a sprawling city had a strong economy built on lumber mills in the early 1900s. Railroad tracks were laid out that cut the neighborhood into two — one side to the east and one to the west. As Memphis traversed through economic recessions and the civil rights movement, Binghampton grew poorer and poorer.
In the ’70s, refugees from all over the world began relocating to the west side. Today, one-third of the people you’ll find in west Bing are from Sudan, Afganistan, Somalia and many other war-torn places. On the east side, 99.9 percent of the people you’ll find are African-American.
Nathan Cook of Christ Community Ministries spoke to me and other SOS interns about the history of Binghampton, highlighting the community’s brokenness. Lester School, a Bing middle school, has had the lowest test scores in the state of Tennessee. Cook said just eight percent of the entire school was on grade level. The elementary has since been converted to a charter school, a decision met by much public outcry.
If the education system is the platform from which young men and women get their spring into society, then the education system in Binghampton is clear evidence of the cycle of poverty that has had a grip on the community for generations.
So, my question is — do we really believe that cycle can be broken? After this week in SOS staff training, I chose optimism and believe it can. But what I’ve also learned is it won’t be broken easily or quickly.
Princeton Avenue is a perfect example of this. As part of our training for the urban homecare camp we’ll be apart of this summer, the SOS summer staff got to spend some time with families that have moved into the Binghampton area with the hope of furthering it’s revitalization.
I got to hang out in the living room of the Perrys, who are raising their three children in a lovely house they built on Princeton. I could write a whole separate post on this visit, but what I’ll say is this — the Perrys moved into Binghampton with a kingdom mentality. Seeing the cycle of poverty being perpetuated everyday is incredibly hard and discouraging, but the Perrys have hope that by offering up their lives as an example, things might start to change. Change won’t come quickly, maybe even not in their lifetimes, but that’s not stopping the Perrys from living in community with their neighbors, getting to know them and helping them as best they can.
And the Perrys are just one of about 100 families that have moved into this inner-city neighborhood of Memphis.
As I look to camp starting at SOS next week, I’m incredibly exciting about finally becoming a small part of this community I’ve learned so much about. Stories like the Perrys restore my hope that rejuvenation is happening in poverty-stricken places in our world, one abandoned lot at a time.