South Memphis Alliance (SMA) opened its doors in 2000 to help organize neighborhood associations in the urban communities of South Memphis. Over time we’ve expanded our services to serve youth in foster care and families in need. Despite our growth, we hold fast to our core belief that civic engagement is the bedrock of strong communities, and that strong communities promote stable families.
For the first four years SMA worked out of a 10′ x 10′ office in a run-down community center. Reginald and a handful of like-minded volunteers struggled to support the associations that joined the alliance. Monthly activity included hosting community meetings, scheduling time with governmental and business leaders, and coordinating civic engagement activities.
SMA was then charged by community members to confront a large and powerful company operating in South Memphis that was environmentally polluting the neighborhoods. After months of collecting data, Reginald and his staff launched an anti-blight campaign, held town meetings, worked with the company’s leaders to implement a “Good Neighbor Policy” that would ensure community involvement, and advocated for stronger regulations via local elected officials.
Unfortunately the company had begun its own campaign, and within a year had effectively dismantled attempts by SMA and South Memphis residents to command a greater voice in protecting their community against environmental pollution. Although a blow, the experience taught valuable lessons and led to SMA refocus its structure and efforts.
By 2005 SMA purchased its present facility on S. Bellevue, in the heart of South Memphis. With over ten affiliate neighborhood associations as members, SMA turned toward the social ills that plague so many urban communities: substance abuse, dysfunctional families, and social diseases.
In 2006 SMA received a 5 year grant from the Department of Children’s Services to support the agency’s work. The next year the organization purchased a sorely neglected laundromat as its first social entrepreneurial project. Neighborhood residents needed the laundry services, and SMA recognized that while patrons waited for their clothes, their time could be served through connections to relevant social services. The SMA Family Laundry on S. Bellevue maintains kiosks where non-profit and governmental agencies can provide information and even set up satellite services.
In 2008 SMA was awarded a renewable grant from the Tennessee Department of Mental Health to expand its Stand by Me efforts around substance abuse counseling.
In 2009 SMA launched the Dream Seekers Initiative after being selected by the Department of Children’s Services to head efforts around improving the lives of young people transitioning out of the foster care system. Based on the success of the initiative, First Tennessee Bank donated a 20,000 square foot facility that will become the SMA Youth Opportunity Center (YoC!). Once the appropriate capital has been secured, the YoC! will be provide a healthy environment where young people can hang out, seek career assistance and even find temporary housing.
SMA has also launched a capital campaign to build a new Center for Families and Children, located at the entrance to the historic Soulsville neighborhood, which will allow the organization to expand its social services.
In 2010 SMA added to its annual Unity Dinner– which celebrates the work of affiliate associations- the Elbert Rich Memorial Award for Civicness in honor of a lifelong community organizer who tragically passed away at the age of 37.
In 2011 SMA received funds through the Shelby County Office of Early Youth and Childhood, and Shelby County Teen Pregnancy and Parenting Success! Project (TPPS) for its Hope Chest initiative and “baby store.”