by Lyndsey Pender
My internship at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa is the first internship I have ever had. My initial feelings included excitement, independence, and a little anxiety. This was something I had achieved on my own, and through this internship project I would sow my first seeds of goodwill into the world.
My first day I was given a task to create a web presence for the African American Cultural Heritage in Southwest Memphis exhibit. (Here is the website today.) This task seemed pretty straightforward. But there was more to this project than just collecting information from exhibit panels and regurgitating it back onto a blank, white computer screen. The thing I didn’t initially know was, in order to really understand this project’s roots, I would have to learn more about Southwest Memphis history, Southwest Memphis people, and Chucalissa’s role in all of this.
Community engagement was not something I knew much about before starting this internship. I, like other individuals, thought it dealt with standard community service – donate a few hours here, or volunteer at this event. But community engagement is much more than that. The work done in community engagement focuses on building a lasting relationship – a mutualistic existence in which the community benefits from the community organization and vice versa. When I arrived at Chucalissa in the middle of May, I found that this mutualistic existence had already been going on. The C. H. Nash Museum and the surrounding Southwest Memphis community had been engaged with projects such as the community garden, the Black History month celebration, and hosting the Delta 9 AmeriCorps team, who did work within the Southwest Memphis community. After learning this information, my thoughts changed. I would be engaging in a project that was bigger than myself.
Southwest Memphis History
I started the project by collecting information from reports and articles. Although I was a Southwest Memphis resident as a child, and a frequent visitor to T.O. Fuller State Park, there were pages worth of information, contained in the Museum’s resource center binders and exhibit panels that I did not know. I had no idea that T.O. Fuller State Park was the only park open to blacks in the mid-1900s. I questioned family members and they confirmed this information by recounting visits to the park throughout the summer to swim. I poured through interviews and video footage learning more about Southwest Memphis, the neighborhood I previously lived in, but knew hardly anything about. I read through letters from T.O. Fuller to E.H. Crump, articles about the Boxtown community, and information pertaining to Southwest Memphis schools. There was a thread that consistently emerged – the strong sense of community found in Southwest Memphis. Reverend Melvin Watkins, Co-pastor at Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, said in a 2010 interview that, he considers the pride and sense of community found in Southwest Memphis to be one of the neighborhood’s strong suits. I agree with Reverend Watkins.
The People of Southwest Memphis
After an initial draft was developed, I met with some Southwest Memphis residents, and it was decided that I would present the draft website to more community members at a Westwood Neighborhood Association meeting. Here I witnessed firsthand the sense of community that existed within this neighborhood. Crime rates and reports were discussed, as well as how to improve them. The neighborhood community members also talked about how to improve the residential area, with members offering to take on the lawn care of those who could no longer get around. The association had previously donated uniforms and supplies for school children and would do so again this upcoming school year. More than anything, this meeting revolved around improving the Southwest Memphis and Westwood communities.
Continuing throughout this project, I tried to constantly refocus on what the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa, and the Southwest Memphis community were both trying to do. As I worked, I tried my best to weave the thread that had emerged earlier through every piece of work I did. My goal was to build a website that would aid in furthering this process of bettering the community. With the establishment of the Southwest Memphis website, members of the community would have the opportunity to access information about the community, and also interact by adding information.
The Southwest Memphis website is an ongoing process with the hope that new information and sections will be added with help from neighborhood residents, building the website to something bigger than it is now. I hope the importance of community has been successfully conveyed to you, the reader, through this piece.
What ways can you get involved in your community?
Lyndsey Pender is a junior majoring in cultural anthropology and professional writing at Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green. This summer she is interning at the C.H. Nash Museum at Chucalissa. She can be reached at lpnicollette(a)yahoo.com