South Memphis non-profit helping community climb from poverty to prosperity

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — In honor of Black History Month, FOX13′s Family Focus is taking a moment to recognize the impact of contributions by African Americans in our community.

Chris Dean was born, raised, and still lives in the poorest zip code in Shelby county, with a median household income of less than $15,000.

FOX13 is honoring Dean, who is using a local non-profit to help his community climb from poverty to prosperity.


There is a mural of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., which adorns an entrance wall at a local climbing gym called Memphis Rox in South Memphis.

Dean says just like MLK, he too has a dream: “to provide opportunities that nobody was comfortable with. And I have to be that person to be like it’s ok, ‘cause I’m from here. The same way President Obama let them know it’s ok to chase their dreams.”

Dean is the same young man who had the opportunity in 2011 to introduce President Barack Obama during the Booker T. Washington’s High School commencement address. Dean interned in Washington, D.C. under Obama, but said his heart was always in South Memphis, an area often struggling with violent crime.

“I’ve seen my friends die earlier than that,” Dean said. “I’ve seen so many people pass away before 23 - that 23 was a goal.”

23 is the same age Dean’s father was when he was gunned down in the same neighborhood.

Dean says his story caught the eye of movie director Tom Shadyac, who spent millions of dollars to bring the not-for-profit Memphis Rox to South Memphis.

“I knew Shadyac wanted to do something, and he didn’t raise funds. He didn’t promise 2023. He didn’t promise something from the future. He did it right when he said he would,” Dean said.

As the director of outreach at the climbing gym, Dean says Rox offers climbing walls from 15 feet to more than 40 feet high. He says because of its location, people still question why the gym is so successful.

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“When you see someone, and you see them struggling with something - we’re hoping that kindness that we show as a community, you want to show to someone else,” he said. “It makes it more like a community.”

Dean says the gym is pay-what-you-can and attracts people from every side and socio-economic level of the Mid-South.

He works every day to make sure those living in his neighborhood have access to basics, including food, clothes, and jobs. He says his zip code is home and it’s worth the struggle.

“People being seen, period,” said Dean. “Not just Black people. White people, too. There are some poor white people. Whoever is willing to have love in their heart, I am fighting for them.”

Memphis Rox is open seven days a week and is located at 879 E. McLemore Avenue.

He says the gym is always looking for more donations.

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