People in South Memphis are taking action in hopes of gaining access to millions of dollars earned from the sale of the Memphis Defense Depot which was spent in other parts of the region.
The EDGE board met for the first time Wednesday since dissolving the Depot Redevelopment Corporation, the agency responsible for selling the depot for more than $35 million. Many in South Memphis feel they are owed that money.
FOX13 asked EDGE treasurer Gerre Currie for comment on the depot but she declined.
An EDGE spokesperson told FOX13 the dissolution of the DRC was an “administrative issue” that did not warrant an on-camera interview, and that the agency had no comment on our previous reporting.
“If I was on that board, I wouldn’t give you a comment. You’d have to chase me down the street,” taxpayer advocate Joe Kent said. “They have no defense. The reason they wouldn’t talk to you is that they have no defense.”
Kent, who has been tracking the depot money, was the only person to make a public comment at the meeting, chastising the board for approving the minutes which included the DRC’s dissolution. He noted the absence of several board members, including the chairman.
“I’m really disappointed that Al Bright’s not here today. Really disappointed that Tom Dyer’s not here,” Kent said during his public comment. “I think they chickened out. That’s what I think.”
Also absent were the board members meant to represent the interests of Memphis City Council and the Shelby County Commission.
“It’s inexcusable that Edmund Ford Sr of the city council and Henri Brooks of the Shelby County Commission were not here today,” Kent said. “Inexcusable, especially after what was reported about the depot being publicly disinvested.”
In spite of EDGE’s refusal to comment on the situation, Currie made a comment during the meeting advising the board members on dealing with criticism.
“Sometimes serving on this board will put you at odds and in conflict with family, friends and the community,” she said. “This is a board where you have to have, at some level, thick skin and the ability to understand that what you are trying to do is improve a community.”
Just an hour after the EDGE meeting wrapped up, concerned citizens met a few blocks from the depot to take the first steps in seeking reparations.
Led by activists Marquita Bradshaw and Frank Johnson, residents created a plan to go after the money they feel they are owed. They feel the community is owed much more than just the proceeds from the depot’s sale.
“When you look at what $36 million could actually do in investments, that’s supposed to accrue and create more money and more streams of revenue for that community,” Bradshaw, executive director of the environmental justice nonprofit Sowing Justice, said.
Bradshaw blames the pollution from the depot and the economic impact of its closure for many of the problems in the surrounding neighborhoods, including population loss.
She said many of the area’s businesses were forced to close in the years after the depot was sold.
“This community would not be this poverty stricken or crime ridden if that $36 million was actually put in place,” Bradshaw said.
Through Sowing Justice, she plans to organize action on two fronts. One committee will aim to document the history of the depot and surrounding neighborhoods in an effort to raise awareness, while another will conduct a forensic audit.
“It’s a holistic view of what happened to the community and looking for a forensic audit of what the actual value would be today,” she said.
Once the audit is complete, Bradshaw plans to survey the community and find out where funds are most needed, then create a development plan to support the families and businesses affected. She then plans to lobby at the local, state and federal levels to get the money.
Johnson urged the people of South Memphis to reach out to any lawyers or accountants they know who might be willing to help.
Shelby County commissioner Britney Thornton attended the meeting in what she called a show of solidarity.
“We have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I’m just here to make sure they know that at every level of government, they have allies.”
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