|Antonio "2 Shay" Parkinson, the community leader.|
The pro bono work that Antonio “2 Shay” Parkinson has been doing to revitalize and refresh the Raleigh/Frayser community could pay off if the voters in District 98 elect him to fill the House seat that came up vacant after the Nov. 9 death of state Rep. Ulysses Jones Jr.
But Parkinson, however, is not looking for a payday for the work that he'd been doing in the community anyway for at least six years. Instead, his love for community and its people most likely were determinants in availing himself for community service on a legislative level. Known for his humble spirit, he had to be convinced nonetheless to seek the House seat.
Four other candidates are seeking the interim appointment as well, but the Shelby County Commission on Dec. 20 decided to defer the vote until the next commission meeting on Jan. 25, five days after the special primary election on Jan. 20. The general election is March 8. Despite the month-long wait, Parkinson said he is running full speed ahead to replace Jones, a mentor and legislative stalwart.
“I had no intentions of running at first,” said Parkinson, 42, who was bombarded with phone calls from District 98 constituents, pastors, and elected officials to pursue the House seat. He’d mulled over the opportunity to become a lawmaker in the Tennessee House of Representatives and decided that a nod from the commission, or a vote from district voters, would advance his calling in community service.
Parkinson, a firefighter at station 61 on Macon Road, doesn’t consider himself a politician, though. However, in the October 2007 municipal election, he ran unsuccessfully for a seat on the Memphis City Council from District 1 and placed third behind first-place finisher Democrat Stephanie Gatewood, currently a Memphis City Schools board member who is seeking the House seat herself. She lost to Bill Morrison that year in the November run-off.
Gatewood, 39, also is mounting a campaign for the seat that Jones had won 13 consecutive times, including the last one on Nov. 2. Three others seeking the House seat are Democrats Brenda Oats-Williams, 50, an attorney; retired teacher Jannie C. Foster; and Nicholas Pegues, a Shelby County Election Commission employee and Republican Party board member. Pegues doesn’t plan to run for a full-term if he gets the interim job.
Parkinson said Jones was a mentor whom he had watched with admiration on the House floor when then-governor Phil Bredesen gave his last State of the Union Address. “I watched him in action. He was a powerful legislator,” he said.
Now Parkinson has the opportunity to walk in the footsteps of the late lawmaker who provided moral and financial support for a number of projects dear to Parkinson’s heart, which helped to catapult him in the Raleigh/Frayser community as the quintessential community servant.
“I’m a community leader that wants to find a way to bridge communities,” he said. “None of the successes that we’ve had was because of one person doing all the work. Everything that we’ve been successful at comes because we’ve been able to create collaborations.”
A voice in Raleigh...
The Raleigh/Frayser community is more than Parkinson’s stumping ground, or base of operation. It is a community on the precipice of change because of a number of initiatives that Parkinson has launched and cultivated. He has been the voice of Raleigh for a number of years now, speaking forthrightly for residents, promoting economic development, and leading the charge to restore the community’s vigor and worth.
“ABetterMemphis.com started out as a Web page where people could talk about their likes and dislikes, their challenges. The page was successful and grew exponentially. So we started building on the brand,” said Parkinson.
“The sole purpose of all of these [functions] together is to make the community viable and competitive. The plan was to create a community-organizing template that could be moved to other communities.”
The organization’s mission, he said, is to empower the community through education, organization and advocacy. So why launch a community organization? “A lot of people moved to Cordova and other places. I don’t believe you should have to run away from your community. Your home should be transformed into a comfortable place.”
With ABetterMemphis.com in full swing, Parkinson, the “volunteer” executive director, began organizing community events, candidate forums, and town hall meetings. And if that wasn’t enough, he launched the following offshoots:
• The Voice of Raleigh and Frayser Community Action Network, a membership association of businesses and residents collaborating to maintain, enhance, protect and preserve the community and its property value.
• The Raleigh Fire Victims Fund & Donation Center, a fund drive started after seven family members lost their lives in a fire at Avery Park Apts. The fund provided donations of household items and helped to defray funeral expenses;
•Toys in the Garden (which soon became Toys for Tatts), an annual event first started in the Horton Gardens public housing complex in Northaven that provides toys for children at Christmas;
•The Fresh Starts Community Baby Shower, an annual event promoting healthy pregnancies and lifestyle awareness as it pertains to infant mortality in zip codes 38108, 38127 and 38128. The venue: Breath of Life Christian Center.
• The Harvest Ball, an annual fundraiser to benefit other nonprofits in the community with a mission to empower the citizenry of Memphis. It is held at the Raleigh Springs Mall at 3334 Austin Peay Hwy., and;
• The Block Party for Peace, an annual event Memorial Day weekend, also at the Raleigh Springs Mall, that promotes peace, empowerment and opportunities for employment, education and health within Memphis and the surrounding areas. It is a three-day jobs fair, college fair and health fair.
• Board member of Methodist North Community Advisory Council. Facilitator of the Partnership Program between Methodist North Hospital and Craigmont High School to give students an opportunity to shadow and intern with health industry professionals.
“I’m humble that we’ve been successful,” said Parkinson. “People can see the difference and the movement inside of the Raleigh and Frayser communities.”
Parkinson’s crowning achievement to date may be the re-branding and revitalization of Raleigh Springs Mall. “The mall is the largest commercial retail space in the whole Northwest region of the Memphis Metro market,” he says. “What we want to do is make sure that the mall has its proper place.”
The mall (built in 1971) is nearly, or at least, 100 percent occupied, said Parkinson, owing some of the mall’s success to the partnership with ABetterMemphis.com. The organization will set up headquarters, along with other businesses, in 6,000 square feet of office space.
“ABetterMemphis.com is working with the mall (in marketing, media and events), but not necessarily on the mall’s payroll,” Parkinson said. “It’s within the mission of A Better Memphis that the mall survives, flourishes and grows in the Raleigh community. Whatever we can do to make those businesses flourish, that’s what we do. The mall's success is our success.”
Since the economy has nose-dived over the years, the Raleigh community, like others, is making strides to right itself economically. According to the Web site About.com, the population of Raleigh is 43,000. The median age is 29.6 years; median household income, $39,217; and average home value, $101.068.
Raleigh is located in the northeast section of Memphis and bordered by Egypt Central on the North, Interstate 40 on the South, Old Brownsville and Sycamore View Roads on the East, and New Allen/Warford Road on the West.
So the revitalization of Raleigh continues.
If not, he said the mission of ABetterMemphis.com is just the same: jobs, economic development and education. “An educated workforce, I think, is vitally important to North Memphis and Shelby County.”
About Antonio ‘2 Shay’ Parkinson...
Parkinson has lived in Memphis since leaving the United States Marine Corp. in 1990. He served four and a half years and exited honorably with the rank of corporal. In fact, it was a drill instructor, he said, who nicknamed him “2 Shay,” which came from a cartoon character called “Touche' the Turtle.”
Born in Oakland, Calif., Parkinson spent most of his childhood in Los Angeles and finished high school in Port Arthur, Texas. He is married and has two biological children and three step children ages 24-6, all girls. He has been a fireman for 21 years with the Shelby County Fire Department. His rank: lieutenant.
He is the president of The Voice of Raleigh and Frayser Community Action Network, former president of Frayser Exchange Club, former vice president of the Raleigh Community Council, and past chairman of the Memphis and Shelby County Music Commission.
He also is an active member of Breath of Life Christian Center.
(A version of this story was first published in the Raleigh community newsletter, "It's All About Raleigh.")