|The Rev. Charlie Caswell and activist Christine Grandberry find common ground|
in a discussion about saving the community. (Photo by Wiley Henry)
Thursday, June 30, 2016
Activist goes to Washington for solutions to rebuild Frayser
The Rev. Charlie Caswell Jr. loves his community and advocates to restore the splendor that was diminished over the years by rampant foreclosures, a dilapidated housing stock, failing schools, wanton violence, insufficient business investments, blight, and poverty.
Frayser was once a thriving community of the working class. Now the working poor comprises as many of the 50,000 residents living in one of the highest crime-ridden areas in the city of Memphis. Caswell, however, is not deterred by such dour statistics. Instead, he’s determined to rectify the problem.
He is the senior pastor of Union Grove Institutional Baptist Church in Frayser and regarded as its quintessential community leader who is motivated by the partnerships and collaborations he’s forged and nurtured to bring an end to Frayser’s economic drought and grim outlook.
His love affair with the community and never-say-die attitude prompted a move by members of the Frayser Neighborhood Council (FNC), of which he is a member, to tap him to represent Frayser in Washington D.C. and to discuss the Frayser 2020 Plan, the framework of a revitalization effort.
Caswell is the FNC’s go-to activist whose activism is spreading beyond the boundaries of Memphis. He’d presented the group a proposal called “Unity in the Community,” and it was a given that Caswell would be the flag-bearer and catalyst for change in Frayser.
The proposal, said Caswell, “basically addresses getting more people involved through training Frayer’s ambassadors to work in the community, as well as becoming block captains and working with the Neighborhood Watch coordinators in their community.”
On June 8-10, Caswell and a contingent of Memphis activists and community leaders trekked to the nation’s capitol to take part in the Obama Administration’s Neighborhood Revitalization Initiative (NRI), “a bold new place-based approach to help neighborhoods in distress transform themselves into neighborhoods of opportunity.”
Frayser was one of eight communities in five cities chosen for the NRI’s Building Neighborhood Capacity Program (BNCP), a hands-on, technical assistance initiative. This was Caswell’s second trip to Washington. He was in the nation’s capitol earlier during the year to address and seek solutions for Frayser’s wide-spread problems. The BNCP program, he said, targets three communities in the Memphis area – Frayser, Binghampton and Soulsville.
“It entails helping residents to identify assets that are available to them in the community and helping to build upon those assets, service providers, and other partners in the community using basically the assets that they have in helping to make them better to serve the community better,” said Caswell.
The Memphis contingent worked with top officials from the White House-led interagency collaborative that included the departments of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Education (ED), Justice (DOJ), Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Treasury in support of local solutions to revitalize and transform neighborhoods. Meetings were held at The Department of Justice.
“What we went back to Washington to tell them what the ‘7 P’s’ are about – Pastors, Politicians, Parents, Police, Principals, Proprietors and Partners – and how it’s going to help serve the residents in our community,” said Caswell, author and founder of the 3V Leader program, which focuses on creating a collaborative of parents, children and stakeholders in the community.
“In this work, it helps me to understand…we can do more together than separate. So I think the big picture for us as a community is for those who don’t just look at the dollar amount, but the human capital of us unifying, coming together and sharing the resources that we have and the knowledge that we have,” he said.
“As a leader in the community, that’s been my charge.”