In the last two years, Lakethen Mason, the founder and Executive Director of Memphis FilmWorks, spearheaded a project to get to know hundreds of Midsouth neighbors through engaging conversations. “Our Neighbors, Our Stories: In Search of Common Ground” is the first in a three-part book series that chronicles the art, life, history, and diverse culture of Memphis authored by Mason. It captures the shared experiences of families, friends, and residents who lived through unprecedented times. The book also assesses the challenges, changes, and revitalization efforts of historic Memphis neighborhoods through the lens of families who call these neighborhoods home.
Each narrative originated from a broad compilation of filmed conversations that began in November 2019 and continued through November 2021. Each conversation had with members of different communities was intended to build appreciation for the opportunities and challenges Mid-Southerners face, both, individually and collectively.
Mason sees the life lessons learned through this series as a way to improve intergenerational dialogue with aspiring young people looking for clear pathways to achieve their goals and tested roadmaps by which to navigate their experiences. Research shows that social literacy is a key component of successful decision-making and goal attainment.
“Our Neighbors, Our Stories is more than a book. It is a movement. Mason and the team have designed a template that is transferable to communities and neighborhoods both statewide and across the Nation. As a lifelong educator, I am excited to see this be used as a teaching and learning tool that helps more families and communities build their own repository of narratives for today and generations to come,” said Agnolia Gay, M.Ed, Senior Vice President of Cultural Immersion Media, LLC.
On May 27, the Mid-South community will come together at the Halloran Center for “A Celebration of Our Neighbors” which is the official book release event. Dignitaries and community leaders from across the city and state of Tennessee will be present to honor the hundreds of neighbors who are highlighted. “This will be an evening of music, applause, recognition, and acknowledgment of Memphis and everyday Memphians who work to make the city stronger and better for all. It will be an evening of commemoration, honor, recognition, and reflection on what it means to be a good neighbor,” said Mason. Special guests who have been confirmed include Mayor Jim Strickland; Commissioner Eddie Jones; Paul Young, President and CEO, Downtown Memphis Commission; London Lamar, Tennessee State Senator; and Rosalind Withers, CEO, Ernest C Withers Museum & Gallery. The event will be streamed live to thousands of households and will also be filmed for future audiences to enjoy.
“Our Neighbors, Our Stories” is a literary interpretation of 100 of 300 interviews conducted with support from The Kresge Foundation. “Whether in our hometown of Detroit, Memphis, or New Orleans, The Kresge Foundation believes in the primacy of community. We believe in centering lived experiences and first-person histories. It is only by hearing, holding, and taking to heart these stories that cities can begin the conversations needed to truly grow, change and move forward. Our foundation is proud to support this collection of stories and narratives to help illuminate this path,” said managing director Chantel M. Rush of American Cities Program at The Kresge Foundation.
The book also received support and rave reviews from the academic community. “The Christian Brothers University (CBU) Center for Community Engagement is elated about the release of the ‘Our Neighbors, Our Stories - Oral Narrative Collection (Vol. 1)’ from Memphis FilmWorks. Along with our collective collaboration and dedication to service and social justice, we applaud the elevation of community voice and presence. By doing such, we along with Memphis FilmWorks look forward to the bright solutions, conversations, and preservation of our beautiful Greater Memphis Area,” said Justin Brooks, the director of the Center for Community Engagement at Christian Brothers University.
To order a copy of the book or for more information, please visit ourneighborsourstories.org or follow them on Facebook: @OurNeighborsOurStories; Twitter: @OurNeighbors_; and Instagram: @ourneighborsourstories.