Shining a light on our neighborhoods, and our grassroots leaders

NPI’s Summit Awards for Grassroots & Neighborhood Leaders Set for an Online Ceremony August 28

By Jeff Hulett, with Mark Fleischer

An unsung hero of County Code Enforcement. A neighborhood leader unafraid of getting his hands dirty and maintaining his neighborhood’s Adopt-A-Trash-Can. An entrepreneur who purchased a dilapidated building and turned it into a banquet hall.

These are the everyday heroes who make our neighborhoods great.

A property management company that transformed a vacant, deteriorating apartment complex into a clean, safe and desirable affordable housing that is now 100% occupied. And an intimate neighborhood that banded together and turned a former corner store into a community hub.

These are the organizations that make Memphis proud, that do the hard work to transform otherwise lifeless properties into affordable, livable and vibrant spaces.

Together, they are the individuals and organizations that bring their ingenuity, passions and perseverance to their city, their surroundings and the people around them. They are those, being honored this August, that make our Memphis neighborhoods great.

Memphis is a neighborhood city. Neighborhoods define the fabric of this city and the core tapestry of one of the most unique urban environments in America. For those interested in revitalizing and empowering Memphis neighborhoods, there is a seat for you at this year’s Neighborhood Preservation Summit Awards on August 28.

Click here to save your virtual seat. 

The Neighborhood Preservation Summit is a semi-annual event (every 18 months) hosted by the Blight Elimination Steering Team (BEST) to bring community members together to explore progress and the future of Memphis neighborhoods. Due to COVID 19 this year’s event has been broken into two parts. The first part held on May 1 featured workshops surrounding the work done by each committee of BEST and how this work is applicable to the greater Memphis community. The online event held via Zoom provided an opportunity for participants to hear from city and county officials about their aspirations for the Memphis community. 

Part two of the event will serve as on online celebration of this year’s winners and also feature a Keynote by Director of the City of Memphis Division of Housing and Community Development Paul Young

“Neighborhoods are the building blocks of our community and it is vital that those neighborhoods are places where our residents can thrive,” said Director of Housing and Community Development for the City of Memphis Paul Young. “This Summit is an opportunity for community members to shine a light on the great things happening in our neighborhoods and identify solutions to address the challenges.” 

Memphis Neighborhood Preservation Summit Award Winners:

  1.  Leadership Impact Award: Ms. Felecia Campbell; Senior inspector with the Signs and Zoning section of Code Enforcement
  2. Grassroots Leader of the Year: Mr. Sam Ballard, Palmershire Park Neighborhood Association 
  3. Residential Property of the Year: Bayou Square Apartments, Divine Properties Tennessee
  4. Commercial Property of the Year: Vivian Bowens, VAB Banquet Hall
  5. Neighborhood Achievement Award: Alcy Ball CDC and Gethsemane Garden COGIC

“The May 1 workshops were all about sharing information and strategizing for future success in our fight against property blight,” said NPI Memphis Program Manager Imani Jasper. “The Awards Ceremony is all about celebrating successes in our communities.”

The successes are many.

Nominated by Rose Hill for the Leadership Impact Award, Felecia Campbell is a senior inspector with the Sign and Zoning section of Code Enforcement, handling most of the permitting of all advertising signs in Memphis and Shelby County.

She has been called an unsung hero. “She attends most of the neighborhood meetings for our department be it day or night,” said Rose. “She is very proficient in handling zoning problems that arise is very strict in handling the needs and problems of the community. She’s an employee that deserves all positive recognition.”

Nominated by David Burgess for the Grassroots Leader of the Year, Mr. Sam Ballard of the Palmershire Park Neighborhood Association works with the City of Memphis on cleanups and maintains his local Memphis City Beautiful Adopt A Trash Can program. He is well-known in the fight-blight community and is an important part of the SPARCC initiative (The Strong, Prosperous, And Resilient Communities Challenge) who attends just about every “PJA” meeting to volunteer his experience and knowledge.

“I nominated Mr. Sam Ballard because he has been actively working to keep Memphis clean and green for decades, especially the Palmershire Park Community,” said David Burgess. “Mr. Ballard is an active member of the Palmershire Park Community Association. Everyday Mr. Ballard makes sure the community remains clean by physically picking up trash and maintaining their Adopt A Trash Cans that Palmershire Park Community Association adopted via Memphis City Beautiful. Mr. Ballard has also spearheaded several green-space beautification projects in the area and uses his expertise as a master gardener to help maintain common areas. Mr. Ballard is currently working with a local school to start a gardening and mechanical apprentice club that will teach students how to work with their hands in fields such as construction, agriculture and various mechanical trades. Mr. Ballard is not only beloved by his community, community association but also by everyone who works in the realm of community beautification. Mr. Ballard is an officer of his local community association, and he also attends multiple neighborhood meetings to discuss collaborating with like minded communities. Mr. Ballard advocates for resources and reports any structural blight or code violations in his community as well.

“When I read the description for the award, I immediately thought about Mr. Ballard. He is the definition of humility and has been the “unsung hero” for decades. I would love to see Mr. Ballard receive some recognition for everything he does, just to show him that we notice and appreciate everything he is doing. Did I mention that Mr. Ballard is in his 80s? He is truly a remarkable individual.”

Nominated by Sheila Jordan Cunningham for the Residential Property of the Year, Divine Properties Tennessee undertook the monumental challenge of rescuing the Bayou Square Apartments, a longtime vacant, seriously deteriorated, crime-ridden, large multifamily property (over 4 acres, about 80 units) located in Frayser. In less than two years, Divine Properties fully renovated the entire complex, stripping every building down to the studs and replacing the electrical systems, plumbing, floors, fixtures and appliances in every apartment with sound, quality workmanship, transforming Bayou Square into clean, safe, desireable, affordable housing that is now 100% occupied. The transformation has had a ripple effect in surrounding properties and businesses of Frayser.

Nominated by Mary Baker for the Commercial Property of the Year, Vivian Bowens was the first person to purchase and renovate a dilapidated building in the Carnes School neighborhood. “The building, 413 Decatur Street, was formerly a neighborhood grocery store,” said Mary. “When Vivian purchased it in December 2013 from the Shelby County Government Tax Sale, it was a vacant and abandoned building in very poor condition. 

Vivian renovated 413 Decatur Street to be VAB Banquet Hall, which she envisioned as an event space for wedding showers, baby showers and other similar events. However, it has grown into a center for neighborhood improvement events.

In 2017 Bridges students assembled butterfly sculptures there with artists from Memphis College of Art. After the butterflies were assembled Bridges students and artists placed the butterflies throughout the neighborhood. This event was aptly named ‘Butterfly Release.’ The butterfly sculptures are still soaring above garden beds and are clustered on garden fences in the neighborhood.

I believe that Vivian’s original leap of faith that led her to purchase the old grocery store at 413 Decatur Street was the original spark that ignited improvements in the Carnes School neighborhood.”

Nominated by Deveney Perry for the Neighborhood Achievement Award, the Alcy Ball CDC (and Gethsemane Garden COGIC) neighborhood “deserves to be honored for fighting blight,” said Deveney. “The Alcy Ball neighborhood is tackling blight in the best way, organizing to do it together. Today the historic African American community consists of diverse age groups and people who have come together simultaneously to take on the relational community work AND the housing and development work. This is not an easy task. Bringing those two necessary tasks together they are able to re-purpose what was once a neighborhood corner store into a community hub where they can continue their community efforts. This neighborhood is also making good use of the tools and partners that can support their efforts as they were just awarded an ICED loan from EDGE.”

To register, please visit and enter your name and email, you will then receive a confirmation email with the webinar access information from the ZmUrl team. Registration ends August 20. 

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