A banner hangs in Whitehaven along Elvis Presley Blvd. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

In ways often unspoken and yet persistent, African Americans thirst for self-determination. Black communities protest and push and yearn to overcome adversity and gain a sense of control over our lives for a chance at peace and security. We vote, too, to try to ensure a country, state or city that grants a democracy that gives us a say over the entities meant to serve us. While the end of slavery offered a measure of freedom, full political empowerment offers something else—citizenship. A sense of true belonging. 

That thread of self-determination bubbles beneath the dispute housing and development reporter Jacob Steimer wrote about this week. In some ways, it’s an oft-told tale: a developer wants to build affordable housing in a neighborhood; folks in the neighborhood worry about what that development might bring.  

But because his story takes place in majority Black Whitehaven, the story’s notes are a little different because in majority Black communities the story is always a little different. The seemingly well-intentioned developer has a vision for the property. The residents and leaders have a vision for Whitehaven. And that divide speaks to a struggle bigger than one development on one street in one city.

I asked Jacob why he wanted to do this story. “I think this story fits into our mission because it helps illuminate a specific controversy that Whitehaven clearly cares about, while speaking to larger issues around affordable housing and community control,” he said.

The late great feminist author and professor bell hooks once said, “Being oppressed means the absence of choices.” Jacob’s story explores the nuanced question of who decides what’s best for a community; embedded in that question is the notion of choice and the power in having a choice. I’m not sure there are easy answers or clear choices. But as Black Memphians grapple with issues at the intersection of power and policy, MLK50 wants to be there to tell those stories. 

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by these generous donors.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Send an email to info@mlk50.com.