Tuesday, July 05, 2005

Misled: Tennessean Publishes A One-Sided Piece on Salemtown Association

I have mentioned in the past the famine-to-feast situation of Salemtown's neighborhood organizing efforts. Salemtown went from having zero neighborhood associations to one to two in a matter of months, thanks to a member of the first group splitting to form his own North Salemtown organization.

Over the holiday weekend, the Tennessean published an article on the front page of its Davidson A.M. section about the second neighborhood association, T.R.U.E. Salemtown Neighborhood Association. Among other things, the article mentioned that T.R.U.E. is joining forces with a neighborhood church to stop crime and gang violence and to provide residents with free lunches.

There is absolutely nothing objectionable about such lofty goals. I also find little objectionable about the idea of two neighborhood organizations working to make life better in Salemtown.

However, Tennessean reporter Nancy Deville did not tell the whole story of neighborhood organizing in Salemtown. In fact, she did not tell the whole story about how T.R.U.E.'s spokesperson decided to start a second Salemtown organization. As far as I can tell, she did not do any research beyond talking to T.R.U.E.'s spokesperson. More information would not have been hard to find. She could have contacted the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods; they know more about the whole story. She could have googled. She should have done a little more digging.

Deville's most unsettling tendency in the Salemtown piece is to allow one T.R.U.E. spokesperson to tell a story about Salemtown that is not entirely true:
"I moved away and then moved back into the Salemtown area, and it has drastically changed," said Joseph Angus, who grew up in the area and is interim president of the association. "Nobody had really done anything about it, so I took it upon myself to try to do something, with the help of the neighbors. Drugs and gang violence are the two things that we want to address first."
It's that "nobody had really done anything" comment that is burred under my saddle. Before T.R.U.E. was founded by Joe Angus this past May, Salemtown Neighbors had been organizing and working for months.

Salemtown Neighbors officially started meeting back in February of this year. Truth be told, we started late last fall when some neighbors along 5th Ave., North started looking for a neighborhood association to join and, upon not finding one, began talking individually to each other about starting one. Those neighbors also started working with the police to deal with gang graffiti and with other Metro Departments about illegal dumping, recycling problems, and stray animals. So in February we formally met at the Morgan Park Community Center. And Salemtown Neighbors has been meeting every month, twice-a-month since February, making progress on a number of neighborhood problems.

But that story was not told in Deville's piece, because she only got T.R.U.E.'s side. If she would have contacted me, I would have told her that, while T.R.U.E. may be starting a neighborhood watch now, Salemtown Neighbors has been working with the police on a neighborhood watch since March. I would have told her that Salemtown Neighbors has even secured seven Neighborhood Watch signs that are about to be installed across the neighborhood from 3rd to 7th, and from Hume St. to the interstate. According to Deville, T.R.U.E. invited MDHA in to talk about the community block grant designated for Salemtown last week; Salemtown Neighbors sponsored a neighborhood question and answer session with MDHA back on May 12, when T.R.U.E. was launching its first association meeting.

Salemtown Neighbors is committed to working on behalf of the entire neighborhood. Deville's story is more about one church's no doubt noble efforts in one section of Salemtown. That narrow focus is the result of Mr. Angus's expressed wish to me to divide Salemtown right down the middle, leaving North Salemtown to T.R.U.E. (with no reference to the northside in the association's title), and leaving South Salemtown to Salemtown Neighbors. When Deville identifies the Salemtown boundaries in her piece, she curiously leaves out a southern boundary, which is recognized by Salemtown Neighbors and by the Metro Planning Department as Hume St.

But Salemtown Neighbors has refused to accept arbitrary boundaries or personal decisions to split our community in half. While Mr. Angus publicizes his meetings to residents north of Garfield, Salemtown Neighbors communicates with all of Salemtown, including the section where Salem AME Church meets.

When Mr. Angus left, I personally expressed the wish to him that our groups work collaboratively rather than competitively. At that time he made no response. His comments in the Tennessean indicate to me that he has no interest in collaboration. I just wish that the Tennessean had worked a little harder to portray neighborhood organizing in Salemtown accurately.

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