Communities in Memphis have been rocked by violent crime – a 2019 study showing Memphis to be the second most dangerous city in the nation. This is especially true for neighborhoods of color. The Covid-19 pandemic exacerbated this with rises in poverty, homelessness, and crime.
There is hope on the horizon. The Heal the Hood Foundation of Memphis works to use arts, media, and science to shift the culture and combat violent crime in the community.
Founded by LaDell Beamon, his mission is to provide opportunities for Memphis youth to keep them off the streets and out of gangs.
At just 19, a tragic experience thrusted LaDell onto the path he continues today. While working in the Creative Life After School Program, he became acquainted with 15-year-old Marvin Robinson. Marvin wanted to escape gang life and participate in the arts.
“I didn’t know Marvin Robinson was in a gang. But when he was in the arts, he was doing well.” LaDell Beamon, Founder and CEO.
Marvin disappeared for three months but returned during Christmas break. He told LaDell he wanted to rejoin the program during the summer.
“He never made it back from Christmas break.” LaDell recounts.
Marvin Robinson was found in an abandoned house with his “brains blown out the back of his head.” This was the moment LaDell vowed to create a community that would give children a safe place.
“Every kid I look at, I see Marvin Robinson in them. So, I want to make sure we prevent Marvin Robinson from happening over and over again.” LaDell believes the rise in crime correlates with a lack of activities for and centers for black kids to occupy their time.
Enter the Hero Empowerment Center – a superhero themed space where kids can realize their dreams and practice their talents in a conducive, encouraging environment.
“Life for these kids in today’s society is like being on this long road of trouble with very few exit signs. We want to give more kids exit signs – ways to get off that road of trouble and be able to exit into something positive.”
The career path for Mempians can be limited to the largest industries in the city: logistics, warehousing, and medicine – FedEx being one of the largest employers in the Mid-South. The Hero Empowerment Center is designed to give training to artistic individuals while retaining local talent.
For LaDell, the city contains a large number of kids with a natural aptitude for music, art, acting, and even martial arts. His dedication and efforts attracted the attention of notable black celebrities like Robert Townsend, Keenen Ivory Wayans, and Michael Jai White. All have become actively involved in the future of The Heal the Hood Foundation.
Like with many things, Covid-19 heavily impacted the foundation’s ability to perform some operations. Visiting and speaking at local schools, filming for upcoming projects, and visitation to the center inside of the Hickory Ridge Mall were all slowed due to the pandemic. Since the Memphis economy and school system has reopened, the foundation remains optimistic for their future goals. In their plan – a monumental, state of the art building.
The Heal the Hood Foundation acquired 7.02 acres of land for the future development of the Hero Empowerment Center. They plan to break ground in the Spring of 2022. Once constructed, the center will boast an arcade of champions, a Museum of Heroes and Hip-hop, a gym, an immersive 4-D theatre, plus a lot more!
AND it’s not just for young people. Parents and adults alike will be able to take full advantage of the facility.
If you were wondering where the center got its name, it’s taken from Evolution – their comic book series about superheroes in Memphis. Yes – they even have their own comic along with a children’s book series called Hood Fables. The books allow children to see themselves in the characters while promoting literacy.
The foundation anticipates picking up projects that were halted during the pandemic. Production for two major films – This Is My Hood, a martial arts action film, and Murder on the Subway, a human trafficking hip-hop opera are a part of those plans. Children’s programs and camps are also expected to resume in the coming months.
A major proponent that sets the center apart from other organizations is culture and color.
“The larger organizations….they’re more white washed. The kids that we deal with, they’re not dealing with those particular kids.”
LaDell, of course, is speaking about membership-based organizations where children are selected to participate in special programs. The Hero Empowerment Center will focus more on “the kids that are falling through the cracks.”
“We have a slogan now – don’t let your pain turn you into a villain…you want to allow your pain to turn you into a hero.”
His advice to those who are struggling with situations that seem insurmountable …
“Don’t give up…If you give up at 11:59, right when the new day is about to begin, there’s a whole level of new possibilities that exist out there if you just…don’t give up.”
A message that LaDell hopes will burrow into the hearts of black children everywhere and empower the next generation of superheroes.
To support the Heal the Hood Foundation in Memphis or for more information about their mission, visit their website hthmemphis.org.