Memphis continues to battle poverty 49 years after Dr. King’s death

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- 42-year-old Dunetra Merritt has been working in fast food since she was 17 years old.

"I work at Checker's restaurant, and I only make $7.25 an hour," Merritt told WREG.

Merritt and her goddaughter Alexis attended the MLK 50 Public Rally at Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church wearing T-shirts with a message about higher wages.

It's a subject Dr. Martin Luther King spoke of 49 years ago in Memphis.

Today, workers call their battle the "Fight for 15."

Merritt said she knows some don't agree with the increase, but she sees it as a win for the community.

"The more we make, the more we spend and put back into the neighborhoods."

The neighborhood where Merritt works needs a lot of help.

She works at the Checker's in South Memphis at Crump Boulevard and Danny Thomas.

It sits in the heart of one of Memphis' poorest ZIP codes.

More than 60 percent of the families in 38126 are in poverty.

It's worse for children. Nine out of 10 5-year-olds live below the poverty line.

Shante Avant is the deputy director of the Women's Foundation for a Greater Memphis.

"It's really about access, and it's about opportunity," said Avant.

In late 2015, the foundation launched Vision 2020, a goal to reduce poverty by 5 percent over five years in 38126.

Avant told WREG there are five goals.

"It's really meeting basic needs of our families, it is marketable job skills, it is early education, it is young development and it's financial literacy."

Last year, Avant said the foundation invested a $1 million into Vision 2020.

Simply put, they give money to grassroots groups on the ground, connecting with families in South Memphis.

Vision 2020 has a two-generational approach, focusing on needs for mothers and children.

Avant said this is a critical component to getting people out of poverty.

"Our city will only grow if we are able to help the most disenfranchised."

Merritt said her participation in the "Fight for $15" is also a battle for others.

"It's not only for me. It's for those that's coming up behind me, to give them a fair wage and a living chance, where my grandkids don't have to struggle."