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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — It’s been called the forgotten part of the Bluff City. New Chicago in North Memphis was once bustling with businesses like the old Firestone plant, but those businesses closed years ago and left a big void behind.

Now one church is hoping to revive the neighborhood, one house at a time.

At first glance there is not a lot of new in New Chicago. Many say this part of Memphis, which sits in the shadows of downtown, has remained stagnant as the city flourishes.

Pastor Ronnie King doesn’t think it has to be that way.

“New Chicago is a community that we ought not to let fall,” King said.

The long-closed Firestone plant in New Chicago

His Grace Missionary Baptist Church sits in the heart of New Chicago and has been on a mission to change things even before King arrived three years ago.

“The late Reverend Dr. Coleman Crawford, who died in 2017, he pastored this church for 55 years. One of his visions was to assist and be a blessing to people,” King said. “I came in 2017 and I am building upon that vision to help God’s people”

The vision is to turn dilapidated buildings into nice living units for families in need.

The first units in the renovation project, a duplex on Marble Avenue, have been gutted, cleaned out and rebuilt with new walls, ceilings and electricity.

With a lot of prayer and new contractors, they were able to get the renovations finished, and cut the ribbon on the new units last month.

Tenant Eddie Posey calls it “a blessing from heaven.”   

Posey has been homeless since the pandemic started. He and his teenage grandson have had to find places to stay.

“With a child it has never been like this. It is twice as hard,” Posey said.

Then he found out he would become one of the first tenants in the new duplex.

“All I can say is, ‘Thank you, Jesus for everything you have done for me and my child,’” he said. 

King said that is what their work is all about.

“There are people here that have been in this community for 70 and 80 years,” King said. “They need some help.”

The church has already purchased other vacant lots with plans to build more new homes. New homes have been built through tithes and offerings at the church.

King said he hopes this spreads not only on this street but throughout New Chicago, offering hope to people who need a little help and new life to a once thriving community.