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STREETSEEN  |  Talbert Fleming

Photo by Steve Roberts

Talbert Fleming: A Recipe for Neighborhood Revitalization

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Growing up in South Memphis left its mark on Talbert Fleming — so much so that it stirred a passion in him to give back to not only his hometown, but specifically to his former neighborhood. In the same block of Bullington Avenue where he grew up, Talbert has been quietly, but steadily, spearheading a revival.

“After leaving Memphis for college, then joining the military, I moved around from Seattle to Atlanta,” recalled Talbert. “I studied mechanical engineering and marketing, and worked in both fields for large corporations like IBM, Digital and Kohler. Through my position with La Face Records in Atlanta, I discovered that what I really enjoyed was brining others into the spotlight.”

When La Face was purchased by Arista Records, Talbert saw the opportunity to return home and put his experience into practice. He started a travel agency with an emphasis on entertainment, designing music festivals both in the states and internationally.

“As my success grew, I got together with my two brothers, Sheldon and Reginald, and my mother, Darlene West, and decided that the best way to ‘give back’ was to help my former community re-emerge and thrive,” said Talbert. “We decided to open a small restaurant with locally grown food, cooked by my family, that could help feed the people in the Bullington Avenue area. Many of the neighbors are now elderly, with limited transportation and abilities to cook for themselves. We wanted to provide good, healthy meals at prices they could afford, and make it accessible.”

The first year Talbert said he and his family focused on remodeling a house they were given by family friend who was supporting their efforts to revitalize the neighborhood. They named their restaurant Jim & Samella’s after Talbert’s maternal grandparents.

“We let our neighbors know that we were here for them and began sourcing most of our food from the South Memphis Farmers Market, located just down the street from our restaurant,” said Talbert. “Our second year we worked on developing our plans, in terms of how to best serve our community. By the third year we had all the working parts in place and were spreading our wings. And, now in our fourth year, we feel like we have established our place in South Memphis.”

Since founding Jim &Samella’s at 841 Bullington in the heart of Soulsville, in July 2013, Talbert and his family have received community support from outside of their neighborhood as well.

“Memphis City Beautiful provided us with a Community Mini-Grant, then IKEA donated furnishings and accessories to help tie it all together,” said Talbert. “Additionally, The EDGE gave us a $25,000 forgivable grant that we used to remodeling the kitchen, put in new indoor and outdoor lighting, and better develop our landscaping.”

As their plans grew, so did the restaurant. It has become a gathering spot for neighbors. That development has served as a stimulus for the neighborhood’s revitalization.

“As neighbors get to know each other again, they’ve started feeling a renewed sense of community pride,” explained Talbert. “And as we continue to evaluate how we can best serve them, we’re expanding our operation in a number of ways.”

Plans for the future include launching a Penny Drive to encourage neighbors to collectively save money to help rebuild their neighborhood. And the restaurant is going to cultivate land to grow vegetables that area residents can come pick for free.

“We’re also developing recipes for the foods we plan to grow to encourage people to eat ‘heart healthy’ meals,” added Talbert.

By mid-April, Talbert and his family want to provide a different kind of nourishment — food for the soul.

“We’re striving to bring culture by opening an open-air amphitheater adjacent to the restaurant,” said Talbert. “We want to give local musicians a new venue for their own exposure, while  bringing some local color back to the neighborhood. Planned events will also include outdoor art shows for visual artists.”

Capping off their revitalization efforts, Talbert and his supporters are planning to establish a Cherry Blossom Festival.

“We want to literally bring a bright spot to our area and give people something else to be proud of,” said Talbert. “We want to see our area thrive and we hope to do that by attracting a younger generation who put their roots down here, too. We hope they will purchase blighted properties and rehab them for their own use. The long-term goal is to keep this community alive, and not have it die out with the remaining elderly people who live here now.”

Just a few weeks ago, Talbert learned that the purpose of his establishment had come full circle.

“An 88 year-old man came by for a visit and brought his family to see the house,” said Talbert. “He told how his family was too poor to go to the hospital for their children to be born, and yet, while he was growing up here, his mother would cook to help feed the neighbors. It is somewhat miraculous that this house, re-established as Jim & Samella’s, is now continuing that tradition of community service.”

For more information about Jim & Samella’s, check out their page at facebook.com/jimandsamellas

STREETSEEN  |  Olga King

Photo by Steve Roberts

Olga King: The Evolution of an Artist

Story by Emily Adams Keplinger

Olga King’s artistic sensibilities surfaced when she was a school girl in Moscow, Russia. She participated in an after-school art program for two years and said that she always loved to paint.

“I’ve known I have the heart of an artist,” said Olga. “I always painted, and even won city-wide  school competitions in Moscow.”

But as she grew up, Olga shelved her art because at the time, the economy was not very encouraging. Instead, she focused her knack for attention to detail in another direction—engineering. She learned the skill of making chips for micro-electronics. However, again the economy directed her vocation and she found herself working as a loan officer for European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), analyzing potential funding and approving loans for small businesses.

“I was responsible for a $3 million portfolio,” recalled Olga. “It wasn’t until I came to the United States that I returned to my art. However, it wasn’t a deliberate path, but more of one out of necessity. When something on a piece of my own jewelry broke, I repaired it. My creativity resurfaced as I found I could add different stones and exchange clasps to get a different look. That’s how it all started. It wasn’t a plan, but more of an evolution.”

In Olga’s beginning as a jewelry designer, she brought amber beads from Russia, selling them and ultimately adding different stones to her necklaces. It was when she starting working with freshwater pearls that she found her passion. The exotic, natural-colored stones, ranging in shades of white to ivory and champagne as well as shades of gray and black, became the basis of her signature line. Using sterling and gold-filled wire components, she handcrafts necklaces, bracelets and earrings in unique, one-of-a-kind designs.

Olga said, “To promote my jewelry, I wore my creations and made personal calls on retailers to see if they would carry my line.”

With a school-age son, Olga did not want the travel associated with building a regional wholesale trade. Instead, she says she prefers to show locally, and has a large showcase filled with over 100 pieces of her collection at Palladio. She has cultivated a reputation for custom-designed jewelry, including bridal and bridesmaid jewelry and treasured keepsakes.

After setting up shop, she found she had extra time on her hands and saw the opportunity to return to her first love—painting.

“Art is what I love, what I always wanted to do,” said Olga. “I began with pencil and watercolors, then acrylics, and worked my way to mixed media.”

In an airy study of line and shape, Olga’s abstract art is very minimalistic. Female forms and floral still lives are rendered in graphite with a pop of color.

“My studies are captured quickly,” explained Olga. “Other paintings evolve as layers of colors are applied. Often I’m inspired by an expression of a face. I don’t try to draw exactly what I see. Instead, my art is more emotional. I try give the impression of a look.”

Now Olga spends her days working and painting. Her jewelry is her main business, but she is also exhibiting her art in area galleries, like the Annesdale Gallery and Crosstown Arts.

 

To see more of Olga’s work, follow her on Instagram at @olgavking. For more information, send an email to olga@olgaking.com.