Our History

The History of Lead Awareness in Memphis, Tennessee

In the mid-1990's Chet Kibble, an Environmental Specialist worked with the community setting goals to bring training and awareness to Memphis, Tennessee.

Appreciative Inquiry and Eliminating Lead in Memphis

“Preserving Memphis Communities”

Created and used by E.P.A. at University of Chicago


created and used by Environmental Justice in Chicago. In it, memphis is used as an example of how citizens have addressed environmental concerns using the EPS’s seven step problem solving collaborative process.

Chet Kibble

Minister Sukhara A. Yahweh

Appreciative Inquiry and Eliminating Lead in Memphis

“Preserving Memphis Communities”

Description of the Organization:

The Memphis and Shelby County Lead Safe Collaborative (MSCLSC) brings together local organizations and communities to address persistent lead exposure. MSCLSC consists of various organizations such as nonprofits, city and county officials, the health department, Inform the People, Lebonuer Hospital, St. Jude Hospital and Memphis Light, Gas and Water.

Focus of the Inquiry:

​In 2008, Chet Kibble and Minister Sukhara A. Yahweh, both members of Inform the People in Memphis, TN, sent a letter to the U.S. EPA, Region 4 Administrator regarding the presence of lead water lines in Memphis, TN, specifically three zip codes located in an environmental justice community. The Office of Environmental Justice received the letter and responded to Mr. Kibble. The response provided details regarding the water quality in Memphis and included a recommendation to read EPA’s Collaborative Problem-Solving Workbook and Opportunities for Advancing Environmental Justice: An Analysis of U.S. EPA Statutory Authorities. Mr. Kibble followed several of the steps in the Workbook, and continued educating his community about the hazards of lead.

​In 2014, they sent another, very similar letter to the U.S. EPA, Region 4. This time, however, OEJS provided a very different response. OEJS recommended to use alternative dispute resolution, specifically Appreciative Inquiry (AI). Inform the People (ITP), which is a subcommittee of MSCLSC, and Memphis, Light, Gas and Water (MLGW) agreed to participate. ITP and MLGW’s relationship was strained for over ten years, and the community was less than pleased with MLGW’s actions. The facilitators discussed the benefits of AI with both organizations and arranged the first of several sessions between ITP and MLGW. After months of conference calls, MLGW hosted the first Appreciative Inquiry session with ITP and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation. On the day of the meeting, Minister Yahweh nor Chet Kibble were allowed to enter the building and participate in the meeting. Eventually, Chet was able to enter the building and attend the meeting. The EPA facilitator opened the meeting with an explanation of AI. Most of the meeting attendees were unfamiliar with AI, and were skeptical about the process, as well as its potential outcomes. The facilitator continued to define the AI process, and the general rules of discussion. This is where the tone of the meeting shifted and the movement towards resolution began – that this might be a step towards positive communication and reconciliation

Organizational Objectives:

MSCLSC has a goal of reducing lead exposure for all people in Memphis. Additional objectives are: Eliminate lead exposure from all sources; Openly discuss the affects to their community including educational attainment rates of school-aged children due to lead exposure; Properly classifying students who have been exposed to lead; Educate city and county officials and citizens on the two types of lead exposure; and Create jobs and conduct environmental training.

What Was Done:

The Appreciative Inquiry meeting conducted in March of 2015 has resulted in several positive outcomes:

Both parties increased their appreciation for each other’s efforts

ITP and MLGW shared things that their respective organizations had accomplished over the past 5 -10 years. This dialogue allowed both organizations to hear each other’s perspective and to acknowledge their appreciation for their efforts. Both organizations were pleasantly surprised and pleased that much progress had been made over the years.

A willingness to invite and innovate new forms of cooperation

EPA conducted several AI-focused meetings with ITP and MLGW over the next year. The communication and relationship between the organizations improved during this time. MLGW and ITP continued to meet; eventually drafting an action plan outlining specific steps and timelines. Also, during this time, ITP participated in workshops and community meetings to ensure that the community remained informed and engaged, and that the local government representatives were kept apprised of progress towards completing the action plan. To further show their commitment to AI, ITP endorsed Chet’s application to the newly formed EPA Region 4 Environmental Justice Academy.

A commitment to Alternative Dispute Resolution as an organizational change process

Chet was selected to participate in the inaugural class of the Environmental Justice Academy, and began the nine-month journey to increase his capacity as a leader and to increase his collaborative problem-solving skills. Chet attended all sessions, and graduated with the distinction of Salutatorian. Prior to graduating, Chet continued meeting with MLGW.

Outcomes of the Initiative:

After several months of deliberation, MLGW agreed to identify and replace all lead water lines over a five-year period. Both organizations were pleased with their progress and continue to meet periodically to review the status of the action plan. The MSCLSC has expanded their membership by adding strategic partners such as a researcher, and have been invited to participate in local lead-focused workgroups. In addition, Chet has participated in several regional and national conferences, and shared the story of their efforts and how AI helped transform their outcomes.

What Was Learned:

1. Power of Community

ITP was started by residents who were not environmental activists. However, they were concerned about the environmental impacts of lead that plagued their communities, and were afraid that the impacts were becoming greater. Appreciative Inquiry is a change process that liberates the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of people at all levels in an organization. Inviting people to share stories when they are at “their best” releases a higher energy level and encourages them to move their work environment toward a more positive direction. When people are treated as if they “do make a difference, they go out and make a difference.” The residents realized that they had the power to address their concerns and to be in control of protecting their communities from environmental harm.

2. Power of Persistence

The residents of ITP are proud of their heritage and their culture. A big part of that is rooted in their communities, which have been home to many generations of families. It would have been easy for them to accept the changes that were occurring around them, but they rallied and they were successful in their efforts.

3. The Power of Focus on the Community

When people are asked to bring their best forward for the benefit of the organization, they do so with enthusiasm and pride. Co-creating the future of their community brings forth a spirit of cooperation, contribution, enthusiasm and high energy. People become excited when they can use their gifts and talents to bring to life that collective vision for the future.

Next Steps:

MSCLSC continues to organize and the create a structure for their organization that will be sustainable. They have developed procedures that will ensure their longevity and their ability to handle any challenges that may confront them. They are developing tools that can be easily understood by the residents to assist them with air and water monitoring.

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