Interpreting the world around us is difficult, so people often rely on narratives in an effort to make sense of it. Narratives can be defined as a ‘collection or system of related stories that are articulated and refined over time to represent a central idea or belief’. They come from innumerable sources and influences. Some are deeply ingrained in us by our media consumption, while others emerge from our lived experience. Some of the strongest held narratives in the United States are about poverty—narratives that drive public imagination and attitudes toward people experiencing it. Many of these narratives lead to misunderstandings about poverty and its causes, and result in misguided social policy, such as implementing work requirements in order to receive benefits. The false “culture of poverty” narrative—the belief that poverty is driven by individual fault rather than circumstances outside a person’s control— is also pervasive in various spheres of American life. In reality, living in poverty and the resulting conditions of chronic scarcity have deleterious effects on people. So in order to effectively tackle poverty, policies, programs, and products must be designed with the realities of this context in mind. Because narratives are the lens through which we view and judge the world, they also shape how we interact with it: what positions we take on policy, how we vote, and how we treat people in our communities. To create meaningful narrative change, local organizations and community members partnered to reimagine narratives about poverty and instill new narratives that reflect reality into effective social policy and program design.


Logo for center for transforming communities.
Center for Transforming Communities

Center for Transforming Communities builds up the cultural, economic, social, physical and municipal health of neighborhoods through resident-led community building initiatives, ethical storytelling practices and asset-based community development.

Logo for Latino Memphis
Latino Memphis

Latino Memphis supports the Latinx of Memphis by providing educational and career advancement opportunities, connecting clients to needed services, ensuring families are safe, and encouraging engagement between and among people of all backgrounds and ethnicities.

Logo for Micah Memphis
Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action
and Hope

Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope is a coalition of community and faith-based organizations joining together to give a more powerful voice for issues of justice in our city around the three pillar issues of economic equity, education equity, and race and class in the justice system.

Logo for Score Employment
SCORE Community Development Corporation

SCORE CDC provides direct services and support to families in South Memphis.

Logo for Stand for children leadership center
Stand for Children

Stand for Children organizes the collective power of parents, teachers, and community members to create a political voice for children and make lasting changes in our education system.

Logo for Out Memphis

OUTMemphis empowers, connects, educates, and advocates for the LGBT community of the Mid-South.

Logo for Ideas 42

ideas42 is a nonprofit organization that uses behavioral science –the study of how humans make decisions and take action (or not) in the real world– to reduce inequality around the world.

picture of the artist

Jamond Bullock

Born and raised in Memphis, TN, Jamond Bullock received a BA in Fine Art from LeMoyne-Owen College in 2008. Primarily working in acrylic, Bullock’s style is colorful, loose, and expressive. His purpose in life is to create and spread artistic vision throughout the world. He is also a performance painter for special events under the name Alive Paint.

Picture of the artist Richard Lou


Lou was born in San Diego, CA. and raised in San Diego, CA and Tijuana, BCN, MX. Richard grew up in a biracial family which was spiritually, and intellectually guided by both an anti-colonialist Chinese father and a culturally affirming Mexicana mother. Educated at Southwestern College, Chula Vista, CA receiving an A.A. in Fine Art in 1981; California State University at Fullerton, CA receiving a B.A. in Fine Art in 1983; Clemson University, Clemson, SC receiving an M.F.A. in Fine Art in 1986. As a Chicano Artist the consistent themes he has explored are the subjugation of his community by the Dominant Culture and White Privilege. Lou served for a total of 29 years as department Chair at three institutions of higher education. He has curated/organized over 50 exhibitions, exhibitedhis work in over 150 exhibitions, and continues to produce and exhibit while teachingin the Department of Art at the University of Memphis.

Picture of the artist Elaine Blanchard

Elaine Blanchard

Elaine is a storyteller, writer and actor. Elaine studied theater at Lambuth College in Jackson, TN and earned an Associate Degree in nursing from Union University in Jackson. She worked for twenty five years in acute care settings; ten years of that time she worked with people recovering from addictions. She earned a BS from University of Tennessee-Martin in 1992, with a double major in English and philosophy. She earned her Master of Divinity, 2000, from Memphis Theological Seminary where she is currently adjunct faculty and teaching “The Preacher as Storyteller.” She is frequently a pulpit guest in a variety of faith communities. She leads spiritual retreats for groups and congregations.

About the mural

Illustration of a women reading a book

In the words of one storyteller, Tanesha Bates, “There is not one way to be a perfect mother but there are a hundred ways to be a good mother.” This depiction of a mother reading to her child in her belly is a celebration of motherhood in all of its forms. 

Illustration of Monarch Butter Flys

Here, monarch butterflies are a symbol of migration, transformation, and change. Like migration for butterflies, the movement of people across borders and over seasons is natural and beautiful.

Illustration of a mother and child together

Family—both biological and chosen—are a constant source of support and strength for these storytellers. The bond of siblinghood is depicted here.

Illustration of a flower

The lotus is a symbol of resilience and perseverance. It grows in the water, emerging from the mud and blooming bright and strong. 

illustration of neighborhood blocks dedicated in map format

These are the outlines of Memphis neighborhoods. They fit together like a puzzle, symbolizing union and solidarity across geography, but also reflect the strong sense of pride and community that Memphians feel for their own neighborhood. 

Illustration of a women

For too long, the voices of Black and Brown communities in Memphis and across the US have been silenced. It’s time to hear the choir of voices demanding a new narrative.

What narratives do you hold about poverty?

Narratives are collections of stories that communicate a central idea. We use narratives to make sense of the world, including how we understand poverty. This 5-minute quiz will assess your beliefs and attitudes about five common poverty narratives and show you how you compare to others. Ready to see where you land?