Britney Thornton
January 3, 2023
Estimated Read Time: 5 min.

Britney Thornton

Changemaker: Britney Thornton, Juice Orange Mound


Memphis, Tennessee, is internationally known for its music, barbeque, and people. Many are not aware of the vibrant, resiliency that lives in the heart of the city—Orange Mound, or The Mound. Built on a former plantation site in 1890, it became the first subdivision built specifically for Black people, which was cemented by Michelle Obama declaring it a Preserve America Community in 2016.

By 1970, it became the second-largest Black community in the country–Harlem coming in first. With the 1980s drug epidemic introducing a wave of crime and economic downturn, The Mound lost its glowing reputation by the 1990s and is currently working to recover. That is where leaders like Britney Thornton come in.

The Theory Of Change

In 2016, Britney started JUICE Orange Mound, a nonprofit organization leading and empowering Orange Mound to be prosperous and self-sufficient. With her social work background, she has set in place countless initiatives that are continuously improving the neighborhood, including community gardens, beautification projects, business incubators, and more.

After finishing graduate school out of state, Britney found herself wondering, “What do adults do?” She returned to her hometown of Memphis and wanted to be involved in her community, but wasn’t sure where to start. With her laptop in hand, she made her way into meetings, recording minutes, which eventually turned into her becoming secretary for various organizations. As she listened to concerns regarding crime and poverty in Orange Mound, it triggered a common prompt given to her during her participation in Teach For America: “What was my ‘theory of change’? What would help make my neighborhood better?”

Power And Influence

As a leader, Britney faces her own internal challenges that many can identify with: feeling the strain of grassroots efforts, feeling overwhelmed, the inconsistencies of a volunteer-run organization, and more. However, her passion does not waver. “I felt like we needed a visionary. We have this inherent power that I didn’t see us acting on,” she said.

Alongside her in the mission to improve the neighborhood are Zone Captains, individuals representing the seven sectors of Orange Mound. They mobilize the organization’s efforts by recruiting and also collecting spare change. Every year the funds collected support four innovative projects curated by community members. In 2020, for the first time since its opening, JUICE  Zone Captains were awarded these funds to implement the Mow the Mound initiative, which resulted in 100 overgrown lots receiving much-needed landscaping.

Laying Claim To Fruitful Land

JUICE’s variety of projects ultimately lead to one thing: combating the narrative that Orange Mound isn’t of value, which is far from the truth.

Despite the national recognition supported by former First Lady Michelle Obama, Orange Mound has not been recognized as a local historically recognized community, making the neighborhood vulnerable to threats of gentrification. Britney and other city leaders are working hard to protect the integrity of the area and its properties. “If we don’t hold space for ourselves, then someone else can see the value in bringing their business to Orange Mound,” she said, “I just want to make sure our residents have the same opportunities to lay claim for their own benefit.”

Britney’s passion for people is evident in her dedication to Orange Mound. As she pours into the neighborhood, she finds it pouring into her as well. There is a bright future for JUICE, which she hopes can operate independently of her in the future with Zone Captains at the forefront. For Orange Mound itself, she sees it becoming a socio-economic powerhouse—a community bank, increased homeownership, and increased support of entrepreneurs.

Keep up with JUICE Orange Mound’s impact here, and take a deep dive into the last 100 years of “America’s 1st Black Mecca.”

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