If President Barack Obama could stay in Nashville a little longer than he's expected to after he speaks at McGavock High School today, he'd see one city but two very different worlds.
There's Belle Meade in West Nashville. It's leafy, affluent, full of the ornate houses a president might visit for a fund-raiser.
And then there's the world of Napier Homes and Sudekum Apartments just southeast of downtown. It's full of asphalt, poverty and government-issue apartments.
The few miles between the two communities belie just how far apart they seem.
"If you're not born rich, you're just out of luck," said James Benton, a retired man who has lived in Napier Homes "too long."
As Obama follows up on a State of the Union speech Tuesday that focused on increasing economic opportunity, Census tracts at opposite ends of the spectrum help paint the picture. Data from 2010 showed a median family income of just $8,831 in the Napier-Sudekum area. In Belle Meade, the median family income was more than 20 times higher at $183,047.
The same stories can be found across the state. Incomes for the bottom 20 percent of Tennessee households fell by 12 percent over the course of nearly a decade, a 2012 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities and the Economic Policy Institute found.
"As a city, a state and a federal government, we all need to be working collectively to try to curtail some of the disparities that are there," said Metro Councilman Lonnell Matthews Jr., who represents a lower middle class North Nashville district and plans to attend Obama's speech.
Matthews said better mass transit would be a start. Yolanda Bracey, who lives in Sudekum Apartments, said the lack of easy access to other parts of Middle Tennessee has discouraged her from looking for a job since she lost her last one a year ago.
The kinds of warehouse jobs Bracey might take are hard to get to.
"You can't take the city bus to Mt. Juliet," she said.
Tonja Cairo, another Sudekum resident, said she lost her job on Sept. 30, and she's still trying to find another one. She's been filling out applications, but she thinks she'll need some computer training to have a better chance.
Taking a leap
Napier and Sudekum are both run by the Metro Development and Housing Agency. Jim Harbison, the agency's executive director, said a federal grant pays for Take A Leap Forward, a job placement and training program.
Of the 353 families at Napier Homes, 89 enrolled in Take a Leap, and 53 completed the program. Ten of those families were able to move out and purchase their own homes, Harbison said, and 38 received job placements. The program will start at Sudekum soon.
"Roughly one-seventh of the families, we were able to make an impact on," he said. "I wish I could say it was 100 percent."
Shortly after the Pruitt Branch Library near the two housing projects opened Wednesday, people were sitting in front of its computers, looking for jobs. Joshua Woods, 23, was one of them.
Woods said he had just recently gotten out of jail for a probation violation related to dealing cocaine. He said he wants to start a small business selling snacks.
"I've got dreams," he said.
Hermine Alsup retired in 2002, a few years after she moved to Napier Homes. She said the economy remains "all messed up." But she said Obama needs time to make effective changes.
"Rome wasn't built in a day," she said.