It’s said that journalists write the first draft of history. As our community faces the coronavirus pandemic and related financial uncertainty, we are clearly in an unprecedented, historic and unique moment.

What makes us unique? Our poverty rate. More than 1 in 4 residents live below the poverty line. Memphis is the second poorest large city in the nation and more than 40% of workers earn less than $15 an hour. Many of the employees who face the greatest risk of exposure to the virus — such as home health aides and cashiers — also work in low-wage industries.

MLK50: Justice Through Journalism and High Ground News want to know how workers are coping with COVID-19, and we want to make it worth your time.

Over the next few weeks, MLK50 will be running first-person essays from selected Memphis workers. I’ll pay contributors $200 for each published essay. (To be considered, fill out this form.)

Most outlets don’t pay guest columnists. MLK50 and High Ground News do, because we don’t want to limit the perspectives published to those who can afford to spend time writing. All residents’ lived experiences and expertise have value, as does the time you’ll spend writing your story and working with our editors. (Like all reputable news organizations, we do not and have never paid sources in news stories. It would be unethical to do so.)

We’re a small team, which means we can’t track hour-by-hour updates (for that, turn to The Commercial Appeal) but what we can do is what we’ve always done: Bear witness to the lived experiences of Memphians, especially those who are held on the economic margins.

That includes black people, all people of color, immigrants, LGBT folks and especially workers. After all, that’s who Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. came to Memphis to support more than 50 years ago — underpaid black sanitation workers.

Here’s what we’re looking for

We’re prioritizing stories from workers who are facing financial uncertainty directly related to the pandemic.

Have your hours been cut? Did your employer close the doors? Are you still on the job, but worried about being exposed to the virus? Are you trying to run a small business, nonprofit or house of faith when it’s difficult to reach your customers, clients or members?

We know you have stories of frustration and confusion, but also of resilience, ingenuity and solidarity.

Do you want to shout out a worker who has made this challenging time more bearable? Impressed with the solutions folks have come up with to make ends meet? Admire how community members have united to support each other? Tell us about it.

You don’t need to be a writer. If you’re selected, our veteran editors will work with you. They will ask you to provide verification for details you include. Accuracy, even in first-person essays, is important. If you’re not comfortable with sharing that information, this isn’t the opportunity for you.

Those chosen to share their stories will get more specifics in an email, including about payment. To participate, fill out this form.

Reliable information

For the latest information about COVID-19 in Shelby County, turn to the Shelby County Health Department’s website.
Two sound sources for information are the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the World Health Organization.

How can you protect yourself?

The CDC’s advice: Wash your hands, stay away from people who are sick and put some distance between you and other people if COVID-19 is spreading in your community.

This story is brought to you by MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, a nonprofit newsroom focused on poverty, power and policy in Memphis. Support independent journalism by making a tax-deductible donation today. MLK50 is also supported by the Surdna Foundation, the Southern Documentary Project at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture, the American Journalism Project, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, and Community Change.

Got a story idea, a tip or feedback? Leave us a voice mail message at 901–602–6868 or send an email to