Update: On July 29, Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris confirmed he will attend the Memphis People’s Summit. A bonus session with Harris has been added to the agenda for Saturday’s event.
Memphis People’s Summit organizers hope to take advantage of the political offseason to educate Black voters and create an opportunity to hold elected officials accountable for their actions in office.
#UPTheVote901, an organization focused on raising voter turnout, will host the summit at noon July 31, both virtually and in-person, at Abundant Grace Fellowship Church located at 1574 E Shelby Drive. Registration is required for the virtual event; seating at the church will be limited to 200.
The summit’s goal is to translate people’s top issues into policies that can be brought to elected officials and to connect voters to grassroots organizations that work on issues about which participants are most passionate, said the Rev. Earle J. Fisher, founder of #UPTheVote901.
Also, elected officials have been invited to attend so the public can question them.
“The second thing we want to do is get some of our elected officials on the record for why they have made decisions that they have made and get them on record in terms of what they plan to do for the remainder of their time in office,” Fisher said. He called it an “accountability measure.”
Brooke Sarden, director of operations and culture at the community development nonprofit, Center for Transforming Communities, plans to attend and is looking forward to the chance to engage with elected representatives.
“The thing that most excites me about the People’s Summit is the piece about having the opportunity for the elected officials to be held accountable and to have to listen to actual people, whether it’s individuals from those neighborhoods or organizations on the ground working on their behalf,” Sarden said.
#UPTheVote901 issued a survey that included questions about which elected officials the attendees would like to see most.
City Mayor Jim Strickland was the top pick, followed by County Mayor Lee Harris, County Commissioner Tami Sawyer, State Sen. Raumesh Akbari and County Commissioner Van Turner.
Elected officials who have confirmed their attendance include:
- State Rep. London Lamar
- State Rep. G.A. Hardaway
- County Commissioner Mickell Lowery
- Shelby County School Board member Stephanie Love
- City Councilman Martavius Jones
- City Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas
- City Councilwoman Patrice Robinson
The original Memphis People’s Convention, held in 1991, created consensus around a mayoral candidate among Black voters, which led to Willie Herenton becoming Memphis’ first elected Black mayor.
#UPTheVote901 organized the second convention in 2019 with a similar purpose of identifying consensus candidates and forming an agenda for Black voters. But this year’s summit — and lead up to a full convention in 2022 — is slightly different, Fisher said.
“The Memphis People’s summit is happening in a year where there are no elections, so this is not about getting a consensus candidate. This is about making sure people are informed, engaged and empowered around issues that are important to the people’s agenda.”
Black people make up 64% of Memphis’ population while white people make up 29%, according to the latest Census data.
Efforts like the summit are important for Black communities, whose policy values are often excluded despite being the majority population in Memphis, Fisher said.
“We understand that we have been exploited and manipulated for far too long and it’s diluted the Black political power,” Fisher said. “We have people in office who are executing the will of what we would call the tyranny of the minority. The only way to fight back this misrepresentation and exploitation is to organize, inform and empower.”
Carrington J. Tatum is a corps member with Report for America, a national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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 these generous donors.