To paraphrase that late, great philosopher Prince Rogers Nelson, like books and Black lives, words still matter.

As journalists, we know this is true; words, after all, are our tools to communicate the injustice and inequality we explore at MLK50. We always strive to use words with care and precision. We are mindful of what we write and how we write it.

A view of some of the buildings that are a part of the College Park community. The Memphis Housing Authority has plans to temporarily move residents from College Park in phases starting in January, so it can conduct a long-proposed $20 million renovation of the 341 apartments including some for seniors. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

We also know that for the powerful — the people our work aims to hold accountable — communication is also a tool. Their words can inform, obscure or harm.

That’s why this week’s story by MLK50 reporters Carrington J. Tatum and Jacob Steimer about the planned renovations at College Park, a publicly owned housing development for low-income residents and senior citizens, doesn’t just explore the ramifications of relocating residents. It explores how a city government agency communicated information about the relocation in meetings and in letters.

Carrington and Jacob sought to write a story that gave the facts and context of the relocations, but also demonstrated the concerns of the people most affected. It’s the kind of storytelling MLK50 does as part of our mission to empower communities to pursue reform and to bear witness to lived experiences.

After seeing the panic in the senior residents provoked by legal language and expressed in noisy meetings, Carrington knew this was the story to tell. “Access to information is access to power,” he said. “Those with greater power and information have the burden of ensuring they disseminate it in a fair, equitable and just way. When that isn’t happening, I think that’s where journalists come in.”

Indeed, it’s our role to offer clarity, not add to the confusion. Each word, each sentence, each paragraph should support that effort. Each word matters.

Adrienne Johnson Martin in executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at adrienne.martin@mlk50.com


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.

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