A moment of silence outside of the National Civil Rights Museum during the 54th commemoration of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel in April 2022. Photo by Andrea Morales for MLK50

MLK50: Justice Through Journalism will mark its fifth anniversary with a celebration on Saturday, June 11 from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. at Brickwood Hall, 391 South Front Street in downtown Memphis. Emmy Award-winning WMC Action News 5 anchor Kym Clark will emcee the event. Tickets are available online at mlk50.com.

Launched on April 4, 2017, MLK50 began as a one-year project to examine what Memphis and the nation had done with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sacrifice in the 50 years since his death. From its inception, founding editor Wendi C. Thomas wanted the project to align with Dr. King’s commitment to economic justice and believed that journalism could be a tool for furthering that cause. 

With a team of like-minded freelance journalists, Thomas embarked on a reckoning of present-day local and national economic disparities and an analysis of the policies that created them. Five years later, MLK50 has grown into a nationally acclaimed nonprofit newsroom with six full-time employees. Its mission: To report on the intersection of poverty, power and policy, and to bear witness to movement making and lived experiences.

“It has been exciting and rewarding to watch MLK50 grow from a short-term journalism project into a widely respected newsroom whose stories have not only won numerous national awards but have also had a significant positive effect on individual people right here in our community,” said MLK50 advisory board member Venita Doggett. 

“These first five years have been continual proof that independent journalism, rooted in Dr. King’s vision of economic justice, can indeed be a successful venture. I salute the MLK50 team as we celebrate five years and eagerly look forward to even greater achievements in the next five.”

MLK50 and its journalists continue to garner recognition for work that makes a meaningful, tangible difference in people’s lives. 

Key highlights from the past five years:

  • “Profiting from the Poor”, an investigative series on hospital debt collections done in partnership with ProPublica, resulted in Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare erasing nearly $12 million in medical debt for more than 5,300 patients it had sued. The series also won six national journalism awards.
  • MLK50’s award-winning reporting on a plan to route the Byhalia Connection Pipeline through a Black neighborhood spurred affected residents to form the community organization that successfully fought the pipeline, causing developers to abandon the project.
  • Thanks to a lawsuit settlement prompted in part by MLK50’s demands for records to be made public, the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission now publicizes its donors, including the amount donated, annually; makes known any grants made or received by the Commission at least quarterly; publicizes board meeting and executive board meeting agendas at least 48 hours prior to the meeting; and publicizes all board and executive board meeting minutes within seven days after a meeting.
  • MLK50’s reporting on COVID vaccine equity contributed to greater access to vaccine appointments for residents without internet access, who, in Memphis, are more likely to be low-income and Black.

From getting workers higher wages to prompting changes in Shelby County’s emergency rental assistance program, the MLK50 team remains firm in its vision, an echo of Dr. King’s dream: A nation where all residents – especially workers – have enough resources to thrive, and where public and private policy supports their success. Within five years, the independent digital newsroom has grown from a scrappy set of freelance journalists into a progressive model for nonprofit news. 

“As MLK50 turns 5 and I reflect on the work we’ve done, I feel an immense sense of pride in all that our team has accomplished against the odds,” said Thomas.

“We’ve proved our naysayers wrong while never wavering in our commitment to disrupting the status quo. It’s important to celebrate our wins, and I look forward to commemorating our progress with our friends and supporters at our anniversary party in June. And I’m excited about what the MLK50 team has coming for the next five years and beyond.”

MLK50’s fifth-anniversary event is presented by the Shelby County Health Department, Democracy Fund and the Surdna Foundation with additional support from Planned Parenthood of Tennessee and North Mississippi, CHOICES, the Community Foundation of Greater Memphis, the National Civil Rights Museum, Russell & Merle Thomas, Kenya Bradshaw, Black Millennials for Flint, Latino Memphis, Beverly Robertson/TRUST Marketing, OUTMemphis and Community LIFT.

For the safety and comfort of all guests, COVID-19 precautions for the event will include temperature checks at the door. Masks will be provided to each guest with strong encouragement to wear them while inside of the venue. Guests will also be strongly encouraged to take a home COVID-19 rapid antigen test the day of the event and stay home if they test positive, are feeling sick or have been exposed to someone with COVID. Refunds will be available for anyone who is unable to attend due to COVID-related illness or exposure.