Photo illustration by Andrea Morales

At MLK50: Justice Through Journalism, we think it’s important to remember the true meaning of Juneteenth: It’s a celebration of freedom, long overdue.

And freedom should be celebrated. But it should also be an actual thing all Americans feel. And it isn’t. One holiday can’t carry that weight.

In 1865, physical freedom finally came to enslaved Texans through a general’s order affirming the Emancipation Proclamation. In that same way, modern-day leaders have the ability, if not the will, to offer the feeling of freedom through policy.

Freedom can be felt in many ways, but the legal definition includes “the absence of necessity, coercion or constraint in choice or action” and “the quality or state of being exempt or released from something onerous.”

With that in mind, we offer four ways policymakers can help Memphians feel more free:

Can I live where I want?

Where you live affects your health and your future earnings. In Tennessee,  if you’re looking for affordable housing, you don’t really get to choose where you live; an agency does and that agency’s practices essentially choose racial and economic segregation. Other states operate differently, so we know it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Can I go where I want?

If you don’t have a car or parking costs are expensive, public transportation is key to getting to work, to school and to freely roaming around the city. Yet, MATA is perpetually underfunded, even with suggested boosts from the federal government and the mayor

Can I keep my money?

In Memphis, just over 1 in 3 residents don’t have a bank account or use some version of a high-cost lender. So they are vulnerable and often trapped by payday lenders, whose repayment methods are described as ‘coercive’ and harmful. The state could do more to regulate the industry, particularly putting a limit on the interest rate for the loans.

Can I feel safe?

There’s agreement that gun violence is a problem. Yet, despite the fact that our punishment-first approach hasn’t been an adequate solution, it’s the path that’s always been taken. That’s led to more young people behind bars and more communities overpoliced and restricted. When there’s a community issue, what has proven effective is to take a community approach — a public health approach to gun violence would bring more resources and more understanding. If only the state legislature would consider it. 

Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at

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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