She was one of the freelance journalists who helped launch MLK50: Justice Through Journalism in 2017 and now communications and outreach maven Melonee Gaines has returned to the nonprofit newsroom as its first audience engagement manager. Her first day is Feb. 13.

Melonee Gaines
Melonee Gaines, audience engagement manager. Photo by Wiley Brown

Gaines is a writer, abolitionist educator, and co-host of two podcasts: On The Phone With Friends and the mark_up. The owner of MPact Media Group, her work has been featured on MLK50 and a number of other national and regional outlets including The Grio, The Crisis, High Ground and WKNO. She is a journalism fellow at The Peace Studio and recently left her position as a senior reading adviser for Memphis-Shelby County Schools to assume her new role at MLK50.

“Working in education in Memphis, you see the pride, joy and trauma of its history played out today in communities that have been abandoned by the city,” she said.

“The MLK50 team has always been about getting data about the institutions and people that have created these conditions and getting those stories out there in a way that preserves human dignity. It’s great to know that they are still around, telling those stories, and I’m excited to help craft a voice on social media that keeps that movement going.”

Born in New Orleans and raised in Picayune, Mississippi, Gaines credits her parents, Thomas and Catherine Gaines, for making her own professional journey possible. Their achievements in overcoming humble economic beginnings and leading social justice efforts while raising a family in the deep South were an inspiration to her.

“My parents were true activists in our hometown. Even living under the shadow of racial terror, they were focused on their goal of sending us kids to college because they wanted us to do better. I thank God that I come from fearless people.”

With a bachelor’s degree in English literature and a minor in biology from the University of Southern Mississippi as well as a master’s degree in English from the University of Memphis, Gaines views her role at MLK50 as a way to continue the work begun during the civil rights movement, building relationships and telling stories in ways that are visually appealing while also reflecting an authentic voice that speaks of and for the many:

“My Black rage and Black love are real,” said Gaines. “MLK50 is filled with people with heart. You have to love people in order to honor and serve people. 

“I look forward to supporting the newsroom’s efforts to uncover the people and institutions that hold Memphis communities down so that we can see and work toward the full promise of the city.”

Founding editor and publisher Wendi C. Thomas commented on Gaines as a new full-time member of the newsroom:

 “We are thrilled to welcome Melonee back to the MLK50 team to focus her talents on growing our presence on our social media platforms. She brings with her a wealth of communications and journalism experience and a deep understanding of our mission and values. We’re confident that she will help us engage with our readers in an inclusive, authentic voice that fosters community while disrupting the status quo.”

Gaines has made Memphis her home for more than 10 years. She is the proud mama to a teenage womanist-in-training and a happy shih tzu. She can be reached 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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