Next week, on April 4, it will be 55 years since our namesake Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated in Memphis. We’ll also celebrate MLK50: Justice Through Journalism’s sixth anniversary.
Our founder, Wendi C. Thomas, founded this nonprofit newsroom with a question: How is Memphis — how is America — doing since Dr. King’s sacrifice? It’s a question that guides our work each day and honestly, each year, it gets harder to answer.
In that simple question lie complex issues to try to measure. And the movement Dr. King left behind lives up to that word — movement. It shapeshifts, accelerates, stalls, creeps, crawls, stutter steps, reverses. It has to.
To keep up, MLK50 has to be flexible and sometimes pivot.
When we added Brittany Brown to our team, she came aboard as our work and labor reporter. It’s a beat, we’ve noted, that gets to the heart of our mission because it focuses on the people we center, the people Dr. King came to Memphis to serve.
But since Brittany joined us from her hometown of Jackson, Mississippi, much has happened in Memphis, in particular, two key things. One, Shelby County elected a new district attorney. And two, Tyre Nichols was killed after contact with police officers.
Steve Mulroy’s election to county district attorney opened the door to the possibility of a generational change in how the criminal justice system works in Memphis. We followed his candidacy; Brittany has talked to him several times, checking in just after the election, talking to the people who were part of the grassroots effort to get him in office about their expectations, and monitoring his progress on election promises. We’re preparing for an eight-year story — the length of Mulroy’s term — with twists and turns we must follow.
The death of Tyre Nichols has deepened our planned look at criminal justice in Memphis. The DA’s office works closely with the Memphis Police Department. Following the kind of change Mulroy has promised makes coverage of that relationship even more urgent. We must ensure that community voices, concerns, demands and needs are heard and understood. We must chronicle the efforts to change not just the police but policing itself.
So we needed Brittany to change her beat. And, just as importantly, it’s a shift Brittany wanted to make. She’d done criminal justice reporting in Jackson and has a passion for it. Plus, she says, “the issues are so prevalent in today’s political climate and today’s lived experiences of so many people.
“I hope my reporting can contribute more connections and conversations about solutions and reimagining public safety between community organizers, the general community and lawmakers and decision-makers in the city.”
If you have any tips or story suggestions related to criminal justice, you can reach Brittany at firstname.lastname@example.org
This doesn’t mean we won’t cover workers; if you haven’t read Wendi’s compelling and deeply reported piece on the death of FedEx worker Jessica James, please do. We’ve got plans to increase our coverage of workers, with Brittany (and others) jumping in to write stories that need to be told.
In truth, I think we can only answer Wendi’s piercing, starting question by asking how you — the community — are doing. That’s why we focus on the mission of a world where everyone has enough resources to thrive and where public and private policy supports their success.
It’s a big goal. But we wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think it was possible. It means we have to stay ready. So we’ll keep adapting.
Sorry for you if you weren’t at Sunday’s dynamic conversation, “Leaving Egypt, Then and Now,” between Wendi and Rabbi Abe Schacter-Gampel, director for the Center of Jewish Life and Learning. There was a full, diverse and engaged house for the free event. Rabbi Schacter-Gamptel centered the conversation on a line from the Haggadah, the text recited at the Seder on the first two nights of the Jewish Passover: “In each and every generation, a person must see themselves as if they have left Egypt.”
Connecting this text to the work of MLK50 added clarity to the purpose of our organization and why our work has generational momentum. “Each and every generation reminds me that [freedom is] not something that we acquire and there forever. This search for freedom, this identifying with people that are not free is a continual thing,” Wendi said.
If you missed it, make sure to join us for our next event!
Adrienne Johnson Martin is executive editor of MLK50: Justice Through Journalism. Contact her at email@example.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.