MLK50: Justice Through Journalism
Reporting on the intersection
of poverty, power and policy.
It’s easy enough to denounce racial injustice and socioeconomic inequality. The real challenge is committing to the work it takes to eliminate them.
MLK50: Justice Through Journalism is a different kind of newsroom. Our nonprofit news outlet in Memphis focuses on the intersection of poverty, power and policy. We examine the systems that make it hard for workers to make ends meet and interrogate those who profit from the status quo.
We launched on April 4, 2017, as a one-year project to reckon with what Memphis and America had done with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s sacrifice. We have evolved into an award-winning nonprofit digital news site. MLK50 and its journalists continue to garner recognition for work that makes a meaningful, tangible difference in people’s lives.
We are – as Dr. King was – committed to economic justice both in our journalism and in our employment practices. We’re aligned with the people he would have been aligned with had he not been assassinated more than 50 years ago.
Our mission is to report on the intersection of poverty, power and policy, and to bear witness to movement making and lived experiences.
Our vision echoes Dr. Martin Luther King’s dream: A nation where all residents – especially workers – have enough resources to thrive, and where public and private policy supports their success.
Erasing nearly $12 million in medical debt for impoverished patients. MLK50 and ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative newsroom, reported on the predatory collection policies of Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, the Memphis area’s largest hospital system, which sued and garnished the wages of thousands of poor patients, including its own employees, for unpaid medical debts. As a result of that investigation, the nonprofit faith-based hospital system subsequently announced it would curtail its lawsuits and zeroed out the balances owed by more than 5,300 patients.
Increasing wages for the lowest-paid minimum wage hospital workers. Methodist also said it would raise the minimum wage it pays employees, dramatically expand its financial assistance policy for hospital care and stop suing its employees for unpaid medical debts.
Stopping private-equity owned doctor’s group from unscrupulous medical collections lawsuits. A separate investigation into the private equity-owned doctor’s group, Knoxville-based TeamHealth, led the company to announce it would stop suing patients and end its pursuit of existing lawsuits. The company contracts with doctors who staff emergency rooms at four Baptist Memorial Hospital facilities in the region.
Shining a light on records being kept in the dark. Thanks to a lawsuit settlement prompted in part by MLK50’s demands for records to be made public, the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission will now publicize its donors, including amount donated, annually; make known any grants made or received by the Commission at least quarterly; publicize board meeting and executive board meeting agendas at least 48 hours prior to the meeting; and publicize all board and executive board meeting minutes within seven days after a meeting.
Read more about MLK50
Learn more about MLK50 below:
Reporter Carrington J. Tatum’s coverage of the Byhalia Connection Pipeline was featured by Giving Compass in its report on “How Donors Can Help Strengthen Democracy.”
NBCU Academy‘s Equity Lab featured an interview with Wendi C. Thomas about bringing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s vision to the newsroom.
This New York Times featured a guest essay about South Memphis’ win over Byhalia Connection Pipeline developers, including a nod to MLK50 for bringing the story to light.
The Pulitzer Prizes organization featured a column about how Wendi C. Thomas was the subject of police surveillance because of her work as a prominent black journalist and activist.
Nieman Labs reported on MLK50’s then-status as an important one-year project to address serious deficiencies in the representation of Memphis’ black voices in major news outlets as well as the urgent need for “accountability reporting on labor and economic inequality.”
This New York Times columnist sang the praises of the work being carried out by Thomas and her team at MLK50 as well as Thomas’ inspiring struggle to launch the nonprofit newsroom.
Zora magazine wrote about MLK50’s groundbreaking work to eradicate nearly $12 million in medical debt for thousands of Memphis residents preyed upon by a prominent hospital.
- Carrington Tatum Jr.’s work on the Byhalia Connection Pipeline earned the Breaking Barriers award in 2021 from the Institute for Nonprofit News.
- Founding editor Wendi C. Thomas won the 2020 Selden Ring Award for investigative reporting for the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare investigation
- Thomas won first place in the Association of Health Care Journalists’ 2019 awards for business reporting for “Profiting from the Poor.”
- The story series tied for first place in the Investigative Reporters & Editors 2019 awards in the print/online division 1.
- In 2019, Thomas won the National Association of Black Journalists’ Best Practices award in recognition of her work to create MLK50: Justice Through Journalism.
- Thomas was named Journalist of the Year in 2018 by the Journalism and Women Symposium.