2023 in Review: A year of movement, challenges, and hope

We were able to accomplish a great deal in 2023, working in Memphis, Shelby County and at the state level. Increasingly, we have focused on building coalitions and partnerships to increase our impact and effectiveness. We can’t thank enough the wonderful organizations and people who we are privileged to work alongside in this fight for justice. We wanted to take a minute to reflect on these collective wins and share them with you for a dose of inspiration as we close out the year. 

Advancing Justice and Safety

  • The Justice & Safety Alliance (JSA) hosted a well-attended community healing event following the police killing of Tyre Nichols, bringing community members together to take a breath and connect in our shared determination to prevent future instances of police brutality.
  • When MPD’s “draft” presentation of their plan to potentially harass and violate the rights of young people downtown (Juvenile Crime Abatement Program) was leaked, Stand worked with JSA to lead the public outcry and ensure the public understood the implications of this proposed program and pushed against it. 
  • Following the lead of Official Black Lives Matter Memphis and Decarcerate Memphis, JSA helped support the tireless activism and advocacy that pushed the City Council to pass critical policing reforms. This support included hosting an online action–through our collective efforts we galvanized nearly 1000 Memphians to email City Council in support of the ordinances. 
  • During August’s Special Legislative Session, we worked with organizations statewide on youth justice issues, including the work to eliminate youth fines and fees. Together, we developed a bill tracker, sent out regular communications to keep the public informed, and recruited diverse local and statewide organizations to sign on to our open letter opposing a dangerous blended sentencing bill (HB 7073). 
  • We supported advocacy led by justice-impacted and adjacent youth with the Youth Justice Action Council (YJAC). They took their 2nd tour of the new county detention center, engaged in the city elections by releasing the YJAC City Level Demands and participating in candidate forums, partnered with Power Poll Memphis to create the “We’re Sick of It! – Changing the Narrative Around Youth Violence in Memphis” interactive event, and conducted research working alongside U of M Public Health Professor Dr. Jennifer Turchi. Check out their podcast: “That’s Not How We Do It Here,” wherever you get your podcasts!
  • After historic wins in 2022 with new District Attorney and Juvenile Court Judge, our efforts turned towards seeing those elections produce results for increasing justice and safety by supporting the new administrations of DA Steve Mulroy and Judge Tarik Sugarmon. We have worked closely with those offices, attending DA Mulroy’s Public Safety Summit and supporting several other efforts. 
  • We partnered with Innovate Memphis in receiving a grant to develop a justice data dashboard. We held sessions with community members to learn what data people were most interested in, how they would want to see the data, and what they might do in their communities with more accessible data.

Strengthening Democracy 

  • Our advocacy led to the most transparent redistricting process for the Memphis City Council in decades. Following up on the successful coalition advocacy in 2022 calling for a public redistricting committee in 2022, we continued to advocate in the redistricting process as several council members and the Council attorney continued to work against transparency and fair representation. We worked with partners to submit community-created redistricting maps, mobilized support, and pushed the council to have public review of districts that would shape the city for the next 10 years. 
  • After the all-time low turnouts in the city elections, we mobilized Memphians to urge City Council to return the power to the people in shaping future elections. Our advocacy and your emails to Council led to the passage of a critical ballot question that will ask voters whether to reinstate runoff elections for the Mayor’s race, a significant step towards making future elections easier to navigate.

Investing in People and Communities

  • Based on our efforts with the Moral Budget Coalition’s 2022 Community-Centered Budgeting Process and multi-year push for greater community involvement in the budgeting process, Shelby County Government developed its own interactive tool for the public to send input on the budget directly to the Mayor’s Office and Commission. This was a big win for public involvement, and we’re ready to mobilize to advocate for a Moral Budget in 2024 and beyond!

Electoral Successes and Advocacy: 

  • After his unjust expulsion from the Tennessee State House, our stellar endorsement committee swiftly reconvened to endorse Representative Justin J. Pearson in the special election, which he won decisively. 
  • Working closely with Rep. Pearson and his team, we launched an independent campaign in the Memphis Mayor’s race—our work and investments avoided worst-case scenarios and prevented Sheriff Floyd Bonner from becoming mayor. We look forward to working with Mayor-Elect Paul Young as he takes office in January!
  • With the People for Fairness and Justice, we celebrated victories in 8 out of 13 City Council districts, including three significant runoffs that led to the first majority female Memphis City Council! We’re excited to keep strengthening this coalition for future elections. 

Supporting our Students in their Education Success

  • We partnered with EdTrust to develop and advocate for state legislation that requires the TN Dept of Education to report on 9th grade on-track metrics and their use in other states. Ninth grade is a critical year in a student’s education–students who are on-track by the end of their freshman year are up to four times more likely to graduate than off-track peers. Center for High School Success Director Lori Oduyoye gave an excellent testimony in support of HB 1295, which passed into law and was one of the winners of EdTrust TN’s Ten for Tennessee award!
  • With Momentum Memphis, we hosted town halls to raise awareness of the Third Grade Retention law that was implemented this year and supported statewide efforts to push back on the law. 
  • We continued to work with early literacy efforts including engagement in the development of MSCS’s Community Partnership Plan, serving on the MSCS Strategic Partners for Literacy, and continued support for the Early Literacy Consortium to  strategize ways that the overall community can be involved and support literacy development across the city.  

Developing Leaders of the Future

  • Our 2023 cohort of fellows spent the year honing their skills and boosting their confidence as community organizers. They had opportunities to engage with our collaborative efforts with coalition partners, actively engage in the field through impactful deep-canvassing initiatives, and participate in City Council and School Board meetings around justice and safety issues. 
  • We capped the year off with The Memphis Power Summit, which was more than an event–it was a catalyst for inspiration and change, reminding us of how powerful we are when we come together.

These wins did not happen in a vacuum and aren’t just successes of Stand TN. Most of the work we do is in coalition and partnership with organizations and people across the city, county, state, and country, because we know that we cannot create lasting systemic change alone. The fight for a more just world where we all have what we need to thrive is ongoing, and in 2023, we were proud to work with and support Memphis organizers and advocates who put in countless hours of work to take steps forward. We owe so much to today’s organizers, and to those on whose shoulders we stand.

I can’t wait to see what we accomplish together in 2024!

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