Building off of the big success of last December’s Memphis Power Summit, we teamed up with The Equity Alliance and Memphis for All to kick off the Memphis Power Fellowship last month! For the past month, the Power Fellows have been deepening their understanding of the organizing and political landscape in Memphis and Shelby County by attending community events and trainings, including City Council’s Day at the Hall at the end of April. Through events like this, they’re learning who some of the key decision makers are and how community events operate, so they have a strong foundation for being effective change makers and amplifying community voice in passing policies that will make the future brighter for us all.

Over the next several months, the Power Fellows will learn about the interconnection of communication and organizing, and they’ll sharpen their skills in public communications, media relations, canvassing, mobilizing community members, and policy advocacy. They’re currently learning about crowd canvassing and how to write a script that engages people and keeps the conversation going about issues that impact our day-to-day lives. They’ll practice those skills at crowd and door-to-door canvasses during their time with us to get out the vote for our local elections, advocate for a moral budget, and other justice actions that arise throughout the year.

Keep an eye out for the Power Fellows, and stay tuned for more updates!

Many milestones of my life come in 5s and 10s, and besides turning 50 on Saturday, this year marks:

  • 25 years back in Memphis
  • 20 years in Memphis politics 
  • 10 years at Stand for Children – Tennessee

Throughout these years, my greatest privilege has been working alongside countless brilliant adults and youth to build real, lasting community power that will bring the changes we need for a brighter Memphis where all of us – especially Black youth, families, and communities – have the chance to thrive and live our best lives. I’m extremely proud of the impact and work that we’ve built together at Stand for Children TN over the last 10 years.This year, I’m hoping you can help me mark these milestones in a big way! Please help me celebrate with a special donation of $50 (or any multiple of 10 or 50) for my 50th birthday and 10th year at Stand. With your continued support, we can keep building true power and liberate ALL Memphians from the status quo that has kept us down for too long.

This picture of me and my parents reminds me of how I learned early on that sitting out is never an option: my mom and dad lived and breathed activism and community engagement. 

After the assassination of Dr. King, my dad (later differentiated as Big Cardell) helped organize a weekly student walkout protest (Black Mondays) that ended up leading to the first Black Memphis School Board Members. With Momentum Memphis, the Moral Budget Coalition, and the Justice & Safety Alliance, we’re continuing the fight for education equity by dismantling the lingering effects of segregation through fully funded public schools, ensuring our students learn comprehensive and truthful history, and breaking the school-to-prison pipeline. 

Many of you may know (or have seen around) my mom, Susanne, a true force for social justice. As a kid, she “dragged” me and my sisters to school board meetings, marches, and protests all around Memphis to fight for justice, equity, and building parental power to make sure all students received a high-quality education. She not only instilled in me the importance of ensuring everyone has access to education and opportunity, but also the importance of community strength. Early in my Memphis political career, you might have even seen me and my mom on opposite sides of campaigns, as I charted my own path to change based on the values and independence she taught me. I’m proud to continue building power through our coalitions and supporting values-aligned candidates from our endorsement process (where you can usually find Susanne sitting on the endorsement committee).

My parents taught me that change doesn’t happen alone, and it doesn’t happen in silos. Since coming back to Memphis 25 years ago, my most meaningful work has been building power in coalition with changemakers across the city. As I shift into the old guy in the room, I also look forward to supporting great new leaders rising up in our community. Even though we still have a ways to go before reaching those changes that will really move Memphis forward, I know we can get there together.  

To celebrate my 50th birthday, 10 year Standversary, and the legacy we all carry forward towards justice, please consider donating $50, $10, $100, $250 (or any multiple of 10 or 50) to Stand for Children Tennessee. Together, we’ll be the power we need to create a flourishing Memphis and beyond, now and for future generations!

Many thanks to all those who have walked this path with me, supported me, challenged me, fought with me, and helped me learn and grow!

Local and statewide organizations sent the below letter to state elected officials, Memphis Mayor Paul Young, and other Memphis/Shelby County leaders to set the record straight on what “blended sentencing” (as proposed in HB0430) truly means for our young people. As amended by Speaker Sexton, blended sentencing could result in children as young as 14 years old getting sentenced to an automatic five years in adult prison upon turning 19, without the right to a jury trial and even if they have not committed another offense.

A representative from our coalition hand-delivered the letter to HB0430 / SB0624’s sponsors, Rep. Mark White and Sen. Brent Taylor, during the People Against the State of TN rally on Wednesday, April 17. Today (Thursday, April 18), we sent it to Mayor Young, Mayor Harris, DA Mulroy, Judge Sugarmon, and other Memphis/Shelby County Leaders to correct misinformation and misunderstanding about blended sentencing that continue to proliferate in our community. The disturbing (and potentially unconstitutional) measures in this bill demonstrate the dangers in ongoing encouragement for the state to pass tough-on-crime legislation, as we saw with the recent letter to Gov. Lee from the Memphis Chamber and Chairman’s Circle.

We all want to see the thriving, flourishing, future-ready Memphis that Mayor Young outlined in his 100 Days Address, but throwing our young people into a cycle of punishment without a chance for rehabilitation will not lead us to that inspiring vision. We encourage our local elected and unelected leaders to do everything in their power to fight this bill in favor of enacting and funding restorative, rehabilitative, and preventive solutions.


Dear Shelby County and Memphis Leaders,

We are writing as your constituents and organizations concerned about community safety and rehabilitation for our youth. Many of our organizations and community members from various stakeholder groups have called for a means through which rehabilitative services can be provided to youth after their 19th birthday, without sending those youth to adult prison facilities.

Some of these organizations have also expressed support for an alternative to transferring youth to adult court when they are accused of committing serious offenses, particularly when they are close to aging out of the juvenile system. Generally referred to as “blended sentencing”, the term has referred to a broad range of potential policy implementations that may or may not align with goals to support youth, increase safety, limit harm, and prevent net widening for young people into the adult system.

Unfortunately, current legislation being presented as blended sentencing legislation does not meet these goals. We believe it is important to be clear on the current bills making their way through the legislature and encourage our elected leaders to stand against those that do not deliver on the initial promise of “blended sentencing.”

For months, HB0430 has been marketed as the blended sentencing proposal that would establish a rehabilitative alternative for youth considered for adult transfer. We are tremendously concerned and disappointed that the current bill does not deliver on this promise, primarily due to amendments from Speaker Sexton. Instead of creating alternatives to transfer, the bill:

establishes a new mandatory transfer pathway,
explicitly authorizes youth to be incarcerated in adult prisons without the right to a jury trial,
and forces judges to incarcerate youth in adult prisons after they have completed their juvenile sentences, even if they have not committed any new offenses.

As amended, this bill increases harm to youth, removes due process, and opens the floodgates to send young people to adult prison. In short, the bill now bears little resemblance to what we originally believed blended sentencing would bring to our community.

While we were told that blended sentencing could help to reduce youth imprisonment and recidivism by providing new rehabilitative services for young people within the juvenile system without the need to transfer them to adult prison, there is no funding attached to the bill for anything other than incarceration. The fiscal note on the bill dated March 5, 2024 has no mention of new spending on rehabilitative services, supervision, community-based services, or anything other than custody provided by the Department of Children’s services for youth while they remain in the juvenile system. Simply stated, the state fiscal assessment says that this bill will provide no new funds that might help prevent a young person from being sent to adult prison.

Similarly, we were told that blended sentencing could support young people by extending juvenile jurisdiction to provide a more developmentally appropriate environment and additional supports for emerging adults under 25. Once again, there is no language in the bill about rehabilitative services for youth over 19, only a statement that the youth will be committed “to the supervision of the department of correction” and that the youth “in a secure facility must be housed separate and removed from the general population.” The state fiscal assessment determined this bill will REQUIRE increased incarceration expenditures by the Department of Correction for youth over 19. This portion of the bill seems to be half-baked based on the promised solutions blended sentencing could provide, and ends up being a proposal to simply incarcerate young people in adult prisons under the false claim of “rehabilitation.”

From our analysis, HB0430 will not meet the calls from community members, organizations, and elected officials for increasing safety, decreasing the direct transfer of youth to adult prison, and increasing youth rehabilitation opportunities. As it currently stands, the bill clearly does not align with our shared commitment to fostering environments where young community members can learn from their mistakes and grow into responsible adults.

We must challenge proponents of blended sentencing to safeguard the rights and rehabilitation of our children. We encourage you to stand against any proposal that fails to affirmatively answer the following essential questions. This list serves as a quick and straightforward litmus test to evaluate the merits of proposed blended sentencing legislation:

  1. Is the proposal limited to older youth who have committed serious offenses who might otherwise not have time to be rehabilitated in the juvenile system?
  2. Does the proposal provide additional resources and opportunities for rehabilitation to reduce recidivism and improve access to education, employment, and other outcomes for young people?
  3. Does the proposal avoid mandatory transfers of youth to adult court or adult facilities, allowing for individualized consideration based on the specifics of each case?
  4. Are there due process protections comparable to those in transfer proceedings before a youth is sent to adult court, ensuring that we are not creating an easier path to adult prison with less due process?
  5. Do young people have an explicit right to counsel in all proceedings?
  6. Is there a presumption that the adult sentence is suspended unless the state actively seeks its imposition?
  7. Do the criteria for deciding whether a youth will receive the adult portion of their sentence offer multiple avenues to demonstrate successful rehabilitation, avoiding triggers based on non-criminal behavior?
  8. Does a youth have the right to petition for a review of their sentence?
  9. Does the adult sentence include probation, parole, or other community based options that allow youth to reintegrate into society?

Recognizing that HB0430 cannot answer “yes” to these questions, we should ask every proponent of the original promise of “blended sentencing” where they stand on ensuring that any final law meets these requirements. This may be Speaker Sexton’s version of blended sentencing, but it is not what we have discussed for the last two years. We encourage all of our elected officials and community leaders who have expressed support for blended sentencing in the past to let it be known that this is not the form of blended sentencing that Memphis & Shelby County want or need.

In Support of Safety and Our Young People,

ACLU of Tennessee
Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis (BCCM)
Just City
Memphis Artists for Change
Memphis for All
MICAH – Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope
Shelby Countywide Juvenile Justice Consortium
Stand for Children – Tennessee
The Equity Alliance
Whole Child Strategies
Youth Justice Action Council (YJAC)


Over the past year, we’ve seen our community carry the spirit of Dr. King forward in the fight for true justice for Tyre Nichols and so many others. We’ve worked to embody that same spirit in our fierce commitment to clearly defining real safety, which means valuing and investing in our people and communities. At the same time, crime is at the top of mind and center of conversation for most people right now.

With all this in mind, I thought this King Day would be a good opportunity to revisit the Policing Reimagined report from the Justice & Safety Alliance. The report grounds us in the history of policing (national and local) and provides evidence-based solutions with alternatives to policing.

Dr. King was often vocal in his calls to end police brutality across the country, including in a less frequently quoted part of his “I Have A Dream” speech: “We can never be satisfied as long as the Negro is the victim of the unspeakable horrors of police brutality.” He understood that a culture of violence within policing is a systemic issue, not just a problem of a few “bad apples.” While the life-saving police reforms passed in City Council and the DOJ’s pattern or practice investigation of MPD are real steps forward, we need to go further. We must also remain vigilant and continue to push forward when leaders like Mayor Jim Strickland embody the spirit of the “white moderate” that Dr. King warned us about. 

Violence in our community, whether from police or crime, is a reflection of our values, beliefs, and policies. The beliefs that allowed those police officers to devalue Tyre Nichols’ life so much, are the same as those that allow our governments to pass budgets that devalue our people and communities – refusing to make the investments we know are needed to achieve real safety for all. The solutions are available, but we must push past our accepted culture of the status quo (cultivated by a history of racism) to get to them. 

The current conversation of crime in Memphis & Shelby County is no different. We cannot continue to allow the status quo to dominate with reflexive demands for more police, prosecution, and punishment. We must focus on solutions that center the inherent value of all people. We can chart a course forward that has both accountability and a clearer moral arc towards the justice Dr. King preached. 
The solutions presented in the Policing Reimagined report are the opportunities to build the equitable, just, and safe community that we all want to call home, and we can’t wait to work with you to make them a reality.

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!

The Memphis Power Summit, which took place on December 16, was a stirring reminder of the power of unity and purpose in community organizing. More than 60 change makers gathered for a day of skill-building workshops and networking, marking a significant moment for those dedicated to shaping a better future.

The summit kicked off with a vibrant mixer at Mahogany Memphis the night before, setting a tone of camaraderie and collaboration. Local elected officials, including Memphis City Council Chair JB Smiley, newly elected Council Member Jerri Green, Shelby County Commission Budget Chair Michael Whaley, and Memphis Shelby County Schools Board Member Mauricio Calvo, mingled with attendees. To close out the mixer, Rep. Justin J. Pearson laid the groundwork for a day of meaningful exchange and learning.

Saturday’s sessions spanned a spectrum of crucial topics – local advocacy, leadership development, member recruitment, power mapping, fundraising, co-governance, media relations, and notably, the integration of AI in advocacy. The environment buzzed with dynamic conversations, as participants shared insights and forged new connections.

A significant segment of the summit was the lunchtime panel on healing and community care. Spearheaded by experts Tikeila Rucker, Tameka Greer, Vahisha Hasan, and Giovanni Dortch, the panel emphasized the importance of mental and emotional well-being in advocacy work. Here, participants gained strategies and insights on preventing burnout and sustaining hope amidst the relentless pace of change-making.

Adding a practical touch to the event, Memphis Film Works provided a mobile headshot photo booth, a hit among attendees. The opportunity to refresh professional portraits was a thoughtful addition, underscoring the summit’s attention to the diverse needs of community organizers.

In a tranquil corner of the summit, the Healing/Reset Room, curated by Jackie O. from the Memphis Black Healers Collective, offered a sanctuary. Here, a massage therapist worked wonders in 15-minute sessions, reminding everyone of the importance of self-care in the taxing world of advocacy.

Chuja Marie, a participant, encapsulated the spirit of the summit: “Walking into the Power Summit made me feel powerful. Rep. Pearson’s presence was like a spark igniting a flame, making me believe that anything is possible.”

The success of the summit has already sparked conversations about future events, with many attendees eager for continued collaboration and learning. The organizers have promised to return in 2024, calling for community input to shape future sessions.

The Memphis Power Summit was not just a conference; it was a celebration of community spirit and a testament to the belief that together, we can forge a path to a better tomorrow.

We want to extend a sincere congratulations to Mayor-Elect Paul Young on winning a tough election with a crowded field of candidates. After a hard-fought race, we look forward to coming together and finding alignment on our shared goals of bringing a brighter future to the Memphis we all love. 

As the mayoral race got underway, we understood that we were engaged in a fight for the future of Memphis. This election season held immense significance, as it determined the trajectory of our city – whether we would move Memphis forward towards a future where ALL communities have what they need to live a dignified life; or whether we would succumb to stagnation and continue pushing the status quo that over-criminalizes and leaves many of our people behind. 

Local offices, like the Mayor and City Council, are the offices that will most directly and immediately impact the lives of everyday Memphians. But the further we get from national and presidential politics, the lower voter engagement and turnout tends to be. Recognizing this trend, we made the conscious decision to invest heavily in this election so we could provide information and recommendations to voters and supporters–both in terms of which candidates were the most and least fit to become the next mayor. 

When we began this fight for Memphis, we used a rigorous endorsement process with a committed team of representative community members  to vet the candidates. Through this process, we identified certain individuals who we believed should not lead our city. In that regard, we saw real wins: through public communications and voter outreach, we helped thwart what could have been a detrimental outcome by preventing Sheriff Bonner or former Mayor Herenton from becoming mayor. This, in itself, is a win in the fight for Memphis.

Van Turner emerged from our endorsement process as the candidate with the strongest track record who most closely aligned with our values of investing in people and communities, improving the lives of youth and families, and creating sustainable policies and holistic solutions that address poverty as the real root of crime. He took a stand in this election, and we commend him for his unwavering commitment to the people of Memphis. We express our gratitude to him for his courage and for running a race that supported the movement for change.

We will continue forward from where we left off, building upon the strong victories of this election cycle. It is a true triumph that the fear-mongering tactics and emphasis on crime and punitive justice so prominent in the Bonner and Strickland campaigns failed to prevail. Regrettably, these tactics seemed to have an impact in some of the City Council races, but we successfully averted the worst-case scenarios in the mayoral race. 

We stand in solidarity with the progressive elected officials who united behind Van Turner to support a new path forward for Memphis. Our hope has always been to build upon the successes of last year’s elections, which saw the victories of District Attorney Steve Mulroy, Mayor Lee Harris, and Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon. The 2022 elections resulted in winning key allies for criminal justice, youth justice, and county leadership. We’re hopeful that Mayor-Elect Young will prove to be an ally in city leadership as we continue to advocate for our goals. 

I must extend a special thanks to Justin J. Pearson and the Movement for Justice team for their invaluable partnership in this fight for Memphis. Representative Pearson demonstrated a level of courage and risk-taking that is often rare among newly elected officials. He invested his time, energy, and resources into what he saw as the path forward for Memphis – one of the most critical decisions our city will make in the next decade. We must continue to work together, looking towards the future with determination and hope.

In our pursuit of progress, we will continue collaborating with our partners to engage voters, promote civic participation, and advocate for the values and principles that will shape Memphis into a city of inclusivity, justice, and prosperity. We remain committed to the fight for Memphis, recognizing that the journey towards transformation is not always straightforward but is always worthy of our dedication.

We look forward to joining with Mayor-Elect Paul Young in the fight for a healthier, safer, and more just Memphis during his tenure, and we will keep our focus on how we continue to progress towards our goals of achieving educational equity and racial justice.

As individual and organizational community stakeholders on the ground in Memphis, we are extremely concerned about HB 7073 – introducing a new, harsh blended sentencing scheme, as well as mandatory transfer to adult court, is not the answer to gun violence, and the bill is far too complex to consider in this short of a timeframe. While many of us have been engaged in conversations about sentencing reforms for older youth, such as blended sentencing or extended jurisdiction, the details of such a consequential change matter. 

Some representatives from the suburbs outside of Memphis and other parts of the state say that they are doing this “for the people in Memphis.” But the state representatives directly from Memphis and those of us on the ground are telling anyone who will listen that we do not want HB 7073. Here in Memphis, we don’t want to just do “something” for false appearances–we want to do the right thing for our young people and families across the state. Dwelling on this bill any further is a wasted use of time that should have been spent on protecting our children and communities with common sense gun safety legislation.

The concept of blended sentencing, which some stakeholders support, is for courts to have the ability to give older youth accused of serious offenses a juvenile court sentence and a suspended adult sentence that only comes into play if a youth is not able to be rehabilitated during their time in the juvenile justice system. As written, HB 7073 not only allows – but requires – juvenile courts to impose  years-long prison sentences on youth for offenses committed as young as the age of 14 without a jury trial or other due process safeguards, and does not allow the court to consider potential for rehabilitation in imposing that sentence. HB 7073 does not include any provisions for additional rehabilitative programming; the fiscal note of this bill only mentions increased expenditures related to incarcerating young people for longer. 

The Senate refused to consider more than 100 other bills in this special session because they were too complex to rush through in a matter of days, and HB 7073 is no different. We have only had the text of this bill for a little over a week. If we rush this bill through without properly vetting it and getting input from a wider range of experts and stakeholders, we run the risk of violating our young people’s constitutional rights. Blended sentencing schemes have been subjected to constitutional challenges in other states–careful drafting is necessary to ensure that constitutional rights of youth are protected.

HB 7073 is equally–if not more–complex than some of the others that were rejected, and it will have devastating impacts on a whole generation of young people and families across the state if allowed to go into effect as written and without more careful consideration. Sentencing reform is a topic that should wait until the regular session so that stakeholders not just in Memphis–but across the entire state–can weigh in on this important issue.

Organizations Signed on as of Monday, August 21:

A. Philip Randolph Institute

ACLU of Tennessee

African American Clergy Collective of TN (ACCT)

Black Clergy Collaborative of Memphis (BCCM)

The Education Trust – Tennessee 

The Equity Alliance

Germantown Democratic Club

Just City

Memphis for All

MICAH

NAACP Memphis 

Stand for Children Tennessee

Tennesseans for Alternatives to the Death Penalty

Whole Child Strategies

When the governor announced the call for the extraordinary session on public safety, advocates and juvenile justice stakeholders were shocked to see only one item specifically related to guns, while 4 out of the 18 items listed were focused on juvenile courts, including expanding transfer to adult court, limiting expungements, and introducing a new blended sentencing scheme. When pressed on why, Republican leadership has deflected, saying that youth are responsible for a lot of crime. But their numbers simply don’t add up. 

Legislators claim over and over again that youth in Shelby County are more dangerous than ever, despite steady annual declines in youth arrests, and despite the fact that Shelby County’s rate of juvenile court referrals is lower than the state average. There is no data source that shows that youth are primarily responsible for Tennessee’s increase in gun violence–in fact, the data suggests that youth crime is unrelated. 

Over the past decade, crimes committed by youth in Tennessee have fallen by over 50%, for both serious and lesser offenses. Yet according to the Sycamore Institute, firearm related deaths in Tennessee have been steadily increasing for the past decade, and the Tennessee Department of Health’s 2023 Child Fatality Annual Report shows that firearms are the leading cause of death for children aged 0-17. This data shows us that youth are not the problem – widespread and unregulated access to guns is the problem.

The Sentencing Project, a national nonpartisan think tank, analyzed over a decade of Tennessee Bureau of Investigation data, and found that the youth arrest rate has fallen 23% more than the adult arrest rate since 2011. They concluded that the data suggest that the juvenile system is more effective in reducing offending and arrests than the adult criminal justice system. Proposals to move youth into the adult system are likely to increase offending.”

Youth crime is down, and the data suggests that the juvenile justice system is more effective at reducing crime than the adult criminal justice system. So why are our elected representatives holding closed-door meetings to push more young people into the adult system instead of answering our direct calls to take action on gun violence?

Source: Tennessee Commission on Children and Youth, via the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Kids Count Data Center

The most extraordinary parts of this special session are its lack of transparency and scapegoating of Black youth in Shelby County. Make no mistake, we absolutely need to make improvements to continue supporting youth and families impacted by the juvenile justice system, expand prevention services, and keep our communities safe. But the positive changes we want to see will not come from a session in which legislators are using our young people as talking points to mask their continued refusal to respond to calls for common sense gun reform. 
No matter what happens during this special session, let’s make sure the legislature knows that we want and need common sense gun legislation to keep our children and communities safe. You can show your support by signing the petition launched by youth organizers in our community from the MICAH Youth Council: bit.ly/EndGunViolenceTN. It’s time for our legislators to realize that youth are not the problem—they’re leading the way in creating the solutions.

Sunday’s rally to Combat Gun Violence and Empower Youth and Black Voters held in Memphis before the start of the special session was a powerful display of solidarity for area youth and key issues affecting their lives. Various community organizations came together to provide activities, resources, and information about critical topics like voting and public safety.

The event featured notable speakers like District Attorney Steve Cohen, State Representative G.A. Hardaway, District Representative Justin Pearson, and mayoral candidates Van Turner and Brandon Price. Rep. Pearson gave a passionate opening prayer that ignited spirits and set the tone for the important week ahead. Throughout the event, Rep. Pearson and other officials made time to speak directly with youth leaders in attendance.

Several speakers called for greater community accountability to stop gun violence, sharing lessons from their own past experiences to empathize with youth today. Others discussed how poverty, lack of resources, and neglect in many communities cause individuals to resort to violence out of desperation. Speakers emphasized the need for public officials and institutions to address these root causes. Other speakers called for recognizing the emotional toll of combating violence, and encouraged leaders to persist in doing this vital work while making time to rest and take care of themselves.

The rally included many engaging activities for young people. Game Changers provided chess games, Memphis Artists for Change performed socially conscious music, and youth poet Trekeria shared impactful works written during her experiences as a young person in the youth justice system. Attendees found relief from the heat with a food truck, water ice stand, and a bounce house. Voter registration and music from a DJ created an atmosphere of empowerment and community.

The Combating Gun Violence and Empowering Youth and Black Voters Rally brought people together to support Memphis youth, connect them with resources, and amplify their voices. The event offered hope for creating a more just and compassionate future through solidarity, civic engagement, and addressing core needs. United alongside youth, we will continue to push for a safe, just, and thriving future for our young people today, and generations to come!