Ninth grade is a make-or-break year for students. If a student ends ninth grade “on-track,” meaning having successfully completed at least a quarter of the credits needed to graduate, they are 3-4 times more likely to graduate on time than their off-track peers. This session, our Center for High School Success team advocated for HB 1295, which would invest in targeted 9th grade student success supports, and it passed almost unanimously! This new investment will increase awareness of best practices to support 9th grade success across Tennessee, which will allow schools to set up systems that help our students finish their freshmen year on track and ultimately improve graduation rates throughout the state.

HB 1295 was one of the 2023 winners of EdTrust TN’s Ten for Tennessee award, and CHSS’ important work to increase freshmen on-track rates is featured on our website.

On April 14, the Justice & Safety Alliance (JSA) shared a presentation with journalists
outlining a newly formed Juvenile Crime Abatement Team within the Memphis Police
Department (MLK50 Article). The JSA firmly opposes the plan outlined in this presentation, which is
now “on pause” after articles on the team’s existence were published. Our coalition of
community-based advocates demands further commitment from MPD that it will stop
the use of racial profiling and targeted task forces — for juveniles and adults.

Created by department leadership, this new specialized unit will end up racially
profiling, surveilling, and criminalizing young people based on racist generalizations
and failed stop-and-frisk policies. It is an intentional policing policy change focused on
Downtown Memphis and represents an egregious, racist conception of public safety that
would violate the civil rights of young people and undermine trust between the
community and law enforcement.

The timing of this announcement is particularly alarming, coming just months after a
SCORPION task force killed Tyre Nichols and just days after the City Council finished
passing a slate of community-supported police reforms. Despite clear and consistent
community calls to end pretextual stops, eliminate the use of plain clothes officers, and
disband specialized units, this Juvenile Crime Abatement Team:

● Creates a new specialized unit to target children,
● Allows for pretextual pedestrian stops that criminalize normal teen behavior, and
● Employs plain clothes officers to carry out these stops.

If they choose to implement this plan despite all of the community pushback, MPD will
further erode trust between law enforcement and the people they are supposed to
protect and serve.

We cannot allow policies and practices like these to persist in our city. Young people in
Memphis deserve better. They deserve a city that invests in their education and safety,
not one that puts them on a path to prison and family separation. We must work
together to build a city where young people, regardless of their race or income, can
thrive and reach their full potential. We remain committed to working towards justice
and safety for all in Memphis.

Local officials’ role on the nonprofit board presents a conflict of interest in their public service duties

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — On Monday, April 3, the Justice & Safety Alliance (JSA) sent an open letter to the local elected (and some appointed) officials who sit on the nonprofit board of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission (MSCC), urging them to step down and avoid conflicts of interest that could unduly influence their official service to the residents of Memphis and Shelby County. 

The MSCC often presents and lobbies its viewpoint to public officials and bodies as a unilateral body. These viewpoints have traditionally been led by the particular perspective of MSCC staff leadership, as might be expected from an “independent, non-profit 501(c)(3) organization.” By serving on the board, elected officials and justice-related appointees, whose offices would be greatly impacted by the MSCC’s recommendations, imply that they agree with and condone the Crime Commission’s views. This can limit the fair exchange of ideas as different viewpoints are expressed, which allows the MSCC an outsized position in the public discourse. The presence of decision-making officials on the nonprofit’s board directly contradicts the democratic principle that an elected official works for and represents ALL of the community they serve, instead of just one segment. 

“The Crime Commission positions itself as fully representative of the community with an implied view that it is a public/private entity, when fundamentally, it is a nonprofit that supports an agenda that does not represent the interests of our entire community. There has been an implication that the MSCC presents objective data, research, and recommendations, when in reality, the nonprofit has traditionally presented data, ‘research,’ and recommendations that support their ideological perspective, which clearly prioritizes increasing incarceration and policing.” said Cardell Orrin, a representative of JSA. 

The partner organizations of the JSA represent justice-impacted communities, young people, families, educators, faith leaders and practitioners, legal professionals, and workers. Together, we are formally asking the following elected and appointed officials to remove themselves from the MSCC’s Board of Directors: District Attorney Steve Mulroy, Juvenile Court Judge Tarik Sugarmon, Shelby County Sheriff Floyd Bonner, County Mayor Lee Harris, County Commissioner Erika Sugarmon, City Mayor Jim Strickland, City Councilman Frank Colvett, Police Chief CJ Davis, and U.S. Attorney Kevin Ritz.

A copy of the JSA’s official letter to the elected officials currently on the MSCC board can be found at:

Our hearts are with everyone who experienced The Covenant School shooting on Monday, March 27. Nothing will bring those children and educators back, but we can channel our grief and rage into action so gun violence stops being a “normal” part of school life.

Before we dive into actions, we encourage everyone to prioritize your mental health & remember, in the face of tragedy, you are never alone. If you or any loved ones need support, here are some resources to get you started:

As we discuss the “why” behind these tragedies and how we can prevent them in the future, we must state the obvious: gun violence would not exist without guns. TN’s irresponsibly lax gun laws are merely choices: the majority of our lawmakers are actively choosing to accept, allow, and enable gun violence with every vote they take to strip our gun laws and all the fear-mongering they push to sell more guns. In fact, Tennessee has some of the weakest gun laws in the country, and we’re now in a place where guns are the leading cause of death among Tennessee children and teens.

Despite the choices politicians make, Tennesseans across race, place, and background know our children’s worth. Our voices matter. Together, we can call on our current elected officials to enact meaningful change and elect future leaders who truly understand the value of our children. Join the call for common sense gun reform and connect with groups already engaged in the work: 

Advocating for more resources that center students’ mental and emotional wellbeing are also equally as important when we talk about student safety. How students feel in school carries into how they feel in the world. If they don’t feel supported in the place that’s supposed to lay the groundwork for their future, we are setting them up to fail. But we still need to remind many lawmakers in our General Assembly that everyone—regardless of sexual orientation or gender expression and identity—deserves to see themselves represented in libraries and school curricula and feel a sense of belonging and safety.

While extremist lawmakers will try to use the shooter’s transgender identity as fuel for their hateful agenda, we know that transgender and gender non-conforming people are far more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators. TN’s anti-trans, anti-drag, and school censorship laws will only add to the cycle of trauma, simply due to some lawmakers’ unfounded fear of identities they don’t understand. Take action to stop these bills from harming more students:

Regardless of the laws passed in Nashville, we know teachers and faculty are doing the best they can in supporting and teaching kindness to students. Providing students with the proper support and resources in schools AND changing gun laws is the only way to prevent these tragedies for good. 

And we echo our partners: Safety does not mean increasing police presence in Black, Brown, and low income communities. It means passing common sense gun laws that protect our children and families from mass shootings and all other types of gun violence. It means passing trauma-informed and inclusive policies that create community and school spaces where everyone–regardless of race, class, gender expression and identity, sexual orientation, and ability–feels a sense of belonging and care.

We will keep The New Covenant students, staff, and families in our hearts as we continue to call for meaningful change from our current and future elected officials, so that no child, family, or educator experiences school gun violence again.

Since November 2022, Stand for Children and Decarcerate Fellows have been meeting weekly to deepen their deepen their skills and confidence as community organizers, plug into work we and our coalition partners are engaged with in the field, assist in deep-canvasing, attend City Council and School Board Meetings, and other community events.

After the last workshop, our fellows will never look at a blanket the same way again. This week our fellows worked together to accomplish a seemingly impossible task: flipping a blanket over while they’re standing on it. They worked together, strategized, and eventually implemented tactics to reached their goals. The real revelation came during our debrief when fellows shared stories about times they experienced challenges collaborating with others to reach a common goal. The exercise served as a jumping off point to discuss the challenges and solutions that often go hand and hand with working collectively to solve a problem and reach a shared goal.

Stay tuned for more updates from this next crew of community leaders!

Stand for Children fellows and volunteers held an action to celebrate Rosa Parks’ birthday and honor her legacy of advocacy and action for transportation equity. Through the work of the Moral Budget Coalition, we created a deep canvass designed to begin having conversations with people about the need for a community centered budgeting process, and how it could benefit public services like our public transportation system.

On Saturday, Feb. 4th, we went out to the Benjamin Hooks Library for our first deep canvass to give out hand warmers, talk to bus riders about their experience with MATA, and share our vision for a better transit system. This was many of our fellows’ first time participating in any type of canvass, and they were able to practice their skills and have deep conversations with riders. We captured some powerful stories about the hardships people face using our current public transit system. One of those stories, told by a local rider named Tim has been included below. 

Tim’s Testimony

We look forward to continuing to have these conversations with people about their lived experiences, and we hope that these stories will compel our elected leaders to provide better funding and transparency that will make our vision for a better public transportation system possible.

Over the past two weeks, and in the wake of hearing from his parents at the January 23 press conference, we have been holding Tyre Nichols and his loved ones in our hearts. We mourn another young life taken by an unacceptable and preventable act of police violence, and we join the calls for more transparency from the Memphis Police Department. Even though the individual officers involved in Tyre’s arrest and killing are starting to be held accountable, the fact remains that systemic racism and lack of accountability for law enforcement run deep throughout the entire criminal legal system. These systemic problems require systemic solutions, bringing us back to the urgent need to reimagine policing entirely.

The case is now a federal civil rights investigation, and the whole country’s eyes are once again on Memphis. True justice means making sure these acts of police brutality never happen again, and we will continue to work in beloved community to create a city where we are all free from police violence, where we all have our basic needs met, and where we all have the chance to not only survive, but thrive.

According to the MSCS Handbook, possession of pepper spray is a suspendible offense, yet the adults in charge of protecting student safety are free to use this harmful chemical agent against students at their discretion with little to no accountability. This excessive use of force by school officers and/or school resource officers (SROs) to break up a fight between students at Melrose perpetuates a toxic culture of criminalizing and endangering youth in schools under the misguided assumption that adult-inflicted violence somehow makes young people safer.

In 2021, Momentum Memphis worked alongside students to call on the Board of Education to remove law enforcement acting as SROs from all public schools in our “Counselors Not Cops” campaign. To our great disappointment, after all that effort the Board voted unanimously to renew their contract with the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office. This decision effectively puts our students in danger of unnecessary interaction with law enforcement, often without parental consent.

This school year, school officers and/or SROs have been using pepper spray against young people at an alarming frequency–almost once a week by the District’s own numbers. It should go without saying that chemical agents should never be used against our students. By doing so, the school officers, SROs, and other adults in charge are setting a dangerous example– effectively saying that using more violence is the best way to resolve conflict. When students respond to conflict with more violence, they face the risk of  suspension  or even expulsion; yet the adults responsible for ensuring student safety face little to no consequences when they respond with violence. 

In October 2022, Board Member Sheleah Harris called on the rest of the Board to pass a Code of Conduct for school security staff that would hold them to a higher standard. We stand with Board Member Harris, and we stress that the Code of Conduct would include requirements for trauma-informed de-escalation training and practices. 

Security staff have a responsibility to protect ALL students, including those who may be in conflict with each other. We will continue to advocate with and for our young people so that these violent incidents become things of the past, paving the way for prevention and restorative justice to come first and foremost. 

I’ve worked for many years in politics, advocacy, and organizing in Memphis, and I can say that the accomplishments we’ve made in 2022 are some of the most proud moments that I’ve had. We defeated the worst District Attorney in the country. We supported a progressive DA to bring much needed change to our community. We elected the first African American Juvenile Court Judge–bringing change to that important office for the first time in over 60 years. And, in working with our partners and the community, we fundamentally transformed the opportunities that we have in this community for real justice and safety.

The fight to unseat former DA Amy Weirich began in 2021 when we convened local, state, and national partners to form the People for Fairness and Justice (PFJ) to elect a new Shelby County District Attorney and Juvenile Court Judge who would share our values of restorative justice, criminal justice reform, and reducing the incarcerated population. Within months of planning and convening, we built a strong coalition centered on trust and a shared commitment to bringing a change to Shelby County that would reverberate across the country.

We developed and ran a well-targeted, multi-layered campaign, complete with groundbreaking efforts in canvassing, phone and text banking, digital communications, mail, TV/radio ads, and even an endorsement from actor and rap artist Common! Thanks to your overwhelming support, our hard work paid off: Steve Mulroy won the DA’s race with 56% of the vote and Tarik Sugarmon won the Juvenile Court Judge’s race with 44% of the vote – two HUGE wins for Black and Brown youth and adults (and everyone else) in Shelby County!

This move away from the failed status quo rhetoric of punitive, “tough-on-crime” policies showed the entire country that we’re ready to lead the way in transforming justice in Shelby County. What’s more, you showed up and answered the call of our youth (not yet old enough to vote for themselves) to elect leaders who will keep young people’s best interests front and center over the next eight years and bring meaningful change to the youth justice system.

Thank you, from the bottom of our hearts, for bringing a new day for justice and safety to Shelby County.

City redistricting determines which neighborhoods get resources and representation, and thanks to your emails and advocacy over the past year, the City Council answered our calls for a public redistricting process!

Earlier this year, we teamed up with the Shelby County Voter Alliance to gather support for including community voices in how our city’s maps are drawn, and we ramped up our efforts in September after the City Council voted to approve a new map drawn by unelected city attorney Allan Wade. We were told that the redistricting process would be an open one, redistricting meetings would appear clearly on the Council agenda, and that public input would be welcomed, but the new map was rushed through after meetings behind closed doors ahead of the special election in November to fill the District 4 seat vacancy.

In fact, this map was approved even though the August 23rd meeting was the first time the public–and even some of the Council members–had seen the proposed changes. Redrawing maps behind closed doors is undemocratic and shuts all of us out of important decisions that will affect our families, neighborhoods, and communities for the next decade. To get the word out and spur people to take action, we held a press conference and sent out a mailer to households around Memphis. We weren’t disappointed–Memphians flooded City Council members’ inboxes with emails calling for a fair process, and in October, City Council responded by passing a resolution sponsored by Councilwoman Michalyn Easter-Thomas to establish a public redistricting committee! 

The first public committee meeting was held on Tuesday, December 13, and we’re very much looking forward to the maps and community-centered insight they’ll bring forward in the new year ahead of the city elections.