Living Up to the Legacy

I made this speech at the Lorraine Motel on the 50th anniversary of the assination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

“Thanks to the National Civil Rights Museum for partnering with organizations like ours, and so many others, to create a space over the last year to ask the challenging question, Where Do We Go From Here?

As has been the case with many Memphians, and I’m sure others, my heart has been conflicted this week. We honor the sacrifice of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the sanitation workers, and all those who fought to make change to bring equality in civil rights, economic justice, political freedom, and the simple recognition of our humanity – most recently expressed as Black Lives Matter.

At the same time, we’ve heard many times this week, and I’m sure you will hear again many times today, the facts for Memphis 50 years after King’s assassination – the high poverty rate, the higher child poverty rate, one of the highest rates of opportunity youth, economic, residential and school segregation, a juvenile court that needs federal oversight just to ensure that Black youth are treated equitably, and, just yesterday, police overreaction to non-violent protesters resulting in the arrest of several activists.

With these issues facing us, we have city leadership that instead of reacting with the fierce urgency of now responds with the glacial speed of soon. The City of Memphis, which divested from supporting education several years ago, gave us hope with a commitment to support universal pre-k. Their commitment translated to taking four years to ramp up to just a $6 million investment (only a portion of the amount needed for universal pre-k). One city council member proposes taking three years for a slight increase in the city’s summer youth jobs program. Meanwhile, the amount we spend on policing continues to expand.

Even with these harsh realities, we have hope that King’s prophesy can come true…something can happen in Memphis.

In reflecting on the way that we could honor the legacy of Dr. King, at Stand for Children, we launched Momentum Memphis, an effort to create a city-wide movement for youth opportunity and success.

Education achievement for African Americans is one of the few places where we have seen advancement over the last 50 years, but we still have more to achieve. We believe that engaging, informing, and equipping parents, educators, and community members to be advocates for building a community that values our children will help to build a community that values them as adults.

We have connected with thousands of our fellow Memphians around our four platform areas:

Graduation Success for College and Career – because walking across the stage isn’t enough. We need to ensure that our students are ready and prepared for post-graduation success. Connecting pathways to high-wage, high-growth career opportunities can help with the economic advancement missing in our communities.

Community Investment for All Youth – what happens in schools is only part of the solution. We must support our youth after school and in the summer. We have to build a community that can effectively respond to the trauma that too many of our young people are forced to deal with.

Facilities and Funding Our Students Deserve – our students and educators suffer in buildings with leaking roofs and air-conditioning or heating systems that don’t work. We must invest in learning spaces that let our students know that we value them and that support preparing them for a global economy.

Breaking the School to Prison Pipeline – a connection has been developed that links the institutions of schools and prisons. We must develop advocacy and solutions that address both sides of that pipeline. We have partnered with criminal justice reform organizations to coordinate our efforts so that no child is treated as disposable.

We work every day to advocate solutions in each of these areas, and believe this is a critical part of achieving Dr. King’s dream of addressing poverty and economic disparity.

You can learn more and join our fight at

Thank you and have a wonderful day of honoring the sacrifice and continuing the struggle.”

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