By Carlissa Shaw
Engage the people at all levels. Empower and uplift the most marginalized and disenfranchised of voices. Equip our communities with the tools necessary for transformation. These are the imperatives of an effective leader for a city in the midst of a social, political, economic, and public health crisis. We need our leaders to walk the walk and talk the talk. To not just tell us something that can be done, but show us—through their political organizing, housing and food justice efforts, community healthcare and arts programs, and more. Missouri may be the “Show Me State”, but Memphis is definitely the “Show Me City.”
I will never hate on Atlanta, especially not today. But Memphis is the true mecca of civil rights activism, culture, and revolution. So much so, that many Memphians recognize a duty of service in our DNA.
Here are three young Memphis changemakers doing just that:
U.S. Representative Ayanna Pressley says, “The people closest to the pain should be closest to the power.” This philosophy is one Justin Davis has adopted into his leadership style. As brilliant an academic and a writer as the Pushcart Prize nominee is, he spends more time making space than taking space. Davis got plugged into the Memphis Bus Riders Union with Paul Garner and the Mid South Peace and Justice Center during his time at Rhodes College. The membership, leadership, agenda, and goals of the organization are centered around Memphis public transit users, with most members riding the bus to and from meetings. Davis’s poetry resonates heavy and has touched many through the journals, magazines, and media outlets that have published his work. He continues to refine his craft at the University of Memphis, pursuing an MFA in poetry. Being a full time student hasn’t stopped his work with the bus riders. “No Buses, No Peace,” can be heard chanted at their demonstrations. The peace that comes from affordable and accessible public transit is the vision that Justin strives for every day.
Jordan Occasionally is a true cornerstone of the resistance on all fronts. Musically, JD views their work as a time capsule, capturing not only their individual growth but the urgency of our collective current moment. Amid a generation “tired of waiting for change,” JD’s passionate leadership in Black Lives Matter demonstrations and calls to action toward defunding and abolishing police is yet another move toward a flourishing community ecosystem. A mission of combating injustice through mutual uplift remains at the forefront of JD’s activism. When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, they leapt into action, creating an initiative to provide free masks, sanitizing products, and informational resources for those most in need through a series of pop-ups in the Memphis area. Known as PPEFORBIPOC (Personal Protective Equipment for Black and Indigenous People of Color), this effort directly reflects the root of JD’s artistry: empathy, understanding, and spurring social change through cultivating community. “People can see your joy and your radiance and it will inspire them,” JD says. “My joy is social justice. My peace is social justice. Who I love is social justice. Writing our experiences into my music, sharing our stories, and promoting what matters most, that’s my revolution. That’s my legacy.”
London Lamar is a native Memphian and is one of the youngest members of the Tennessee General Assembly. This year marks her second term as a State Representative.
London works tirelessly to engage young Memphians in politics. She started organizing millennials in college at Saint Mary’s College in Notre Dame, Indiana and continued that work after moving back to Memphis in 2013. Her first order of business was reorganizing the then dormant Shelby County Young Democrats organization. The Young Dems have given a voice and opportunities to countless young people to engage in politics locally and nationally actively. London has boots on the ground in organizing grassroots campaign efforts in just about every election in Memphis. London has a strong presence that is only growing stronger as she drafts and passes legislation to benefit her district on a Statewide level. London looks forward to educating young voters, developing youth into motivated citizens, and making progressive changes to the State of Tennessee. “For Memphis to thrive, we must become intentional about growing the next generation of leaders through opportunities to make a real impact,” says London.
The fight for justice, equity, and equality to continue. There is much work for all of us to do for Memphis to become the city we all know she is capable of being. Find a cause that you believe in and fight like hell to make a difference.