Memphis City Council devoted the first portion of its Tuesday meeting to hearing the demands of activists. The proposals were a part of a plan called “From Protest to Progress,” organized and sponsored by the Greater Memphis Chamber (GMC). GMC President and CEO Beverly Robertson presented the proposals to the council during Tuesday’s meeting.
A total of five activist groups, eleven faith-based organizations, around two dozen companies, and one school system are involved. The activist groups are the Peace & Justice Center, Black Lives Matter (BLM), Coalition of Concerned Citizens (C3), Memphis Interfaith Coalition for Action and Hope (MICAH), and Up the Vote. Shelby County Schools is represented in the initiative through their Minority and Women Business Enterprises (MWBE) Manager, Joyce Douglas.
“It is important to hear the voices of activists, because they are rarely heard in situations and in circumstances where there can be mutual respect,” stated Robertson. “It took us 10 years to recover from the past downturn of 2008. How long would it take us to rebuild from something like burning, and looting, and breaking windows?”
Among the activists demands are a $15 minimum wage; more Black individuals on community, nonprofit, and corporate boards, as well as in all local government roles; and a fund exclusively for Black-owned businesses.
Robertson stated that the activists tailored the four issues that the GMC determined the initiative would focus on: wealth equity and economic reinvestment strategies in neighborhoods, MWBE contracting, minimum wage, and corporate and community board participation. These issues were each assigned a working group composed of activists, business leaders and faith-based leaders.
The council member who had requested that the initiative be presented before the council, Cheyenne Johnson, didn’t respond to request for comment from The Tennessee Star by press time.
Following George Floyd’s death last summer, Memphis experienced months of protests and violence that ultimately necessitated the intervention of the Department of Justice (DOJ). In response to community uproar, Memphis Police Department (MPD) adopted a ban on no-knock warrants and modified its procedures for officers reporting misconduct.
According to Robertson, the first meeting for the From Protest to Progress initiative occurred less than 10 days after the first riots in the wake of George Floyd’s death. GMC convened a variety of activists, leaders, and businesses at the National Civil Rights Museum. That meeting and all subsequent ones were reportedly dominated and guided largely by the demands of the activists present.
The initiative began implementation within the community late last summer, according to the presentation. Judging by the majority positive response of the council to the presentation, it appears that they will work with GMC to realize some of the initiative’s goals – such as an accountability team to oversee the council’s compliance with activist demands for MWBE.
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