The Black Lives Matter and Show Me $15 movements have had a deep presence in Memphis, stemming from issues of race and economics in a city that is known for its grind. This presence was only magnified at a recent panel discussion at the University of Memphis that showcased not only the two movements but also the local groups that are taking matters into their own hands.
“Economic oppression is very much a part of the physical violence, the structural violence, that happens to and against black people, both interracially and through state violence,” said Zandria Robinson, a sociology professor at the University of Memphis and facilitator of the event.
The Black Lives Matter movement rose from the killing of 18-year-old Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri, last year, while the Show Me $15 movement emerged from fast-food industry workers in late 2012, growing into a nationwide movement to raise the minimum wage. Memphis-based organizations utilized the panel as a way to get the word out about the different causes the groups fight for, even if they overlap.
“This is why crime is occurring in our city, in our country,” said Sha’Ona Coleman, a panelist and organizer with Shut It Down Memphis. “So many black and brown individuals are getting caught up in the cycle. That’s why we’re demanding $15 an hour, so that this won’t happen.”
Coleman’s organization grew from the thought that black Memphians needed to stand up for race-related issues in the city, particularly involving the police. “We need to have uncomfortable conversations in our community,” Coleman said.
The Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and Memphis United were also in attendance, two organizations currently working toward restorations for convicted felons hoping to expunge their record after being rehabilitated in order to successfully get a job and regain some rights. The organizations are also working toward immigration rights within the city.
Enough is Enough Memphis is another local organization that attended the panel, represented by Barry Blackstone, the founder, who spoke about how the organization is currently fighting for police accountability with a civilian law enforcement review board, something Memphis United has also worked toward.
As for Coleman and Shut It Down Memphis, getting Memphians involved has become a priority, as organizations asked the audience of the panel to give some of their time. “One of the bigger challenges I’m finding in the Memphis area is getting people involved,” Coleman said. “Police violence isn’t as publicized [here] as it is in Ferguson. People have just become numb to what’s going on.”