“Early morning, April four
Shot rings out in the Memphis sky.
Free at last, they took your life
They could not take your pride.”
So here we are. It’s early morning on April 4th in Memphis. After two days of listening to expert panels talking about the state of persistent poverty, racial injustice, educational injustice marked with redlining and redistricting, and the increased creation of private institutions, of gun violence and sexual assault – how can we feel optimistic?
Taylor Branch, Pulitzer-prize winning biographer of King, the keynote at yesterday’s lunch here in Memphis, hosted by the National Civil Rights Museum commented that “race is freedom’s gain in the USA. It can swing open or closed when we let it.” As I nibbled on my matzah (Organic Spelt matzah.. noch), while listening intently (and furiously taking notes at the same time), he continued to recognise that we are now in a another period of stirrers. Women of colour are speaking up, #Black Lives Matter and high school students continue to speak up and stand up. Can this age coalesce? He felt that there is a paradox that the Civil Rights Movement allowed freedom for many other groups of people in the past 50 years: for women, for LGBT communities, but that for African Americans we continue to be trapped in cynicism. As incarceration rates continue to rise, and police gun violence creeps up, how can we look at the United States as the home of the brave. As Randall Robinson said on his panel (he is a professor law at Penn State as well as a respected social justice advocate, and a pretty wise man filled to the brim with empathy): “The US is becoming the land of the free and the home of amnesia”.
A community is crippled if they don’t know their history.
And so the work must go on. Today I will investigate and document the commemoration of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. I will be joined by thousands and thousands of people who will be here to lend their voices and tell their stories. It is an immense privilege to be here.