Investments in Memphis communities can lead to needed change in the South | Opinion

Advocacy leaders often say, “As the South goes, the country goes.” If that adage is true, donors have a lot to do in the South to support Southern communities and also the nation. While home to the highest concentration of Black people, many in the South are struggling. People seeking nationwide change must begin by investing in the South. The funding must be consistent, and it must be patient.

Sign up for Latino Tennessee Voices newsletter:Read compelling stories for and with the Latino community in Tennessee. 

Sign up for Black Tennessee Voices newsletter:Read compelling columns by Black writers from across Tennessee. 

Invest in the South’s Black and brown communities.

When looking at Tennessee and its continued history of racial inequity, it can be hard to imagine it as anything other than a red state. But Black people don’t necessarily need a state to be red or blue; we need it to be fair to Black people.

The question becomes, ‘“What needs to happen to make our state fairer to Black people?” Fair means ensuring that all people have access to quality health care, affordable child care, equitable education and opportunities to thrive. It means ensuring that all eligible voters – regardless of their race – can vote and have their vote count. It also means questioning and challenging all laws and policies that abridge Black people’s right to vote.

If donors and others want change, they must fund our communities adequately and consistently. Instead, many donors tap in and out depending on candidates’ popularity rather than the community’s needs. In other instances, donors and funders can be reticent to engage in places ostensibly considered “red.” But there is no hope for reversing the tide without investment.

Truly changing the tide down here would mean that Black and brown folks and those of low income would have the unmarred ability to lean into their power. Historically, those who hold power have ousted people of color and sought to strip away their voice and agency. We have seen that in Tennessee – and other states – with the removal of Black voters from the voter rolls via voter purges. 

In another example, Black legislators representing Nashville and Memphis – Justin Jones and Justin Pearson – were expelled from their positions for protesting yet another mass shooting.

While Jones and Pearson were later reinstated, they lack many of the powers of duly elected legislators – they lost committee assignments, cannot vote and are living under a microscope. They are legislators in name only, meaning they lack other legislators’ power – power that could benefit their constituents.

Hear more Tennessee Voices:Get the weekly opinion newsletter for insightful and thought provoking columns.

Investment means a better future for everyone

Let’s be clear. Our communities don’t need empty promises, denials of racism or reactionary efforts. We need stronger infrastructure and an equal playing field. That would require each of our systems to work equitably for all.

Tameka Greer

In Tennessee, that would look like broadband access for rural communities, improved roads, positive impacts on our education system and the ability for people to adequately support themselves and their families. It would look like the re-enfranchisement of persons with felony convictions who have lost their right to vote.

Without funding the resurgence that our communities need, even funders and donors are culpable. Without ensuring that the grassroots groups that are pushing back on the challenges our communities face are well funded, donors are missing an incredible opportunity. Grassroots groups are the first line of defense, and they must be funded as such.

Tameka Greer is the executive director of Memphis Artists for Change and a member of the Black Southern Women’s Collaborative.

This article originally appeared on Memphis Commercial Appeal: Change in the South can happen by investing in marginalized communities