- I shall not fear anyone on Earth.
- I shall fear only God.
- I shall not bear ill will toward anyone.
- I shall not submit to injustice from anyone.
- I shall conquer untruth by truth. And in resisting untruth, I shall put up with all suffering.”
― Mahatma Gandhi
The narrative in history will speak of Greenspace, Mayor Strickland, and the City Council historic decision to take down the racist elements of Memphis. The history books will try to omit Tami Sawyer who lead the charge. The history books will try to omit the freedom fighters that were maced, jailed, and removed from protests. The history books will not speak of how many times administration directly opposed the removal by prolonging and slow-footing the process. The narrative will be changed. The narrative will become: What of crime? Black on Black violence (Media labels for ratings-Never hear white on white or brown on brown crime "Another blog")? Other issues? Other made up issues? Trigger words that sound good in print that all lead to- What's next? As if this was not-just one step towards: LIBERATION.
Spotlights will be given to people that were barely there and once again accolades and applauds will not be appropriately given. The truth is that we rarely give women of color the necessary due credit in the history books. Already the narrative, is one of consistent patriarchy lead melody of how well thought out Mayor Jim Strickland planned. Of how the great Mayor pulled this detailed strategic plans with a small few to launch Memphis past its racist history just in time for MLK50. I am thankful that he and administration finally heard the logic of Bradley Watkins who suggested the sell to a private entity on Facebook in August! The narrative will not give Bradley Watkins credit but we heard your voice.
The truth is a brave woman took a step directly to confront injustice. She did not waiver. She did not cease. How do I know? I saw it. I was there the day that a racist attempted to follow her home to harass or worse kill her. I was there when they threatened her life, insulted her, and harassed her online. I was there as men followed and organized with her.
The narrative is Tami Sawyer lead us…
Yes, there were men: Rev. Earle Fisher of Abyssinian Missionary Baptist Church leading clergy and the spirit of men and Keedran Franklin leading the heart of the streets with the Memphis Coalition of Concerned Citizens and C-3 Land Cooperative. Long-term Civil Rights activists: Mr. Harris and Mr. Bailey lighting a fire under efforts.
Yes, there were even more women as well: Shahidah Jones at the front lines constantly funding, strategizing #BlackLivesMatter, and think tanking. Beautiful melanin, non-melanin, and allies all gathered to oppose the visual promotion of a murdering, violent, slave trader, traitor to the United States of America, and one of the founding leaders of one of the largest hate groups of all time-the Klu Klux Klan: Nathan Bedford Forrest. But this isn’t about him or his ally Jefferson Davis who is also taking that trip down from his racist throne. This is about the people who were consistently there everyday- in the trenches.
They fought. They struggled. This win is not about the cute narrative that the news will create about the strong leadership of administration, the brain trusts of legal experts, or the spin that the narrative will take. We are used to our names not appearing next to the right or good of history but we fight anyway!
The narrative is about the direction, resiliency, grit, wit and fortitude to collect, unify, and serve Memphis from the people by the people and for the people. This is about the people. It is a profound reminder that when the people collectively decide to refuse to accept the foolishness of injustice then justice must and has to occur.
So let this be a reminder that today, I can lesson plan for my scholars. I can look them in the eyes. I can tell them how their letters helped, how when we researched and we protested diligently- it helped. I can tell them that signing the petitions provided an outlet for us to be heard.
Love and the consistent focus lead to the taking down of arrogantly racist voices that thought they could hide behind good ole boy laws and back door deals to keep us confused and quiet. The change that was accomplished today is a stepping-stone towards a greater good for us to be loud and proud of progress.
When Tami Sawyer was asked tonight why, she stated, “We make the change for the people.”
This statue falling is a moment to see the results of years of work. #Take’emDown901 movement that Tami Sawyer lead. That is the narrative! The mayor did not march down Union in 100-degree weather. Tami Sawyer did. The mayor did not give speech after speech in the summer. Tami Sawyer did. The mayor did not vomit, require water, body broken and shaking, voice tired and breaking- still march up the statue steps and speak because we needed her leadership…but Tami Sawyer did.
When asked…how do I know? I saw it. I offered her water. I asked her what she needed. I followed her as she lead. This is monumental because throughout our history as Freedom fighters we omit the women. We take the glory and leave the women to sew up our shiny suits. But this shiny suit or dress whichever she chooses to wear belongs to Tami Sawyer.
Why do I keep repeating her name? I want you to know it so that the narrative can’t get changed.
The narrative is always illustrated to show the strength of the man and the woman gets placed in the background. Not this time. The woman gets placed on the side of history as a cute footnote to be added if necessary. Not this time- not on my watch. I have a responsibility as a poet to record this history. So before this narrative gets changed any further.
Let us agree on one thing tonight. We were lead by the power of a woman of color who loved us more than we loved her at times.
The narrative is about equality and human rights. It is about civil rights and the right for me as a man to be able to walk through a park and not be reminded of the horrors of a racist past. Let the narrative reflect that I am proud and thankful to have served under Tami Sawyer. As a poet and writer it is my duty to capture the narrative. Today Memphis, we owe this woman and so many more that have lead movements like her, before her and that will lead after her: our appreciation, respect, and love. We thank-you sister for all that you did to lead us. Tonight, we changed #Take’emDown901 to #Took’emDown901. The statues fell and this is the narrative of a woman who led Memphis into a better future by refusing to let injustice stand before her.
Her name is Tami Sawyer and don't you ever forget the narrative.