MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Before Justin J. Pearson was expelled from his seat in the Tennessee legislature, he was making a name for himself as a community activist in Memphis and a voice for a new generation. WREG took a look at his road to the state House.
Pearson is only 29 years old, but he has the experience of some twice his age when it comes to activism. He said his desire to help the community was instilled in him by his parents.
For Pearson, what mattered was lending his voice to a cause that he says endangered his community: a planned pipeline that would have affected the water supply.
Pearson, who was 26 at the time, was a leading voice, going door to door and speaking out. Eventually, the pipeline plans were derailed.
“They wanted us to take on all the risk to our water. Take on the risk to the loss of land for their benefit,” Pearson said at the time.
Sarah Houston is the Executive Director of Protect Our Aquifer and worked alongside Pearson to keep the pipeline out of Memphis. She said his passion and effective communication made all the difference.
“Well, I’m sure you’ve heard Justin J. Pearson speak,” Houston said. “Without him, I don’t think it would have gotten the national attention that it really deserved because he was able to tie so many different parts of the issue together and bring it to a place where people could really care about it. And so you know, without him, I doubt it would have been making the news that it made today.”
Pearson said what we are seeing and what has propelled him is the movement of young people, who are getting out front and getting involved, marching and demanding justice.
“That is what is gonna transform our city and our state to the place that if need to be,” he said. “Now is the moment. This is our time. We need the wisdom of the elders, and we need young people with the energy to transform the State of Tennessee.”
Pearson said he is ready to take the lead in that transformation by going back to the State Capitol with a vote of the Shelby County Commission and a vote of the people.
“I am ready to go back. I am ready to serve. I ran for office to serve District 86,” he said.
Supporters told us they plan to host a march in support of Pearson Wednesday before the county commission vote.