MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Hundreds of people have hit the streets of Memphis demanding a change.
They’re in action night after night and march after march, but who are the people behind those leading the marches? They are seniors, parents and children. They are your neighbors, your co-workers and your friends.
Nine days after police and protestors clashed in downtown Memphis, crowds gathered at the National Civil Rights Museum for training on how to protest.
Heather, 42, didn’t grow up in Memphis, but she calls it home now.
“It’s the systemic injustice; it’s the racism in our culture,” she said about why she’s been out to the Memphis protests since they started.
For her, it’s is about using her voice.
“I remember watching the ‘I have a dream’ speech and just getting tingles,” she said. “I remember looking at pictures and noticing there were not a lot of white faces in the crowd. I remember telling myself, if I had lived at that time, I would have been there … so I guess I am fulfilling a promise to third grade myself by being here.”
Sisters Nya, 15, and Gabrielle, 12, may be out of school for summer, but they wanted to come to a protest training.
“It’s kinda scary,” Nya said. “I am only 15, so obviously I have never experienced anything like this in my lifetime, but if we don’t do anything, people collectively, nothing is gonna change.”
The protests are full of children who saw something they had to be a part of. They’re learning how to lead protest marches and how to respond to police.
Deonna is a mom who brought her daughters and nieces. The killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis made her worry about her children in Memphis.
“I think it’s problems in Memphis, just most of them not caught on camera,” Deonna said. “I been in situation with police where i felt offended. they can say anything and do what they want to do.”
For many people who saw the video of Floyd’s death, they couldn’t stay away. Local comedian Famous Amos understands.
“It made me feel some way,” he said. “I had to go take a walk because instinct was to instantly do something negative. So I had to catch myself because I let my emotions speak for me too fast. It touched me. It moved me in a way I know I would of did something I would have regretted. I decided to come out here and do it the positive way because cause I am a positive person.”
As night falls and the training ends, they take to the streets. They are willing to lay down in the streets for what they believe.
“I pray that it changes the hearts of people who believe that racism does not exist,” attendee Brittany said. “That’s why I am out here. That’s why I’m lying in the streets.”
The young group of protestors hit Memphis’ Overton Park and Cooper-Young areas on Day 10.
Their message focused on taking money from police and putting it back into the community.
Kevin lives in Cooper-Young and joined in.
“It’s past time for me to be a part of it,” he said. “I’ve been watching it happen, and I believe in equality, and I believe in justice. I was put off at first by some of the violence I saw, and I know that that’s not everywhere. This city has such a beautiful history of racial harmony and people coming together. I just wanted to be a part of it. That’s the future that I want—not even the future. That’s the now that I want.”
On Day 11, they were at Memphis’ historic Clayborn Temple and the “I Am A Man” plaza gathering again to show what matters.
“The biggest issue at hand is equality,” former Memphis Tigers basketball player Will Coleman said about why he attended. “African-Americans at all levels want to be treated like everybody else. It’s only fair. It’s only right.”
For nine minutes, the time a police officer’s knee was on Floyd’s neck, they take a knee in the streets.
Lauren, 22, said it’s just the right thing to do.
“Why was it important for you to have voice, especially as a white woman?” WREG’s April Thompson asked.
“Because I know that I am privileged, and I know I have a voice I can use to stand up for what is right,” she said.
What these protestors are calling for more than anything is a change in Memphis.
“I want my sons to be able to walk down the street without being harassed or being killed, so I am doing this for the next generation,” lifelong Memphis resident Reggie said. “I think right now people are trying to divide us. We know the enemy comes to divide and conquer. We are going to stay focused on our assignment, which is to bring change to our communities.”