By Ashley Benkarski
MEMPHIS, TN — Executive Director of Memphis Artists for Change Tameka Greer is a member of the Black Southern Women’s Leadership Project along with fellows in Louisiana, Texas, Florida, Georgia and Alabama.
The group is honoring the Juneteenth holiday by continuing to advocate for voter rights, community empowerment, ending mass incarceration and curbing gun violence, all of which disproportionately affect low-income and Black and Brown communities.
“Juneteenth is a celebration and a conversation,” Greer said.
Though it’s been recognized by the Black community for generations, Juneteenth was only named a national holiday June 15 this year to honor the day slaves in Galveston, Tex., learned they were liberated from the bonds of chattel slavery.
Unfortunately the censorship of Critical Race Theory undercuts that conversation by erasing the context surrounding the holiday and American history itself.
Anti-CRT legislation has been passed in Tennessee and several other states, with more considering similar legislation in their congressional houses. All of this, Greer said, speaks to the truth of where we are as a nation.
It’s easy to feel hopeless when elected officials are actively working to weaponize the culture war or are ignoring it, but that’s what Greer and her group of women advocates are hoping to change by creating a power shift to disenfranchised communities.
They follow in the footsteps of the Black women who, throughout this nation’s history, have been on the front lines of
liberation movements — Women such as Harriet Tubman, Ida B. Wells, Diane Nash, Septima Poinsette Clark, Marsha P. Johnson, Shirley Chisholm and Angela Davis. In a 1993 volume of Gender & Society Bernice McNair Barnett included this quote from Margaret Walker, African American novelist and poet:
Even in pre-civil war days, black [sic] women stood in the vanguard for equal rights; [sic] for freedom from slavery, for recognition of women as citizens and co-partners with men in all of life’s endeavors . . . However, because of the nature of American history, and particularly because of the institutions of slavery and segregation, the names and lives of black women leaders are all but unknown in American society–black as well as white (1979).
The group trains others to organize and collectively change the south to enhance the power of the people as well as advocate for legislation to solidify progress. “Listen to the people … Where do they want to use their power to benefit their lives,” Greer posed.
“[We must] move … in concert with the people we serve to lead us to liberation,” she continued. “There is some trauma that has to be addressed. There needs to be a solid foundation [for communities] to decide what liberation looks like to them.”
For so long, Greer professed, that foundation has been built on quicksand.
Centuries of inequity in resources and access have stymied the ability of these communities to pursue and attain the life and liberty that was unquestionably granted to their white counterparts, though many whites were also economically oppressed and nearly just as despised by those in power. Racism is the tool used to divide the lower class to ensure the status quo.
“Equity demands that there’s investment,” she said. “We are unapologetic in saying ‘give us funding to do the work on the ground at the grassroots level … Deeper roots last long and flourish. We want to empower those on the ground to empower themselves.”
Greer encourages people with passion to act. “What moves you? The fact there is power in the thing that moves you … Recognize that power, find that motivation and see if you, yourself, can do something to change it. There is power in self and power in organizing.”
The Memphis organization’s mission “is to enhance the power and capacity of communities through community organizing and arts-based programming,” its website states, and Greer added it is always willing to partner with individuals or other organizations.
For more information on Memphis Artists for Change, visit memphisartistsforchange.org.