By Ashley Benkarski
NASHVILLE, TN— Reverend Al Sharpton’s civil rights-oriented organization, National Action Network (NAN), now has a Middle Tennessee Chapter (MTNAN).
Eric Capehart, the Chapter’s President, said the group’s focus will be to enhance the work already being done on the ground locally by peer organizations in the form of signal boosting and offering needed resources.
Those organizations will be able to “lean on the strength of the National Action Network to help community activism,” Capehart said.
A major part of MTNAN’s efforts will involve civics education through advocacy at the community level, informing residents of their rights as voters and assisting in getting them to the polls.”We see a lot of stuff changing, but we have to understand what we’re asking for,” MTNAN First Vice President Sheryl Huff said, adding that political candidates must be pushed to engage voters rather than relying on name recognition to get elected.
“I look at NAN and what it can be for— a young person who may not know anything about elections, who may not know anything about voting, but is just looking for an opportunity— and I think NAN can serve as an organization in this city to fill that void that is greatly needed, because that’s what a lot of young people are looking for,” said treasurer Thomas Hunter.
Georgia’s attack on voting rights took the national spotlight ahead of the 2020 election but it’s not the only state undertaking measures to stymie voters.
“Our voting rights are not protected,” Capehart lamented. While the group will seek to increase voter education, awareness and turnout, redistricting is quickly approaching. “It’s hard to imagine that we won’t have voting rights but there’s a reality that we couldn’t,” he said.
Additional threats such as gerrymandering have loomed on the horizon for generations, only needing to be nourished by politicians and grifters antagonizing a tempestuous culture war.
As a result, divided within the same country like oil and water, what were once assumed ironclad rights become an explosive point of contention and our shared history has made clear that allowing basic human rights to dissolve in the first place makes efforts to get them back much more difficult.
MTNAN will also focus on police accountability, training and public access to reports when law enforcement uses weapons in arrests.
“It’s not always a fair shake on both sides,” Capehart added. This tale of two justice systems has been a significant contributor to increased poverty rates in the Black community, keeping those families locked in a perpetual loop of economic instability that in turn feeds the criminal justice system.
The broader NAN organization was involved in the Ahmad Arbery murder case before it became a national story, said Huff.
Similarly, MTNAN will work to amplify civil rights cases that aren’t getting widespread media coverage.
The group said it already has cases on its radar, such as one in which a man’s rights were violated when he was detained by another falsely portraying themselves as an officer.
Rev. Sharpton will be in attendance in the coming months to officially install the Chapter’s officers as soon as the group’s agenda is complete, Huff said.
For now, those interested in joining or lending their efforts to MTNAN can email the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 731-214-8658.
MTNAN holds their general body meeting at 6:30 p.m. on the third Monday of every month at Seay-Hubbard United Methodist Church in Nashville. All are welcome to attend.