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How the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. is inspiring justice through journalism

mlk50 justice through journalism
Posted at 10:16 AM, Apr 04, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-04 10:16:34-04

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Martin Luther King, Jr. died more than 50 years ago, but his legacy endures through an organization that's fighting for justice through journalism.

Journalists Carrington J. Tatum and Andrea Morales put their story directly in the hands of people most affected by what happens in the District Attorney's office. They work for MLK50 Justice Through Journalism.

“There is a district attorney election coming up and we wanted to talk to some people who are currently facing prosecution and ask them what they would want to see," Tatum said.

“We’re trying to figure out how to be a different kind of newsroom so that involves working with the community and working for the community," Morales said.

It’s untraditional work like this that helps get new eyes on their journalism, which is primarily digital. Wendi C. Thomas is the founding publisher.

“What we’re doing is planting seeds," Thomas said. “Initially I planned for it to be a one year project just leading up to the 50th anniversary of Dr. Kings assassination.”

She says their commitment to covering the community in the spirit of Dr. King, in the city where he died fighting for civil rights, has helped them grow stronger. They're now marking five years covering issues in Memphis.

“What our journalism does is connects today to his radical past and making those same kind of calls for true justice and true liberation for people who were marginalized in any way," Thomas said.

Part of this mission is to call out systems and hold them accountable. It’s all part of following the legacy Dr. King laid out.

“He was a great speaker but he didn’t sugarcoat," Tatum said.

“Dr. King was telling you exactly who it is, that’s right. Capitalism, racism, militarism like he called those systems out, said those words," Morales said.

“King was radical. He called for a complete revolution of values," Thomas said.

For MLK50, that means doing journalism a little differently.

"Finding ways to reach people who have felt disenfranchised through journalism because journalism has also done great harm in the city of Memphis," Morales said.

"While we practice all of the traditional tenants of journalism around fairness and accuracy there are some things that we believe are just non-negotiable truths. So workers deserve enough to be able to live on. Healthcare is a human right. Any group that’s been marginalized, we are reporting with them at the core of what we do," Thomas said.

One example of this reporting is an investigation into debt collection practices by the city's largest hospital system that was suing its own low-wage workers for unpaid medical debt.

“And now there are thousands of people who will never be sued because of the reporting that my team and I did," Thomas said.

In order for this journalism to survive, they are primarily supported by national foundations, receiving six-figure multi-year grants to be able to sustain the work. Thomas says it allows them to continue to plant seeds that can grow into justice.

“In our five years, we have done that and I’m excited about what we’ll do in the next five, 10, 15, 20 years," Thomas said.

To learn more about their organization or check out some of their work, click here.