Fifty years ago, I was a senior at Ripley High School when sanitation workers went on strike in Memphis.
Some of my classmates came from privilege while others grew up in families that struggled to get by. As a member of the newly integrated football team, some of my teammates faced racism and hate, while others ignored it. Nearly everyone had opinions on the strike and on the role of race in our community.
I’ve seen how things — and people — have changed and stayed the same over the fifty years since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, one day after giving his prophetic “I’ve seen the mountaintop” speech to Memphis sanitation workers.
Today, it’s rare to see the kind of open racism and prejudice we witnessed or experienced back then. But monuments to racist figures like Nathaniel Bedford Forrest have made hatred manifest in stone within our state capitol and public spaces. People of color are incarcerated in shamefully disproportionate numbers. And with alarming regularity, unarmed black men are being shot by police.
Our failures to reach the promised land also cross beyond race. As so many of our neighbors struggle to find health care and feed their families, Dr. King’s comment that “there is nothing new about poverty” remains just as true — and even more so that “we now have the resources to get rid of it.”
We need to ask ourselves each day, as Dr. King once did for all of us, “Why should there be hunger and privation in any land, in any city, at any table, when man has the resources and the scientific know-how to provide all mankind with the basic necessities of life?”
As House Democratic Leader, I’ve been proud to serve with members of my caucus who marched with Dr. King, and to work with them to continue his mission of equality in the legislature.
As governor, I will do all I can to ensure that every Tennessean has access to affordable health care. I will ensure that they have access to a high-quality education, and that the working poor of our state have the support they need to make ends meet. And I will work every day to ensure that every Tennessean, regardless of race, background, or sexual or gender identity feels welcome in our state.
We all do better when we all do better. And in the words of Dr. King, “it is always time to do the right thing, and if we listen to our hearts, we know what the right thing is to do.”
I look forward to standing with you to continue the fight for opportunity and equality under the law for every Tennessean that we continue to face fifty years after the death of Dr. King.