Awaiting Just and Humane Immigration Reform

optoutnow3-2Inside the Capitol, a bipartisan group of eight senators known as the gang of eight were putting the finishing touches on legislation to overhaul the system that was expected to be unveiled Apr. 15. The Senate’s Gang of Eight will postpone the rollout of comprehensive immigration reform legislation in the wake of two bomb blasts that killed several people in Boston.

Several people active in the fight for immigration reform around the Mid-South were eagerly looking forward to the unveiling of the proposal.

“Comprehensive Immigration Reform, something that we’ve been waiting on for a long time,” said Gaby Benitez, 24, West Tennessee Organizer.  “It was supposed to be proposed last month and that hasn’t happened and so it has gone through several deadlines that haven’t been met.”

It has previously been reported that the legislation would provide a path to citizenship for the estimated 11 million undocumented people now in the country and establish a 10-year process for obtaining a green card but the actual proposal has yet to be unveiled.

“We are hoping that a bill proposal happens and that way we can look at the texts and what it will really be in telling and who will be included and hopefully we won’t see any exclusions, said Benitez. “ That’s what we have been fighting for is to make sure that everyone is included which is an estimated 11 million people and at first there were definitely lots of exclusions.”

Previous proposals have excluded domestic workers, day laborers and people in the L.G.B.T. community and their families.  “

So we are hopeful that when it is presented that we see all 11 million or the majority of 11 million included in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform or what we call Just and Humane Immigration Reform,” said Benitez.

At a small restaurant in Mid-town, an employee that requested to give only his first name Carlos expressed his feelings about immigration and the upcoming proposal.

“I think a lot of people are interested in knowing what is going to happen with all of this,” Carlos, 28 a cook said. “I’ve been here for a while now. I work. I take care of my family. I know some people that are undocumented. I cannot say, you know? But they just want to take care of their families, you know? I don’t know what’s going to happen but I’m hoping.”

There are several organizations that have been fighting for Comprehensive Immigration Reform here in the Mid-South. One of these organizations is Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition (TIRRC).  )

TIRRC is a statewide, immigrant and refugee-led collaboration that has the mission of empowering immigrants and refugees throughout Tennessee by giving them a unified voice and defending their rights.

“TIRRC has a program called Immigrant State Assembly,” said Benitez. “That is basically a group of 14 local committees that we organize with in directly with even more organizations that we partner with. Here in Memphis the Workers Interfaith network is also one of those organizations that is part of the Immigrant State Assembly.”

Workers Interfaith Network is made up of people who seek justice with Mid-South workers. They bring together people of faith, workers, and community activists to join together in fighting for living wages and to stop unfair working conditions.

“In addition there is Communities United and One Voice which meets which meets every Tuesday at the MSPJC, said Benitez. “They have been working together by having popular education workshops to hear what the people want, what the people need and what the people will not negotiate with Immigration Reform.”

At a small coffee shop in Mid-town Bartolo Gonzalez, 37 a painter shared his feeling about immigration reform and the proposal being but together to be presented to Congress.

“This immigration reform is going to affect me possibly, said Gonzalez. “I’ve been here for more than ten years… undocumented. Me and my wife we have two boys. So it’s going to affect me.”

Gonzalez expressed optimism for some immigration reform to happen soon.

“And I’m so excited because we are going to have that immigration reform this year,” said Gonzalez. “I’m happy. And how I feel when I see some people on TV not supporting the immigration, I feel sad. These are human being in an economy. And when we include people that come here and work hard we are going to have a better country. It is American principals. This country was built with immigrants.”


Exposing More of the Mid-South

DSCN0532The Mid-South voice will soon be expanded the type of coverage posted here. Keeping people informed of events for activism in the midsouth is important but that’s not all of the positivity that the midsouth has to offer. Hopefully, the additional exposure will be one on one’s with people that have helped make our community better in one way of another. These one on one’s would be with artists, business owners, community planners, mentors and everyday people that would like to share their stories, the real heart of the Mid-south. The small little get togethers that don’t get other news coverage.

If you are a Mid-South Voice reader and know of an event that needs attention, an artist that is being over looked, then send a message and that exposure can start here. Hopefully, this will turn into a weekly thing-exposing more of the Mid-South.

Upcoming Events Promoting Social Awarness Throughout the Mid-South

Activism is kick starting community healing in the Mid-South. However, it’s not all about protests and rallies. Activism in the Mid-South has taken shape into educational workshops and support workshops.

There are several upcoming events for those interested in support or simply learning how to become more involved in their community. This is a glimpse of some of these upcoming events.

One upcoming event will be the “Saving Ourselves Symposium” in order to empower, educate, and encourage the African American community to fight this epidemic. The event will be held by the Red Door Foundation.

The Red Door Foundation is an organization promotes social awareness, unity, self- empowerment, mentorship and positive visibility throughout Memphis and Shelby County.

The event four day event be held Jun. 6-9 will focus on the African American LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bi-Sexual and Transgender) community with an emphasis on HIV/AIDS among young black gay men. Registration for this event began Apr. 1st.

564420_10151385631119087_158931203_nAnother of these events is Race First, is a half-day interactive workshop, were people will be asked  to consider that in our community, in this day and time, for any person that wishing to reflect meaningfully on society’s racism, or engage in anti-racism work. A critical question in the workshop is “How has an individual’s life been shaped by race?”  []

The workshop is Sunday, Apr. 28 OR May 26 from 2p.m. – 6p.m at the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, 3573 Southern Ave. Memphis TN 38111. This is wheelchair accessible. The workshop is limited to the first 8 people who register.

To register for this workshop click the link

MLK Remembered

MLK%20147_1314114121 Union members and their supporters marched in Memphis on the 45th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s murder, calling for a new commitment to the human rights causes he died for.

With the march and a dedication ceremony Thursday, they honored King and the sanitation workers strike that brought him to Memphis, where he was assassinated in 1968.

More than a 1,000 marchers came out despite the light drizzle and wore T-shirts with union logos and held signs saying “We are Memphis” or bearing the slogan for the 1968 strike: “I am a man.”

Surviving Memphis strikers Baxter Leach, Alvin Turner and the Rev. Leslie Moore joined the marchers when they arrived at a rally at the National Civil Rights Museum, built on the site of the old Lorraine Motel where King was shot down.

Moore, 66, was in his early 20s at the time of the strike. He still drives a truck for the Memphis sanitation department.

Speakers at the rally included Martin Luther King III and Lee Saunders, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

City officials had begun the day by dedicating a section of historic Beale Street to the 1,300 sanitation workers who walked off their jobs in February 1968 after two garbage collectors were crushed to death in a malfunctioning truck. The strikers demanded – and eventually received – higher pay and safer working conditions.

The street, named “1968 Strikers Lane,” runs in front of the headquarters of AFSCME Local 1733. Martin Luther King Jr. supported the union when he came to Memphis to make speeches and march with the workers.

The civil rights leader was standing on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel when he was killed by a rifle bullet on April 4, 1968. James Earl Ray pleaded guilty to the killing and was sentenced to 99 years in prison. He died in prison in 1998.

Speaking at the street dedication, King’s son said workers still face challenges like the ones they fought to overcome in 1968. He said his father’s campaign for racial and social equality through nonviolent means still has meaning.

During the march, members of the local firefighters union chanted “Four point six, four point six” for the 4.6 percent pay cut they were forced to take in a cost-cutting move by the city. They are demanding an end to the pay cut, which has also affected police officers.

The city and workers unions are negotiating. A central issue is the 2011 pay cut. AFSCME also plans to meet with the city to discuss the possible privatization of the sanitation department.

Candis Collins came from Wynne, Ark. to support her fellow AFSCME members. Collins was a 17-year-old mother, sitting at home in a rocking chair with her young child, when she heard on the news that King was dead.

Collins expressed her grief that she felt when she found out that King had been assassinated.

Featured originally in U-T San Diego 4/04/2013

Students Capture downtown architecture in photo exhibit

photo (39)Article originally featured in the Daily Helsman 4/2/13

University of Memphis students provided “A Way of Seeing” at the Germantown Performing Arts Centre. The reception, which was held March 28, featured art by University of Memphis students.

“All of the artists are students of the Architectural Department at the University of Memphis,” Patricia Cooper, visual arts coordinator at GPAC, said. “We are very excited to have their work hanging here in our Performing Arts Centre. I will get a chance to meet all of them at the reception, and we hope to find out what their hopes are for the future, their future in architecture.” The art exhibit is not the only one that has been held at GPAC. The Centre featured works by other students in the community last year.

“We had a show last year that was with the Memphis College of Arts,” Cooper said. “As the arts coordinator here, I love to involve the students and the community with anything that goes on here. I love to bring fresh ideas.” The exhibit is an opportunity for some University of Memphis architect students to get to show their work at the GPAC exhibit. “This is really exciting,” said Megan Hoover, fourth year architect and interior design Student.  “I always thought that maybe one day I would be an artist, but people said that’s really hard to do. But I think it’s cool that I can combine what I’m doing with architecture with another art form and explore it in different ways and then show it to other people.” Students met others who were excited to see the artist behind the work. They also expressed the importance of creating the opportunity for students to show their work to the community.

“They are our future. I love working with them,” Cooper said. “GPAC is really a great place to work; it’s really a gem here. I think this exhibit is just to bring awareness that we are all just one community here. We have people come from all over, from Memphis, Germantown and Collierville. It’s a place for everyone, not just people who live in Germantown.” Hoover shared her experience of seeing a side of Memphis that many people do not get to see.

“Each person had a specific topic that they were exploring through photography,” Hoover said. “Mine dealt with kind of what happens to spaces after people have left them and people come over the years and kind of leave their mark on the spaces. People still go in there and kind of leave their marks, so that was my exploration, so there was a lot of graffiti and I focused on rundown buildings, alleys and the Tennessee Brewery.” Hoover said that it was a bit of luck getting into one of the places that she was able to photograph.

“You can’t get in [the Tennessee Brewery] anymore; it’s an old abandoned building,” Hoover said. “I was able to go inside the Brewery when there was a music video being filmed there.  It was just kind of fate when that happened, I guess.” Because of the artist’s photography, other Memphians get to see that side of the city as well.

“I love to see the images of downtown Memphis. I think a lot of people don’t have the opportunity to see, to get that real feel of Memphis and bring it here to the Germantown Performing Arts Centre,” Cooper said.

Artists who want to show their work can still have an opportunity to do so.

“We’re booking the art exhibit for next season,” said Christina Comas, marketing coordinator for GPAC. “We are looking for professional artists to submit their work for the 2013-2014 Grand Lobby Exhibit.” Artists interested in an opportunity to have their work shown at GPAC will need to submit their work, résumé and portfolio by Friday, April 26.

Advancing Equality Day on the Hill

photo (30) The following article originally featured in the Daily Helsman 3/19/13. Edited 03/19/2013 12:14 PM

Early Tuesday morning, activists from across Tennessee headed to the state capitol for the 8th Annual Advancing Equality Day on the Hill. AED’s purpose is  to lobby the Tennessee legislature, which curently has several controversial bills up for vote.

One bill by Sen. Stacey Campfield and Rep. John Ragan would require school personnel to notify parents when a child is receiving counseling for issues like their sexual orientation. Some say the bill interferes with a student’s right to privacy.

“There are a number of bills that are targeting the LGBT [Lesbian, Gay, Bi-sexual and Transgender] community that we continue to fight year after year like the ‘don’t say gay’ bill,” said Will Batts, Director of the Memphis Gay and Lesbian Community Center. “There are new ones as well that would allow counselors to ignore their LGBT clients.”
The bill that refers to counseling is SB SB514/HB1185 by Sen. John Hensley and Rep. John DeBerry. Advocates warn it would allow any counseling student, of any religious belief, to refuse to provide services to clients they disagree with. They also warn that this would make students in this field completely unfit for working at any hospital or federal agency.

There are some, however, who see some of these bills as necessary.

“I think it’s good that some of our representatives stand for moral behavior for children,” said John Shakes, a small business owner. “Why should parents not know if their child is experimenting in dangerous sexual activity? Why would children even be having those type of thoughts?”

Some of the opponents of the bill claim that it is just more targeting of specific groups of people for hateful reasons.

“I think it’s really crap. I think they need to be against something, whether it’s race or gender, just to find something to hate,” Barbie Jones, (Fetured right) a transgender equality rights advocate said. “I’m here for my transgender rights and my right to be the woman that I am.  So we’re going to just keep fighting against hateful bills, and I think today is going to have a positive outcome.”
Many young people attended the event to show their support.

“I’m here today for my family, friends and myself,” said Alison Blaha, (pictured right) a student at the University of Memphis. “I believe that everyone should be treated as equal. It is wrong that people get bullied for who they are, and I want to change some minds today.”

U of M students in attendance shared personal stories of how some of the bills would be damaging to young LGBT individuals.

“I have several friends that have been bullied to the point that they had suicidal thoughts,” Blaha said. “And I was bullied a little bit in grade school, not so much. I was kind of a fighter. It’s a problem that people are so harshly bullied to the point of suicide for whatever reason.  And I think that this bill, the ‘don’t say gay’ bill, will hurt students more than protect students.”

Blaha said that it makes her angry and sad that people actually think that way because she was brought up in a loving home.
“So to hear our lawmakers — people that we essentially voted for — say horrible things about us, it really hurts my faith in humanity, so we have to fight it,” said Blaha.

Advocates said that their goal is to make people aware of what these bills really are and to get the legislature to move on to more pressing issues.

“We really need to have legislature that stops targeting the gay community,” Batts said. “So we are really going to have to fight these bills and try to keep these bad ones from passing and get the good ones passed so that the legislature can focus on issues like homelessness and bankruptcies and the issues that are really important to people.”

Tennessee Senate Bill 514

legislatureAnother bill from the Tennessee super majority has come forth.  Sen. Joey Hensley has introduced a bill that prohibits public institutions of higher education from disciplining or discriminating against a student in a counseling, social work, or psychology program because the student refuses to counsel or serve a client as to goals, outcomes, or behaviors that conflict with a sincerely held religious belief of the student, if the student refers the client to a counselor who will provide the counseling or services. – Amends TCA Title 4 and Title 49.

The cases from other states that are cited in support of the bill typically involve clients from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender community. The law would allow students who are going into counseling professions to discriminate against such clients on the basis of religion.

The bill would have an impact on people who need counseling or assistance and it would harm the accreditation of the programs at our public universities.

This bill is set to go before the full Senate Monday night.