Pearson’s dedication to the work of liberation echoes theme for NC Black Summit
Tennessee House of Representatives member Justin J. Pearson has always fought for justice for his community because he knew that they deserved better. He graduated from an underfunded Memphis high school in 2013, where he was “built, transformed, and reformed” by his tireless advocacy for his fellow students. This is why it was unsurprising that, once elected to the House of Representatives, Pearson immediately began utilizing his role as a lawmaker to advocate for the people of Memphis and the whole of Tennessee. It was also unsurprising when the Republican legislature chose to expel him when he and two of his colleagues joined protests for gun reform. The Tennessee Three sparked a movement, and since then, Pearson has been traveling constantly to speak to people fighting for justice and safety across the country. Luckily, he had time in his itinerary to attend the 17th Annual Black Summit on April 27-28, 2023.
Grace Under Pressure
I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect when meeting Representative Pearson and his fiancée Oceana Gilliam. Over the past several weeks, he had been unjustly expelled from the Tennessee House of Representatives, reinstated, and catapulted onto the national stage. At just 28 years old, it was hard to imagine what that level of pressure and attention could do to an individual. But Pearson and Gilliam were incredibly gracious, kind, and dedicated to the work of liberation for all. This was exemplified in part by the Representative’s ability to form a unique connection with every summit attendee, from Congresswoman Foushée to the college students that made time during exam season to hear from someone who had electrified the nation. Pearson and Gilliam stopped to take pictures with every black elder that came up to him outside the summit and graciously accepted their prayers, support, and well wishes. They made sure to try to connect with as many Summit and North Carolina Black Alliance team members and volunteers as possible and were genuinely delighted to learn more about the Alliance and the work that we are doing in North Carolina.
Pictured: Rep. Justin J. Pearson, Lysandra Joseph, and Oceana Gilliam.
The Shared Struggle for Liberation
This is because we all must fight as one in the struggle for liberation. This struggle is something the representative talked about in his press conference quite distinctly. It’s something that he discussed during the banquet, and it’s something that he clearly lives every single day. In his keynote speech, Pearson emphasized the similarities between the fight we’re fighting every day as Black North Carolinians and the fight he’s fighting in Tennessee – addressing widespread gun violence, ensuring just representation of the people in the legislature, standing for and with queer and trans people against attacks on their very personhood, and ensuring a future with clean air, clean soil, and clean water are available to everyone. It’s something we talked about after leaving the governor’s mansion, where Rep. Pearson paused to speak to every single person. Sitting in Tupelo Honey, waiting for our food (and the piece of pie that the two had ordered for their driver), I explained the Alliance, our work, and our partnerships with Black elected officials across the state. Pearson and Gilliam were struck by the concept – an organization dedicated to the liberation of Black people, one focused on directly working with and aiding the people who know their towns and cities best, people who have entered public service that creates the kind of change that liberates us all. To that end, Pearson announced during his keynote that he and his fiancée would be donating $1000 to the North Carolina Black Alliance in recognition of our great work.
Pearson is the living embodiment of “what they meant for evil, God used for good,” and his speech demonstrated how one individual’s passion for advocating for the disenfranchised can inspire and connect people from diverse backgrounds to come together for a noble cause. His passion for liberation was, unsurprisingly, contagious, but it was his grace and tireless devotion to even the lowest among us that struck me most. My time with the representative and his fiancée was empowering, a reminder to stay engaged in the struggle to empower those who are marginalized in our country. With every hand he shook, the Tennessee legislator was reminding summit participants and members of the North Carolina Black Alliance to remain hopeful and unwavering in their advocacy efforts on behalf of the marginalized.
Moving Forward with Purpose and Knowledge
I don’t know what the future holds for Representative Pearson. But I do know his visit to NC will have a lasting impact on me and many attendees at the Summit who are as committed to the struggle as he is. I look forward to channeling his energy and enthusiasm to help keep the North Carolina Black Alliance at the forefront of the struggle to help the marginalized and disenfranchised in the state of North Carolina.
To learn more about the NC Black Summit, visit www.NCBlackSummit.org.