Reflections on My Trip to Memphis

A few weeks ago I was fortunate enough to take part in an exploration of equity and justice. I recently spent a week in Memphis  at the Voices for America’s Children National Forum. You always wonder if leaving town to attend a conference is going to be worth putting your day-to-day workload on hold for a week. But once I got there and was able to focus on the challenges before us — not only for New Mexico, but as a nation — I was inspired and energized. The focus of the conference was to motivate and organize Voices’ national chapters (advocacy organizations in nearly every state and territory) into a unified Children’s Movement. Our own Executive Director, Eric Griego, is the Chairman of the Member Leadership Council for Voices for America’s Children, and is a leading force in the Children’s Movement. Our Board Chair, Anne Simpson, also attended the Forum on behalf of NM Voices, and our discussions since returning have been that of praise for the Forum and renewed energy!

Walking through the interactive tour at the National Civil Rights Museum — which culminates in the room at the Lorraine Motel where Dr. Martin Luther King was brutally assassinated as he stood on the balcony — was difficult because an overwhelming sense of emotion hit us all like a ton of bricks. We saw news reels of young children marching in protest who were attacked by raging, racist mobs. Civil Rights organizers thought that the children would be safe, that no violence would be directed towards them. But they were wrong. The bravery of these children, and their parents for supporting their actions, was simply remarkable. They were putting their lives on the line. Would I have been as brave facing the unknown at that age? Would you have been that brave? It’s a difficult question to honestly answer.

More than a half-century later, we are still grappling with injustice and racism. Now, much of the injustice revolves around immigration. After the Museum tour, a colleague and I were discussing how history freezes actions in another time. We look at footage of men, women, and children being sprayed with fire hoses, being kicked and beaten, and we hear the harsh and vulgar words that were used by so many who opposed the end to segregation and the civil rights movement. Most of us can’t imagine how anyone could have treated fellow human beings so horribly wrong!  But that now makes me wonder: How are future generations going to look back on the treatment and injustice being dealt to immigrants in our country today? Will they feel the same disgust that so many of us now have when looking back on the treatment of African Americans in the South during the 1960’s? I believe they will, because I hope those same future generations will be living in a society that accepts people for who they are, what they dream, and what they bring to the table that makes us all better people.

I left Memphis with the sense that we have so much more work to do as a nation and as a state in terms of standing up for our children. As tired as we all are with the politics involved, we need to stay focused on the end goal — a mission of ensuring that all children in New Mexico have the opportunity to reach their full potential and to thrive.

There is still a lot to process from the conference, but here are some questions and points that stood out for me:

    • If we are to truly build a Children’s Movement in America, who do we need to enlist? (Click here to hear audio of Leon Russell, vice chairman of the NAACP, speaking on this question.) The Civil Rights movement didn’t rely solely on the efforts of poor, Southern blacks. It also included white and black students working in concert, the young and the old, parents and grandparents. For a truly effective children’s movement, we need to reach all generations and segments of our community. We all have a stake in an equitable, well-educated and supported society where all children are set up to succeed.

    • We need to find a way to effectively link our advocacy to the electoral process — in a way that conforms to legal guidelines but also is powerful in rallying support for our youngest and most vulnerable citizens.  The word that kept coming up was “intentional” — we need to be “intentional” with everything we do. Whether it’s ensuring that all children have health coverage, or whether it’s advocating for long-term sustainable funding for early childhood care and education in New Mexico.

    • While we work on a range of issues for the children of New Mexico, we need to be organized and focused on those critical policy wins that will bring the greatest gains for children and shore up our movement. We need to be “intentional.”

To do all of the above, we need to do more to engage you, and we need to hear from you, and get your input to help shape and drive our agenda. We encourage you to sign up for our email alerts and become a member of NM Voices. Write us a letter, send us an email, or simply call. We need your help to make sure that the children of New Mexico have a Voice!

Troy Martinez is NM Voices’ Chief Operating Officer
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