MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) – Just before Martin Luther King Jr. made his deadly trip to Memphis to show the world that violence was a viable option for social change, he said, “The movement lives or dies in Memphis.”
55 years later, another movement took place in Memphis on Wednesday.
After Representative Justin J. Pearson, who was expelled from the state house less than a week ago for pushing for gun reform, is now returning to Nashville after voting to re-appoint her to the Shelby County Commission on behalf of District 86.
But his family says he was a game changer long before he was in the Tennessee state legislature.
Pearson’s mother and father say the most important principle they taught their son was service to others.
“He was fighting for his community before the world knew his name,” Kimberly Owens-Pearson said.
They also say that when Pearson was in elementary school, he realized he was an orator and decided he wanted to run for class president.
His father, Jason Pearson, said his speech brought teachers to tears and “that day I knew we had something special.”
Pearson’s mother tearfully recalled the moment, telling Action News 5, “I made this little board for him to run for president, he’s always been an advocate.”
His passion for advocacy was even recognized by Action News 5 in 2010, during our General Manager Lee Meredith’s weekly column titled My turn.
Pearson had just won a textbook battle against Mitchell High School, a battle that also led to the then-Memphis City School Board requiring all district principals to have their own copies of all textbooks. .
“I’m sure we haven’t heard the last of Justin Pearson,” Meredith said. “Justin Pearson, don’t let them get you down. There are a lot of us here rooting for you.”
Pearson eventually embarked on a battle that some saw as David versus Goliath when he led the campaign against the Bihalia pipeline project.
It’s a battle that Pearson won after the company pushed to shut down the pipeline.
A number of victories are summed up in his campaign slogan “Justin for Justice”.
In January, Pearson won a special election for the late Barbara Cooper’s House seat and went to Nashville to represent District 86.
But less than three months later, Pearson was fired for a demonstration that the GOP majority said disrupted the House’s decorum after he and two other Democrats marched on the House floor for the gun amendment.
As a result, two out of three people were expelled.
But on Wednesday, Shelby County commissioners reinstated and reassigned Pearson after calls from across the country, which her father called “poetic,” come Easter Sunday.
“We believe he’s definitely dead,” Jason Pearson told Action News 5, “but he’s up.”
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