By New Tri-State Defender
Memphis mayoral candidate Tami Sawyer has enlisted the help of Angela Rye, CNN commentator, national political strategist and activist, who says, “I don’t support campaigns, fundraisers or endorsements unless I really feel it.”
Rye is spending several days in Memphis this week to raise funds and support for Sawyer, the first-term representative for District 7 on the Shelby County Board of Commissioners and the leader of the #TakeEmDown901 campaign waged to remove Confederate-saluting memorials from city parks.
On Saturday (August 10), Sawyer and Rye will canvass campaign support at Williams Park at 3888 Auburn Rd. in Whitehaven, starting at 10 a.m.
Rye addressed a group of influencers during a fundraising luncheon at 115 Huling Ave. in Downtown Memphis on Thursday. She arrived as news broke of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in Mississippi separating immigrant children from their parents.
Rye observed that Africans also attempt to cross the southern border seeking asylum and that one would think, as a people, we would never want to see that happen again as it occurred with enslaved Africans.
“As I often say, racism is a bipartisan problem or a non-partisan problem,” said Rye.
“You all, because you are here, are not the apathetic ones, but you all who have apathetic ones in your families, in your congregations, in your friend circles, in your Links chapters, are passively watching a racist govern this city of Memphis. … You’re passively watching a Dixiecrat reign in 2019.”
The term Dixiecrat harkened back to a segregation-embracing political party known as the States’ Rights Democratic Party, which promoted racial segregation during its brief run.
During her visit to Memphis in February 2018, Rye spoke during the “I Am A Man” March 50-year anniversary commemoration and questioned the city’s progress under Mayor Jim Strickland.
“Memphis, this is not what Martin Luther King Jr. had in mind when he envisioned the promise land,” Rye declared in her 2018 address, citing the city’s high child poverty rates and crime data.
She was aware that in 2017 Strickland’s administration maintained a “blacklist,” which included social activists who had protested racial profiling, along with names of some former City of Memphis employees. After a surge of concern from the community, including the American Civil Liberties Union, names of activists were removed. Lawsuits soon followed.
“This is not a game for Tami,” Rye said at the luncheon. “Allowing your current major to govern when you have the type of power and the type of numbers you have in Memphis is unconscionable. …
“I challenge you to do something different at this new beginning,” Rye said, referring to a time of jubilee mentioned in the bible that takes place every 50 years.
“You have the opportunity to turn the tide, to shift the paradigm so that the rest of Black America understands the importance of its power. … Challenge your peers to not just go vote, but to act like you have the political power that your ancestors fought for you to have.”
With the floor open for questions, Sawyer said she’s been asked why she’s still in the race given the challenge of raising campaign funds, the presence of an incumbent mayor, the candidacy of a former mayor and the fact that she is relatively new to the political arena.
Her response mirrored her campaign slogan. “We can’t wait,” she said, referencing economic data as she asserted that four more years of the current administration could restrict the city from broadly overcoming systemic inequities.
In a published statement, Steven Reid, campaign consultant for Strickland, noted Rye’s “hateful and divisive rhetoric,” adding that it didn’t “deserve a response.”
Later, Sawyer reflected on the day in a social media post that included this:
“Thank you to my special guest Angela Rye for challenging us to see the power we hold to make real and necessary change and to not standby silently while those in power ignore the majority of us. We all know the statistics & the realities, but how long are we going to wait to do something about it, Memphis? Black and brown communities are in crisis and we have to be able to talk about that and take action with courage and urgency.”
Newly registered voter Allyson Smith, 18, and Jade Thornton, 26, were among those who came out to support Sawyer, Teach for America’s managing director of External Affairs.
“She (Sawyer) reflects my interests, so taking my step in voting is a step for awareness,” said Smith, who will attend Howard University in the fall and vote for the first time in the Municipal Elections on Oct. 3.
Thornton, a former charter-school teacher, now works as a charter system community engagement expert. Asked how she would inspire those young women to vote who don’t seem motivated to do so, Thornton said, “I say to them, ‘When you see more than 50 percent of our children living in poverty, you’ve got to step up for the children.’”
Pastor Gregory Stokes of Greater Paradise Baptist Church was among the men in support of Sawyer at the luncheon.
“I have eight sisters, so I’ve been around strong women all of my life,” Stokes said. “Sawyer’s plans for crime reduction and prison reform provide hope, and I want to see real change, not only in Downtown and Midtown, but in Orange Mound, Boxtown, Smokey City and Klondike.
“If we’re our brother’s keeper, let’s share the wealth so that money will go into these communities also.”
This article originally appeared in the New Tri-State Defender