The I AM Agenda
I AM – Be the Change is a continuation of I AM 2018. Where I AM 2018 looked to reconnect labor, civil rights and economic equity, I AM – Be the Change challenges young men of color to be the change they want to see in their communities, homes and lives.
In 2018, I AM began as a commemoration to honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the sacrifice of AFSCME Local 1733 in Memphis. The sacrifice of 1,300 men and their families who stood in the face of oppression and bigotry to demand change, a change that ultimately cost Dr. King his life in 1968. But we sought not only to honor the legacy and struggle of Dr. King and the working people of 1733, we sought to rebuild the bridge connecting labor, civil rights and economic equity for all.
With the success of the historic 50th anniversary of the 1968 Memphis Sanitation strike in April 2018, we saw an opportunity to create a call to action. An opportunity to challenge young people of color to reclaim their destinies. To reclaim the reigns of their future. To retake control of their lives and communities. To be the change.
Memphis, Tennessee, 1968: the heart of the Jim Crow South.
African American sanitation workers were called “boy.” They faced poverty wages, a plantation-style work environment and degrading, unsafe working conditions. The city refused to recognize their union, or even their basic humanity.
After two sanitation workers were crushed to death on the job, 1,300 of their AFSCME Local 1733 brothers stood together, risked everything and went on strike. They demanded dignity and respect. They marched in the streets carrying placards with four simple but powerful words: “I AM A MAN.”
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. traveled to Memphis to rally the community and express his solidarity because he understood the connection between labor rights, economic rights, human rights and civil rights. On the evening of April 3, at the Mason Temple, Dr. King delivered his famous “Mountaintop” speech. Less than 24 hours later, he was gunned down on the balcony of the Lorraine Motel.
I AM isn’t just a reflection on the past; it’s a call to action for the future. An urgent call to fight poverty and prejudice, to advance the freedom of all working people and to remind America that there can be no racial justice without economic justice and no economic justice without racial justice.
To answer that call, we need your help. Memphis isn’t just AFSCME’s story, it’s America’s story. We need to rededicate ourselves to the fights for economic and racial justice.