Originally they say they were going to dress up as clowns to show the Ku Klux Klan how ridiculous the group looked, but Memphis United chose to confront the Klan's message instead of confronting the Klansman at the upcoming rally.
"It's easy to get angry and yell at somebody from across the street, but the next day, what's really changed? We want to be looking at what's going to be happening moving forward in our city," says Memphis United organizer Brad Watkins.
The grassroots effort sprung up on Facebook in response to the upcoming Ku Klux Klan rally on Saturday regarding the renaming of three Memphis confederate parks.
"They want to provoke a reaction here. They want to provoke an incident of violence because that gives them more media attention and that helps them put out their agenda," says Watkins, "Let's focus on what we need to do as a city and not play into their game."
Through a safe outlet, "The People's Conference on Race and Equality" aims to start a realistic dialogue about racism people experience regularly in Memphis.
"I can't tell you how many times I've heard friends and family members tell a member of another race, particularly African Americans, ‘You know, you really don't act black,'"says Kevin Newton, Memphis United member and University of Memphis student. "They have it so compartmentalized in their head that a certain race acts a certain way, and they don't even realize that though. They just think that's normal, like that's not prejudice, that it's just the way it is."
Watkins says the group is not so much concerned about racism from people wearing hoods as much as they're concerned about racism from people wearing suits.
"Memphis is a city where everyone's pitted at the throats of each other. We have to start looking at who profits from that and how we can deal with those issues in a way that's genuine and not by sweeping them under the rug but by confronting them. And that's going to take some uncomfortable conversation," says Watkins.
Newton says there needs to be a community conversation about what it means to be racist, from being systematically racist to environmental racism and unconscious attitudes. He adds, "People say, ‘Wow, I never realized the stuff that I'm doing.'"
The People's Conference on Racism and Equality will take place next Saturday, March 30, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. along with the Heart of Memphis peace festival. The People's Conference will be at the Memphis Fairgrounds Creative Arts building.
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