There was no separation of church and state Tuesday morning during the 28th Annual Prayer Breakfast as pastors prayed fervently for the city and elected officials stirred supporters with projections and promises in the new year.
It was a mix of church service and political rally. What began in 1990 as a city councilman’s New Year’s Day event has become one of Memphis’ most anticipated traditions.
Memphis Council Chairman Emeritus Myron Lowery and his son, Shelby County Commissioner Mickell Lowery, hosted nearly 300 at the Holiday Inn Airport ballroom.
Some of the city’s most prominent pastors “asked God to bless the city and its people,” and that “Memphis would no longer be the poorest city, but the most equitable city in the nation.”
There was prayer for elected officials, “that they would feel a greater accountability to those they were elected to serve” and “schools that empower.”
U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen(D-TN) of the 9th District was a featured speaker, along with Shelby County Mayor Lee Harris.
Commissioner Lowery, who emceed the event, introduced Cohen as an “MSNBC regular who fights for us in this present administration.”
“It’s going to be a new day in Washington on Thursday when the Democrats take over the house,” Cohen said.
“A new day is dawning—of oversight and checks against this administration. The Republican congress has been complicit, and there has been no oversight. But the problem is at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue and the problem is in the Kremlin, and we will get to the bottom of it.”
Cohen thanked supporters for 90 percent of the vote in the primary and 80 percent of the vote in the general election. He is now serving his 7th term in Congress and said he plans to run in 2020 and 2022.
He praised Nancy Pelosi as a “lady of great knowledge and courage,” assuring attendees that she would, indeed, be chosen as Speaker of the House, despite challengers to her leadership.
As chairman of a sub-committee on civil rights, Cohen said voting rights and hearings on police shootings would be the first things on the agenda.
“In the House, we will be looking at obstruction of justice with this President, emollients clause—whether the President has used his office to enrich himself,” said Cohen. “But we will also deal with issues affecting our constituents.
“We will make sure that people with existing conditions have reasonable insurance, and pharmaceutical prices are controlled. I believe in Medicare for all, and that the minimum wage should be raised to $15.”
Cohen took one last jab at President Trump before taking his seat.
“The President promised to drain the swamp. He is the swamp, but we are going to make the rule of law paramount again.”
Commissioner Lowery then introduced Mayor Harris as one who “speaks truth to power” and “is moving Memphis forward.”
Harris spoke again about his reason for making the mayoral run, just as he has in other venues—“to change the conversation” from special interest to the real issues facing Shelby Countians.
“In the little time that we have been in office, I think we have accomplished quite a bit,” he said. “We’ve recruited top talent in our administration, and we have raised the minimum wage for our part-time employees to $15 an hour. With our pension investments, we are using minority financial advisors.”
Harris said he is most excited about the reforms he looks forward to making in the juvenile system.
“Some of our children commit heinous crimes, it’s true,” said Harris, “but those who commit minor offenses should be saved from getting caught in the system. We can’t save everybody, but we can save some. And I believe we should try.”
He is proposing a pilot program that will operate an assessment center for young offenders. It would have fewer beds for detention, classrooms to continue their education, and outside recreation with green space.
“Right now, the detention center has no windows, and there is no green space. The county commission has to approve it, but I am hopeful. Most of these young people have been through some trauma, and the assessment center would address that and get them the help and counseling they need.”
Lowery praised the mayor’s vision for revamping the juvenile system, and commended Mayor Harris for his amenable relationship with the county commission, “a relationship that was not characteristic of the previous administration and county commission.”
“We look forward to having that conversation, Mayor Harris,” Lowery added.
Gospel vocalist Deborah Manning Thomas, who has been featured at every prayer breakfast, led attendees in a traditional favorite, “We’ve Come This Far By Faith.”
A special highlight of the morning was a mini concert by the dynamic Tennessee Mass Choir under the direction of Jason Clark.