‘Look Back, Launch Forward’ event celebrates and commemorates Memphis 13

Dozens screen “The Memphis 13” documentary at Crosstown Concourse

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Surviving members of the Memphis 13 participated in a panel discussion about their experiences (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

By Sheri Neely, Special to the Tri-State Defender

Recently, the Memphis community gathered for an extraordinary event, “Look Back, Launch Forward,” a collaboration between The Memphis 13 Foundation and the Crosstown Arts Film Series, held at Crosstown Concourse. 

This event was not just a commemoration but a profound call to action, weaving the themes of inclusion, tolerance, and social change into a tapestry of reflection and dialogue. 

At its core, “Look Back, Launch Forward” aimed to honor the brave actions of The Memphis 13, whose courage in desegregating Memphis Public Schools in 1961 continues to inspire the path toward a more inclusive and equitable future.

Daniel Kiel, the filmmaker behind “The Memphis 13,” addresses the crowd at Crosstown Concourse. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

Central to the evening was the screening of “THE MEMPHIS 13,” a documentary directed by Daniel Kiel. This powerful film serves as a beacon, illuminating the stories of thirteen remarkable young individuals whose bravery transcended their age. 

It’s a narrative that not only pays homage to their legacy but also ignites conversations about the essentiality of fostering inclusion, tolerance, and social change within our communities. This screening set the stage for a deeper engagement with the past, a mindful acknowledgment of the present, and a collective aspiration for a future enriched with comprehensive understanding and unity.

Following the film, the event featured a panel discussion with members of The Memphis 13, including Dwania Kyles, Leandrew Wiggins, Alvin Freeman, Sharon Malone, Sheila Malone Conway, Jacqueline Moore-Christion, and Menelik Fombi (formerly Michael Willis), moderated by Dory Lerner from the National Civil Rights Museum. 

Danette Stokes, President of the United Education Association of Shelby County, and Dory Lerner, who specializes in K-12 education at the National Civil Rights Museum. The pair headlined a lively discussion about race, history and education after the screening. (Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

This dialogue was not only a reflection on their historic journey but also an exploration of how their legacy continues to impact modern efforts toward social justice. The discussions culminated in an onstage conversation between Danette Stokes, President of the United Education Association of Shelby County, and Dory Lerner. Rather than delivering a keynote, this discussion provided a platform for exploring the intersections of education, civil rights, and the ongoing work required to achieve true equity and inclusion.

The film and conversation sparked a question in this young viewer. (Photo: Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

As guests arrived, the event’s atmosphere was enriched by the African sounds of musical guest Ekpe Abioto, setting an appropriate tone for an evening dedicated to celebrating history, courage, and the potential for positive societal transformation. 

“Look Back, Launch Forward” offered the Memphis community a rare opportunity to reflect on the past, embrace the present, and pave the way for a future where meaningful connections are forged through shared history and collective aspirations for social change.

A screening of “The Memphis 13” attracted a strong showing to Crosstown Concourse. (Gary S. Whitlow/GSW Enterprises/Tri-State Defender)

Inclusion, tolerance, and social change were not merely themes of the evening; they are the pillars upon which The Memphis 13 Foundation and the Crosstown Arts Film Series build their mission. As we move forward, let the legacy of The Memphis 13 remind us of the power of unity and the importance of each individual’s contribution to crafting a more equitable and inclusive society.