Now in its seventh year, the Gandhi-King Peacemaking Conference has been successful enough to get several requests to move to larger cities. But good attendance and enthusiasm from academics and activists from all over the country make it clear that Memphis is the best place for the conference.
"It's a location that people need to come to and learn from: This is one of the most at-need communities in the country," says Jacob Flowers, director of the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center and co-chair of the conference's steering committee. "People who visit the conference from around the country always say they love coming here, because it gives them an idea of how beneficial what they're doing can be in our community."
The conference works to create that connection between experienced peace promoters and community members who are just getting interested in the nonviolent process. Anti-racism activist Tim Wise heads up this year's team of speakers, backed by Jaribu Hill, founder of the Mississippi Workers' Center for Human Rights, and the Rev. Billy Kyles, civil rights leader and one of the last people to talk to Martin Luther King Jr. A free screening of The Little Town of Bethlehem, a documentary on the nonviolent movement in Israel and Palestine, will be followed by a discussion with the film's director.
"We in Memphis need to learn from the very best how to cure some of the most serious social ills that we're finding in our own backyard," Flowers says.
The slate of speakers, the various workshops offered, even the number of venues indicate the collaborative nature of the conference.
"The conference has really grown organically out of the different people and institutions that bring it about," Flowers says.
Each presenter and sponsor adds something to what Flowers calls the conference's "special flavor." The National Civil Rights Museum will host free screenings of I Am a Man and Nelson Mandela, Legacy as part of Indie Memphis' Freedom Series. BRIDGES will throw a PeaceJam Slam, which nearly 300 high school and middle school students from the Memphis area are expected to attend. As well as mingling with other conference participants, they'll talk with playwright Spirit Trickey-Rowan, daughter of one of the nine students who integrated Little Rock's Central High School in 1957.
"What it is and has always been is a community-driven effort of people who know that we need to be having these conversations," Flowers says. "We need to be training with each other and learning from people around the country. We need to bring those things to bear in what we do in our community."