An Open Letter of Support to The Justins and Boys and Young Men of Color

May 22, 2023

In this Open Letter, Rooted Change—the newest initiative created by The Moriah Group—is expressing its solidarity with Tennessee State Representatives Justin J. Pearson and Justin Jones who were expelled from the House of Representatives over their protest against gun violence. They have since been reinstated, but we affirm their unequivocal right to fight for racial justice and gun reform. We also remain committed to amplifying the pathways of liberation for all boys and young men of color.

By The Field Leaders’ Table

The name “Justin” is a derivative of the Latin and biblical name “Justus,” which means “…just, fair, and righteous.” Tennessee State Representatives Justin Jones and Justin J. Pearson received the opposite of fair or just treatment when the Democrats were both expelled from the House of Representatives by a Republican majority last month. Their infraction? Breaking the rules of “decorum” during a protest on the House floor where they spoke passionately against gun violence. Justice continues to elude “The Justins” (as they are affectionately referred to by their constituents), and elude many young men and boys of color across the nation. 

We, the members of The Field Leaders’ Table, pen this open letter in support and admiration for the courage and resolve of these two representatives who called out the atrocity of gun violence. We acknowledge the racial injustices facing all boys and young men of color and urgently appeal to like-minded, mission-driven organizations to unite during this heightened moment in history.

As a collective of social justice leaders led by the Rooted Change initiative of The Moriah Group, The Field Leaders’ Table empowers BYMOC-serving organizations to actualize their missions—through leadership and capacity development, and research and policy change, in service of creating systems that support the positive evolution of communities of color. 

To The Justins, we say:

You are serving your communities with the determination and mission of liberation that’s reminiscent of other civil rights activists and leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Cesar Chavez, and Ziad Ahmend. You stood resolute against the silencing that marginalized communities and leaders of color experience throughout their lives. You exhibit a core appreciation for humanity, intellect, and the wisdom of your elders. You demonstrate the likeness of icons who are on a mission; who are encouraging peace, respect, and dignity; and who are manifesting love. 

Furthermore, your expulsion shined a light on the white supremacist ideology that still permeates American politics. White supremacist ideals are perpetuating an exponential growth of domestic terrorism and nationalism that is being willfully ignored. In fact, community violence has become a daily norm and mass shootings have become a household term radicalizing and dividing our communities. Both are seemingly sanctioned and encouraged by members of our own government. Your protest calls attention to the broader systems and structures that empower and motivate extremists through relaxed gun laws. 

According to the Center for American Progress, Americans of color (ages 15 to 34) experience the highest rates of gun homicides across all demographics. The gun and whoever wields it has become the judge, the jury, and grievously, the executioner—far too often. Black Americans are 10 times more likely than white Americans to die by gun homicide, and they are twice as likely as white Americans to die from gun violence. If we reenacted a federal assault weapons ban, researchers estimate that we would see 70% fewer mass shooting deaths. Yet, our legislators and leaders continue to offer their thoughts and prayers instead of enacting systems change and policy reform.

We, The Field Leaders’ Table, want Representatives Jones and Pearson to know that we see you, we hear you, and we offer our unyielding support—as we do for all boys and young men of color striving to realize freedom and reclaim their humanity. You are now the torchbearers in the struggle for social equality. We encourage you to call out the legacy of white supremacy whenever it attempts to stifle the voices of young men and boys of color in leadership—and in life. We salute you for boldly speaking on the sickening realities and trauma inflicted on communities due to gun proliferation. And we stand with you in demanding the immediate enactment of gun reform policies.

To local and national organizations, we say:  

Remain committed to amplifying pathways of liberation for boys and young men of color and join us in our efforts to build a coalition of support for all of “The Justins” we know and love in our communities by:

  • Building a coalition of local BYMOC leaders in Tennessee, or your local city, that are focused on uplifting young people  of color;
  • Joining The Field Leaders’ Table coalition to affect positive change in communities of color;
  • Supporting grassroots organizing in policy areas related to gun violence; and 
  • Developing culturally responsive interventions to help our young people and communities heal from the effects of racial trauma.

Through Rooted Change’s work with boys and young men of color, we recognize that we are partnering with current generations who are The Justins of tomorrow: men who will stand up to issues that are important to their communities, despite the oppositional white power forces at play. We applaud how The Justins handled adversity in stride and remained unequivocally solid—proving intellectual power can confront and challenge and match white supremacy. 

Representatives Pearson and Jones, we affirm your unequivocal right to confront and challenge adversaries. We see you and we are here for you as leaders who understand your fight for justice. And in this moment, we tip our hats in your honor for being legislators who won’t back down, truth tellers who won’t give in, and audacious men of color who won’t give up. You are the brilliance all boys and young men of color embody. 

In solidarity,