Shelby County Commission appoints Representative-elect Justin J. Pearson to District 86 seat

Published: Jan. 25, 2023 at 6:58 PM CST|Updated: Jan. 25, 2023 at 10:17 PM CST
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - District 86 has a new state representative, following the death of a long-time Memphis leader Dr. Barbara Cooper.

Following Tuesday’s special election, Justin J. Pearson becomes one of the youngest state representatives in 26 years.

The community activist turned state leader says he will follow in the footsteps of Rep. Cooper, who died days before the November election.

“There is no filling Representative Dr. Barbara Cooper’s shoes,” Pearson said. “It’s following the trails that she’s blazed, and that’s what I’m hoping to do.”

The 28-year-old from Westwood says he’s honored to serve the more than 60,000 people in his district.

“My life, every day, is to serve and to find how to be of service inside of Memphis, Shelby County, for our state and that’s what we’re going to do in Nashville,” he said. “And I’m thankful to God for the opportunity to do so.”

Pearson is no stranger to leadership, having played a major role as an activist in helping stop the construction of the Byhalia pipeline.

He says everyone has a role to play to improve their community.

”Everybody can be in the movement; you don’t need a title to help effect change,” Pearson said. “With no titles, we stopped two multi-billion-dollar corporations and protected over a million people’s drinking water and protected Clyde Robinson and Scottie Fitzgerald’s land... you don’t need a title to create change.”

He’s now focused on pushing and supporting housing-related legislation.

”The stopping of a lot of these rental companies from being able to come into our community without us knowing who they are,” he said. “And that’s allowing them to delinquent properties, that’s allowing them to be slum lords, and really harm our community.”

As he reflected on the death of Tyre Nichols, Pearson says addressing violence in the city is critical.

“We’ve got to do things differently or we can continue to expect for black folks in this community and across our city to be terrorized in their interactions with police officers.”

Pearson, an environmental justice activist, who advocated against the now failed Byhalia Pipeline, won in a landslide against nine other opponents, beating out seasoned politician Julian Bolton by almost 950 votes.

“What we’re going to continue to do in Memphis and Shelby County is to is the elevate the voices of the people who are most marginalized in order that we might create the necessary changes to create and change our systems in the city and in the state,” said District 86 Representative-elect Justin. J. Pearson.

Supporters of Cooper said she’d be proud that Pearson is filling her shoes.

“You have someone as epic as Representative Cooper who has such a long-standing career, her shoes being filled by a millennial,” said Shelby County Commissioner Britney Thronton. “It just feels very fulfilling to me so I’m excited for him at the support that is rallying behind him everyone organizer to another, it’s also very exciting to me just to see the power of organizing brought into government.”

Cooper’s legacy is not lost on Pearson who plans to continue her work and his own in Nashville.

“Her legacy is the work so we are looking to continue to push forward,” said Pearson. “To receive the work left undone is this job. There’s a lot of work left undone that she wants for us to continue and that our community is counting for us to do and that’s what we’re going to do in Nashville, we’re going to keep doing the work.”

He says he thanks the voters of District 86.

Pearson won his election by 1,235 votes. There are 45,000 eligible voters in the district.

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