Rep. Justin J. Pearson’s parents reveal moment they knew their son could move others

Published: Apr. 12, 2023 at 11:39 PM CDT
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MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WMC) - Right before Martin Luther King made the fatal trip to Memphis to show the world that non-violence was a viable option for social change, he said, “Either the movement lives or dies in Memphis.”

55 years later, another movement was also on the line in Memphis on Wednesday.

After Representative Justin J. Pearson was expelled from the State House for demanding gun reform less than a week ago, he will now be heading back to Nashville on behalf of District 86 after a vote was made to reappoint him at Shelby County Commission.

But his family says he’s been a change-maker long before his time in the Tennessee State legislature.

Pearson’s mom and dad say the most important principle they taught their son was to be of service to others.

“He’s been fighting for his community way before the world knew his name,” said Kimberly Owens-Pearson.

They also say they realized Pearson was an orator when he was in elementary school and decided he wanted to run for his class president.

His father, Jason Pearson, said his speech moved teachers to tears, and “that was the day I realized we had something special.”

Pearson’s mother recalled the moment with tears in her eyes, telling Action News 5, “I made that little board for him to run for president, he has always been an advocate.”

His heart for advocacy was even recognized by Action News 5 in 2010, during our former General Manager Lee Meredith’s weekly editorial, called My Turn

Pearson had just won a fight against Mitchell High School to get take-home textbooks, a battle that also resulted in the then-Memphis City School board requiring all district principals to provide and prove that each student had their own copies of all textbooks.

“I’m pretty sure we haven’t heard the last of Justin Pearson,” Meredith said. “Justin Pearson, don’t let them drag you down. There are a lot of us out here who are cheering for you.”

Pearson would eventually take up the battle some viewed as David versus Goliath when he led the campaign against the Byhalia Pipeline Project.

It’s a battle that Pearson won after the company pushing the pipeline called it quits.

A series of wins summed up in his campaign slogan, “Justin For Justice.”

In January, Pearson won the special election for the late Barbara Cooper’s House seat and went to Nashville on behalf of District 86.

But in less than three months, Pearson was expelled for a demonstration the GOP supermajority said broke chamber decorum after he and two other Democratic representatives took to the Well of the House to speak out for gun reform.

The end result was two of the three being expelled.

But on Wednesday, Shelby County Commissioners voted to reinstate and reappoint Pearson back after calls from across the nation, something his father called “poetic” coming so close to Easter Sunday.

“We believe surely he died,” Jason Pearson told Action News 5, “but he got up.”

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