MEMPHIS, Tenn. (WREG) — A Memphis community activist is making history by becoming one of the youngest state lawmakers elected to fill the Tennessee House District 86 seat formerly held by the late Barbara Cooper.
Justin J. Pearson easily defeated nine other candidates, including attorney Julian Bolton and Representative Cooper’s daughter Tanya Cooper, to represent parts of South Memphis, Westwood, Downtown, Frayser, and Millington.
Now at just 28 years old, Pearson becomes one of the youngest state lawmakers promising a fresh approach.
“We are going to change some things right here. We are going to change some things in Shelby County because this is a moment of hope and possibility,” Pearson said.
The special election came about following the death of Representative Cooper in October. She was the oldest member of the general assembly.
“As we said from the beginning of this on day one, you’re not just joining a campaign. This is a movement,” Pearson said. “Too many elected leaders are in position, but they don’t have people power. We’ve got people power.”
Pearson was valedictorian at Mitchell High School and graduated from Bowdoin College in 2017. He gained notoriety when he co-founded and led a grassroots group called Memphis Community Against the Pipeline.
MCAP and Pearson are credited with blocking plans to put a crude oil pipeline in South Memphis and the Boxton neighborhood. Pearson told WREG why it was personal.
“You’ve seen the terror of pollution in this community for far too long. Both of my grandmothers including the one who used to live in this house beside me have died of cancer. Enough is enough. The community is resisting to protect our water and our people,” he said.
Pearson’s sights are now set on representing and making sure the people of District 86 are not forgotten in the Tennessee General Assembly.
“This a movement and not just a campaign to move and lift up the lives of the lost and the least and to move up and lift up those whose hearts have been broken and those who have been terrorized,” he said.
The Shelby County Commission met this afternoon to appoint Pearson to fill the District 86 seat until the election results are certified.