The Memphis Bus Riders Union (MBRU) evolved in 2012 from a transportation task force formed by long-time activist Georgia “Mother” King shortly after the 2011 Occupy Memphis protests. It is a grassroots organization comprised of those who depend on city buses and their supporters who stand together to advocate for social and economic justice in public transportation. They survey bus riders for their opinions, give input to key decision makers, and participate in marches and monthly membership meetings.
Charles is the outreach coordinator for MBRU. He is a retired veteran who volunteers twice a week as a patient escort at a hospital. As Charles travels by bus to and from his regular shifts at the hospital, he talks with other bus riders, hands out flyers, and invites them to the next MBRU meeting. Charles sees value in every person. He believes that by participating in MBRU people will find dignity through representing themselves, support from other members, and honor in public transit. Charles’s work with MBRU is his way of giving back, his expression of gratitude for everything that he is.
Justin serves as secretary and lead organizer for MBRU. He recently graduated from Rhodes College and was awarded the 2017 Vanderhaar Student Peace Award from Christian Brothers University for his peace and justice work in the community. Justin explains how difficult it often is for those who have cars to understand how important buses are for those who do not and how the cancellation of or delay on a route can lead to being unable to get to a grocery, doctor, class or job. He shares MBRU’s recent success in restoring a route to a neighborhood that had been cut off from the resources of the city. MBRU continues to work to create a public transportation system that is accessible, bilingual, affordable, fair, punctual, clean, and safe. Like Charles, Justin believes in working to uplift bus riders and to recognize the value of their expertise and experience.
We accompany Charles and Justin on a couple of canvassing bus rides for their “When will we get the front seat?” campaign and at the march held for the last three decades on MLK day. In the march, they join other MBRU members and grassroots activists, clergy and elders, black Greek-letter organization brothers and sisters, and everyday people to process through the city to the site of the assassination of Dr. King. We are grateful for the work these two men are doing for their generations, loving others by honoring them, treating them with dignity and respect, and making sure our public transit systems do the same.