By Erica Wright
The Birmingham Times
Martez Files, When We Fight
Files, 29, said his organization, When We Fight—founded this year focuses on policy change and other reforms. Files is co-founder of the organization along with two other local activists, Shante Wolfe and Amber Haywood.
“We’re committed to staying in the game when it’s not fun anymore, when it’s not cute, when nobody is interviewing you, when the cameras are gone. That, for us, is what is critical,” he said. “We’re committed to showing a strong sense of solidarity, so we’ve been working with organizations that are doing participatory budgeting in order to gather what the community wants to see in a budget and propose that to the city, as opposed to what the mayor believes is important. We’ve started … the ‘Nobody Left Behind’ bail fund and have raised $50,000 toward releasing incarcerated folks who are arrested as a direct action.”
Files is also influencing policy. He, along with Thompson and Erica Robbins, director of Be a Blessing Birmingham (more about her below), co-authored an “Open Letter to Birmingham Leaders” to not rename part of 16th Street to Black Lives Matter Boulevard—and it worked. The council decided not to consider the resolution and withdrew the measure after considerable opposition from activists and some downtown business owners.
“We argued that instead of doing these performative gestures, like renaming and painting streets, we should do something that actually matters and is sustainable,” said Files, a graduation coach for (GEAR UP) Alabama, a U.S. Department of Education program that aims to significantly increase the number of students who attend and succeed in postsecondary college.
“One thing we suggested is giving neighborhoods more autonomy. We also suggested meeting the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)] guidelines for COVID-19 for folks in our city jail, … [including calling] for things like releasing nonviolent offenders from these jails and allowing them to socially distance at their homes with their families.”
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To read more stories about local activists and Part I of the Black Lives Matter series, click one of the links below.
This article was updated on July 16, 2020 at 10:08 a.m. to include that Files is the co-founder of When We Fight.