Memphis Activist Turns Gov. Lee's Photo Opp into Question Time

Jun 30, 2020

Theryn C. Bond, lower right, peppers Gov. Lee, in the blue shirt, with questions during his Junteenth visit to Memphis COVID testing locations.
Credit Video by Emily Fulmer

On June 19th, Gov. Bill Lee came to Memphis to tour two COVID-19 testing locations at Black churches. The significance of that day, Juneteenth, wasn’t lost on activist Theryn C. Bond.

She arrived to find the governor surrounded by local media and quietly chatting with health care workers. 

Bond bombarded him with questions that, she believes, the Republican governor ignored as the Black Lives Matter movement gains momentum. From Medicaid expansion to teacher pay to reproductive rights, Bond's questions were met with silence from the governor. 


The interaction was captured on a video that has now been shared and discussed by thousands of Tennesseans. 


Christopher Blank: Theryn,of all the different ways people have been protesting, yours was really taking a kind of journalistic approach; just asking questions. Did you plan that?

Theryn C. Bond: Naturally, I'm a person who has questions and I've always had the reputation of asking questions that people want to know, but many are afraid to ask. I mean, that's traveled with me since I was a child. I knew that there would be no other way that he would address these things, even though I got ignored in probably one of the most supreme ways ever. I knew that the only way is to be straightforward, direct, and it's not always the nicest -- question question question question -- now I'm going to pause and give you a chance to answer. Oh, okay, no answers? More questions: until if nothing else you're going to appear as a person who is not answer questions by a constituent in this state who deserves answers. And I deserve to be able to ask any elected official how they got to this place and what this means for me and other Tennesseans going forward.

Blank: For me, the video was a reminder that Black Lives Matter isn't just about police misconduct. There's a whole host of other issues. And, you know, as an activist you must feel pretty overwhelmed these days.

Bond: I wish it could be, you know, one issue at a time. But now it's a mountain of issues because they've been ignored for so long. And then they consistently pile on top of each other. And then we don't see a lot of these elected officials in person, but we have to become as educated as possible about each of these issues and see how they work together individually and collectively. We need massive change, and when we can master how they operate collectively and create legislation around that -- that's when we start to see really big progressive change.

Blank: In the video, you mentioned that you are a cancer survivor, and an uninsured cancer survivor. How has that influenced you politically? 

Bond: No one should go in debt because they choose to seek healthcare. My decisions to a certain extent are limited. You know, there are things that I've had to seek through where I get my care in order to not go completely Bankrupt. So for me, healthcare is always going to be a top priority, and anybody that is not for expanding Medicaid -- like -- we don't have much to talk about until you change your mind. Until you're ready to hear the stories of people that are dying, or caring for their sick relatives, or have exponential medical bills because they don't have insurance and if someone gets sick, they deserve to be able to see a physician and get the care that they need to make decisions for the future of their health.

Blank: I think the sort of key moment in the video is when Gov. Lee was walking away, and there’s this real frustration in your voice about being ignored as a Black woman. What kind of change to you want to see there?

Bond: You know, Black women are the most-valued support system, but the least-valued voice. They want to see us, they want to feel our strength, but they don't want to hear and listen to us. That's a reality that I have to walk in every single day that there is breath in my body. And there are, you know, thousands if not millions of other folks just like me who share similar sentiments. And it sucks to not be heard. And elected officials have to realize: whether someone voted for you or not they deserve to have their voices heard. How we begin to change that is, just: protests are extremely effective. I don't care what anybody says, they are. They garner attention. But we have to be able to take the issues that we are protesting about, and bringing awareness to, to the legislature. But if you continue to ignore (us), then we're going to escalate this and I'm going to get loud. And I have a very loud voice. And even if you don't listen you're going to hear me. There is a role in this thing for everybody, but everybody needs to find a role, get into it, do it to its fullest so that we can move Tennessee forward in a positive way so that we're no longer making national news for horrible legislation and other things that happen in the state.