By Nichelle Robinson Hernandez, Howard University News Service
The Gwendolyn S. & Colbert I. King Endowed Chair in Public Policy: King Lecture Series began its first Zoom webinar last month emphasizing to students to “Seize Your Power, Your Voice and Your Vote.”
Historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) across the United States have been encouraging students to spread the word about the significance of voting, and the outcome of this year’s presidential election could be determined by the participation of Generation Z voters.
Howard University President, Wayne A.I. Frederick, began the webinar by highlighting the importance of the 2020 presidential election and the power of voting. “A right that did not come easily; a right that has to continually be defended; and a right that we must all make sure that we cherish for those who have gone before us,” said Frederick.
Donna Brazile served as the King Lecture Series chair and moderator for the second time this year, while the panelists included two faculty members from Howard University, Professor of Law Justin Hansford, and Political Science Department Chair, Dr. Ravi Perry.
Rachel Howell, Howard University University Association (HUSA) president and a Howard senior, and Aarian J. Forman, Co-Founder of Xceleader and a Tennessee State University alum, also participated as panelists for the event.
Howell addressed the importance of the presidential election. “Our lives are on the line. The decisions elected officials make on every level can take the lives away from our people,” Howell said. “Students at HBCUs take out more loans than any other students and this is an issue that we have to tackle and we have the opportunity to tackle through this upcoming election.”
Given the value of young voters, Forman is committed to encouraging HBCU students to register and getting them to register others in their community.
“While this is a national election, these are neighborhood issues. So if we don’t elect people on a national level to deal with our neighborhood issues, we could run into some issues,” said Forman.
When asked about the vitality of Black political power when it comes to HBCU voters in this election, Perry stressed that African Americans of all backgrounds must understand their power and position. He pointed out that the current president of the Unites States, Donald J. Trump was endorsed by The Crusader newspaper of the Ku Klux Klan.
“If we do not, in many instances, vote as one accord in this coming election, then we will risk all of the gains of hundreds of years. And frankly, I refuse to disrespect my parents that way,” said Perry.
Outside of the presidential election, congressional and senatorial seats are up for battle statewide. The fight against voter suppression mechanisms existed before this administration and continue to pose a threat to democracy, according to the panelists.
“All of these legal challenges have come up because the stakes are so high this election season and so many of us who are interested in questions of civil rights and human rights have so much to think about as we prepare for what will happen in November,” said Hansford.
From COVID-19 relief to police violence, Hansford told viewers that all of the current issues are on the ballot and emphasized that “the earlier you vote, the better.” Hansford’s work as Executive Director of the Thurgood Marshall Civil Rights Center at Howard focuses on issues of reparations, mass incarceration, and police violence.
Brazile allowed the panelists to address issues that disproportionately affect Black people and the future of the human race, including climate change, global warming and environmental issues. Perry emphasized that the Black community is not a monolith and although women, LGBTQ+ and middle-class communities have been ignored in history, their role impacted societal changes.
“Most Americans learn about politics or what they think they know about politics through television…and entertainment is mostly highlighted by the celebrities that the media puts in front of us,” said Dr. Perry. As a fellow member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc., Perry commended Colin Kaepernick for initiating his activism in support of Black lives lost to police violence.
Brazile mentioned the historic Democratic Vice Presidential nomination of Senator Kamala Harris, an alumna of Howard and Howell shared that she was inspired to attend Howard because of Harris.
Howell and Forman collaborated as student government leaders to encourage students at Howard, Tennessee State and other HBCUs to register to vote and help others vote. Students are even becoming poll workers. Poll workers are paid and may receive volunteer hours. Howell worked as a poll worker during the special election in the sixth district of Georgia and the presidential election. Forman signed up to work as a poll worker as well.