HBCU Campus Attempts to Stay Politically Educated

This summer Chequan Lewis and Danielle Perry had a big problem. They wanted to increase voter awareness and registration for Howard University but the red tape involved in putting on a school wide campaign seemed impossible.

“I spent two months looking up information by myself,” said Perry, the Vice-President of the College of Arts and Sciences at Howard. “I was starting to feel like it was going to be impossible because every time I got a little further in it, it seemed like I still had so much to find out.”

Perry and Lewis wanted to start off the year by having a voting drive during Freshman Orientation, but many other organizations on campus were trying to do the same thing. So, Lewis proposed the idea to combine everyone into a coalition who wanted to achieve the same results, a more politically educated and aware Howard.

“We had a meeting which had representatives from the College of Arts and Sciences, the School of Communications, HUSA (Howard University Student Association), NAACP, WHBC, Hip Hop Summit Action Network, and Cramton Auditorium and we sat around for about three or four hours to develop the vision for the Civic Connection Coalition,” said Perry. “We realized that we needed to be joined with a national organization, such as Citizen Change, Rock the Vote, or the Hip Hop Summit Action Network.”

They eventually chose the Hip Hop Summit Action Network with Russell Simmons and People for the American Way, a non-profit organization that focuses on civil rights. Shantae Harrell, the student representative for HHSAN, and Reverend Lennox Yearwood from HHSAN are working closely with the coalition. Matt Goins, Assistant Director for Publications in the Student Activities Office at Howard was also apart of getting the coalition started and played an instrumental role in the voter drives during freshman orientation week, according to Perry and Lewis.

“The first two days of freshman orientation, we registered 191 students and we’ve averaged 150 students every time we’ve done it. And one Friday registered about 300 students at Howard with Citizen Change in October,” said Lewis. “But we’re not just about registering people to vote. Registering just gives you the opportunity to vote, you have to want to do it and if you don’t, you’re rolling the clock back on our community.”

The coalition has three tiers that it focuses on: Voter registration, voter education, and voter mobilization. “We just finished the first phase, which I like to call setting people up with the capital to make an investment in their future. We are working on educating people so they can formulate their identities. We want to increase the civic activism, civic engagement and raise the level of political awareness here,” said Lewis. “This is going to be an organized sustained effort that moves along continually so that four years from now we don’t have to frantically position ourselves to get out the vote again.”