2020 Voter Mobilization Forum: “Educate, Organize and Mobilize” – GDN Exclusive Vol. 3 Part IIIby Cash Michaels, GDN Contributing Writer January 30, 2020
The message was clear. Starting with the March 3rd primaries and ending in the November 6th General Elections, North Carolina’s African American community – the target of numerous voter suppression schemes – must be fully engaged to vote and be heard in 2020.
That was the mission adopted at the 2020 “A Call to Colors (ACTC)” Voter Mobilization Forum held January 25th at J. H. Rose High School in Greenville.
Sponsored by the Pitt County HBCU Coalition, the Pitt County Chapter of Shaw University National Alumni Association, the Pitt County Alumnae Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc., and Greater Diversity News, the forum brought together Divine Nine groups with elected officials, political activists, black clergy and HBCU representatives to discuss the strategy behind ACTC – a civic engagement strategy to aggressively register African Americans, especially at HBCUs and Black Student Unions, in time for the 2020 general election this fall through aggressive voter registration, education and mobilization efforts in hopes of turning out one of the largest black voter turnouts in the history of North Carolina.
“Our purpose today is twofold,” said Dr. Patti Sanders Smith, president of the Pitt County HBCU Coalition, in her welcome. “First, to make sure we all understand that it’s not only our right to vote, it’s our duty to vote. The 2020 elections will be one of the crucial elections of our lifetime.” “This election is for the soul of our nation,” Dr. Sanders Smith admonished.
GDN Publisher Peter Grear shared how two years prior, ACTC began over concerns expressed by Dr. E. Lavonia Allison, president emeritus of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, and N. Carnell Robinson, past president of the NC Black Leadership Caucus, that black youth participation in the electoral process was dismal, and needed to be improved.
Along with Congressman G. K. Butterfield, the four decided that young people, especially those in Divine Nine fraternities and sororities on college campuses, needed strong leadership guidance and structure to become an effective and relevant force at the voting booth.
It was after meeting Richard D. Smith, vice president of the National HBCUAA Foundation, and getting the endorsement of the organization for ACTC, that the outreach effort to students at HBCUs was started in earnest.
“We believe that the alumni associations and the students have not been fully utilized in the election process,” Smith told the over 150 gathered and watching via livestream. “We believe we have a structure that is organized where we can reach out and touch our alumni.”
Smith noted that there are 17 NCCU Alumni Association chapters in North Carolina with an estimated 25,000 members. There are ten HBCUs across the state that now can be networked into ACTC through the work of Imani Johnson, chair of the NCCU SGA PACE, and Angela Lewis, chair of NCCUAA CEAC.
Congressman Butterfield didn’t mince words when he the told the audience, “…we have to organize, energize and mobilize our base” in the North Carolina, where one in five voters is black.
Butterfield recommended that sororities and fraternities ‘dive deep’ into the community and adopt voting precincts to get out the vote (GOTV). He also made clear that nonprofit organizations, like churches, can take part in nonpartisan activities like voter registration and driving people to the polls.
Ms. Marilyn Powell-Godette of the Board of Directors of the National Council of Negro Women urged the audience to have faith, and “believe in the cause” of voter empowerment and mobilization through ACTC.
Dr. Everett Ward, chairman of the Council of Presidents of the 1.5 million members of the National Pan Hellenic Council; and National President of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, recalled the history of HBCUs in fighting for civil rights, and confirmed the commitment of the Divine Nine organizations to ACTC through “Voter Takeover 2020;” the 2020 Census to make sure the African-American community is properly counted for fair federal funding; and the sustainability of HBCUs.
The Rev. Jonathan C. Augustine, national chaplain for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., and pastor of St. Joseph’s A.M.E. Church in Durham, presented the Faith-based model, getting the black church involved in ACTC.
The NCNAACP has already established its partnership with ACTC in working with SGAs on HBCU campuses and local alumni chapters in voter registration, education and mobilization efforts.
Carl Pickney, chairman of the Commission on Political and Civic Engagement for Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity added further detail to the “Voter Takeover 2020” Divine Nine strategy.
Angela Lewis, chair of the NCCU Alumni Association Civic Engagement and Alumni Committee (CEAC), the national flagship alumni association model, urged “passion” and “a desire for advocacy” in the ACTC mission, and establishing a CEAC in each of the local alumni chapters.
Imani Johnson, 20, a junior and chair of the NCCU Student Government Association’s Political Action and Civic Engagement committee, presented the Student Engagement Model. She said since the age of nine, her passion for voting rights and voting equality have been “set ablaze” as she works to make sure that other HBCU students understand the importance of registering to vote, being educated about the issues, and mobilizing to vote on Election Day.
“I now, through the student CEAC model, have the opportunity to set other universities on fire with the same blaze that has ignited eleven years of my life,” Ms. Johnson said. She is also working as a GDN intern and mobilizing the estimated 40,000 students on HBCU campuses and the untold number of Black Student Union (BSU) members.
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