From Protest to Proactive: SHAW University SGA – GDN Exclusive “A Call to Colors” Vol. II Part Vby Cash Michaels, GDN Contributing Writer March 11, 2019
For the past year, graduating senior Ryan Wright has proudly served as Student Government Association (SGA) President at Shaw University in Raleigh, and by all measures, he has led with dedication and distinction.“When I came to Shaw University in 2015, I felt that no one had a passion for student leadership [like I did],” he told Greater Diversity News (GDN). So, he became Freshman Class President, and from that point on, the Durham native, whose mother is an alumna, devoted himself to establishing that high standard of leadership he felt was needed.
“I knew that I loved my university, [and] I knew I had to give back. So running for SGA president was my way of giving back.”
Wright, 22, has five sisters and one brother, so there’s little question he had to develop strong skills in diplomacy and leadership long before becoming SGA president. From elementary to high school, he was credited with having a positive impact on others around him, he says.
Ryan came to Shaw, he saw an opportunity to establish himself, and took it.
“Leadership was new to me,” the SGA president says.
Wright is fully aware, and respectful, of the unique legacy that Shaw University students have had, especially during the 1960’s civil rights movement when led by David Forbes, they left their downtown campus, peacefully took to the streets, and then descended on an F.W. Woolworth store, demanding service in direct defiance of segregation laws and proudly going to jail thereafter.
Shaw is also where civil rights icons like Ella Baker worked, and the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee was founded.
Wright follows the path of previous Shaw student leaders, like Kalvin Wall, Class of 2000 and Shaw’s National Alumni Association President, who was a strong supporter of Greater Diversity News’ “A Call to Colors” nonpartisan HBCU student civic engagement voter registration campaign.
During his years at Shaw, Ryan Wright has engaged the student body in various civic engagement activities, dealing with student mentoring, morale, and working with the alumni association.
But one of the most important areas has been, and continues to be, student voter registration and issue education. And what makes Ryan’s role as SGA president so intriguing, is that he’s also President of the campus’ NAACP branch. So voter registration, voter education and mobilization are inherently part of his priorities.
For example, when Jessie Jackson Jr. spoke at Shaw in January, he told students that if they could dramatically increase their voter registration, they could probably have their own voting precinct on campus like several other schools.
Wright says that’s now a goal, given that in order to get Shaw students to walk to the Chavis Heights Park voting precinct several blocks away, a big event has to be planned – complete with school marching band and cheerleaders – to drum up excitement. Student government has also been working with Common Cause of NC, a nonprofit, nonpartisan grassroots organization, through its “HBCU Student Action Alliance,” for several years.
The program creates campus “democracy fellows’ who work on campus and in the community, identifying pertinent issues, and lobbying elected officials in Raleigh and Washington, DC, “ holding power accountable.”
“So we do a lot of programming, and voter registration drives. In my office, I have maybe 200 voter registration information cards, so when we have events or meetings, so when students aren’t registered to vote, they’ll fill that card out,” Wright says, noting that his goal is one hundred percent student voter registration on campus.
He added that instead of students paying admission to get into certain events, if they fill the voter registration card out, they get in free. He says, ‘That’s working out fine.”
And make no mistake, there is voter registration at campus parties and events as well. His administration focuses especially on freshmen, many of whom are just turning 18.
Wright says just like last year, Shaw students are preparing to go back to Washington, DC for HBCU Collective’s Lobby Day in the coming weeks, where Shaw Pres. Dr. Paulette Dillard gave remarks last year.
As his term as SGA president winds down, Ryan Wright says his eye remains on the ball when it comes to student civic engagement.
“I have two months left on my term,” Wright notes, “…and I’m going to try to do as much as I can in those two months.”
GDN recommends that all HBCU SGAs and Black Student Unions (BSUs) incorporate the following in their efforts:
Standing civic engagement/A Call to Colors committees for SGAs and BSUs
Students volunteering 8,16, 24 hours or more per election cycle
Twice a year voter participation rally
Earn up to 200 hours/4 years credit for civic engagement
Do outreach to Greeks, other student organizations and other schools