Miss NCCU Launches Greater Diversity News HBCU Voting Outreach Research Project – “A Call to Colors” GDN Exclusiveby Cash Michaels, GDN Contributing Writer October 3, 2020
To Imani Johnson, the Greater Diversity News (GDN) HBCU Voting Outreach Project is a way for students at historically Black colleges and universities to connect during times of civic outreach, and learn from each other “…to engage, to enlighten and to empower [their] student bodies and communities with all things civic engagement.”
The 21-year-old senior, Miss NCCU and GDN intern was featured in this publication a year ago for her leadership of North Carolina Central University’s (NCCU) Political Action and Civic Engagement (PACE) committee. As PACE chair, she led the way to creating the “Student Model” of civic engagement for “A Call to Colors”. In the midst of numerous other efforts to enhance student voting participation, Ms. Johnson introduced the GDN HBCU Voting Outreach Research Project, and feels, particularly now during the COVID-19 pandemic that has either limited or closed many HBCU campuses across the state, that it is a unique and productive way to keep the civic engagement fires burning.
“I wanted to create a project that is dedicated to documenting what HBCU students are doing to get students out to vote in this pandemic, not only for this election cycle, but for the next election cycles to come,” Ms. Johnson told GDN in a recent phone interview.
Among other questions, the project asks student HBCU campus leaders what they have done to promote civic engagement on campus or in the community, and what problems they’ve encountered with civic engagement on their campuses.
The answers to those questions will help inform future HBCU student leaders as they develop their voter outreach models.
“It is very important that we learn what we’re using, what is working and what’s not, so that students who go on after us understand what to do and how to do it,” the Atlanta, Ga. native said.
Johnson, the first generation HBCU student of her family, adds that she has been developing the idea for the research project since May as part of her national platform as Miss NCCU. Having just sent out the research questions to other HBCUs, Johnson says she’s only heard back thus far from NCCU students.
Would a research project of this type have been valuable during the 1960s civil rights movement? Ms. Johnson agrees, calling the thought of it “powerful,” adding that the only difference now is that because of better technology, the project can get responses and information back quicker than over fifty years ago.
During the movement, today’s technology would have helped various activists across the nation have quick access to concurrent information on important events and strategies.
“I’m really proud of that comparison,” Ms. Johnson says. “A system like this would have helped them strengthen their fight.”
She says that one way to institutionalize the research project going forward is for HBCUs to rebrand themselves to not only give students a true sense of their collective history, but how those students should have a voice in the society they’re being educated to take a constructive part in now and in the future.
“We may be in a post-racial society, but there are still so many issues we have to get through,” Johnson says, “…and HBCUs have to push for that. Students need to hear from they’re administrations to know that those issues are still on the forefront.”
As time goes by and the research project evolves, Imani Johnson says it may expand to encompass other issues of interest to the African American community, like black economics.
But for now, at its embryonic stage, and during perhaps the most important election of a lifetime, she says the issues surrounding civic engagement are so important, she feels the focus must emphasize the critical priorities of this time.
Peter Grear, Co-Publisher of GDN and Imani’s supervisor for this project is thrilled with her insight and initiative. He is a 1966 graduate of Fayetteville State University and, as a student, participated with student activist fighting for voting rights and to end segregation.
Attorney Grear makes two points regarding the civil rights movement of the 60s, first, when he and his peers graduated, they had not institutionalized civic engagement and secondly, they had not created a marriage between student voting and Black economics. He believes that Imani and her student peers will easily be able to correct these deficiencies.
The significant progress she’s seen in student civic engagement on NCCU’s campus alone in the past year, is testament to that fact.
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